As we near the halfway point of our Ashes 100-1 countdown it seems an opportune time to start selecting our all-time Australian and English Ashes XIs. We start today by naming our Australian openers, with their English counterparts following tomorrow and the rest of the XIs being posted throughout the run-up to the action finally starting at Brisbane on 25th November.
Before we start, a few disclaimers. Firstly, this is a personal selection. Secondly, it is based on performances in the Ashes only and not those against the other test-playing nations. Also as our first-hand experience of watching cricket only stretches back 30 years we've also had to rely on footage, reports and statistics of the players that have graced the Ashes throughout its 100 years plus history.
So, on to our choice of the two players that will open the batting for Australia. We narrowed down the long-list as two from Victor Trumper, Mark Taylor, Matthew Hayden, Arthur Morris, Justin Langer, Bill Lawry, Bill Ponsford, Bill Woodfull and Bobby Simpson.
In our view Trumper has to be one of the two names. Forget the low average (32.79 from 40 Ashes tests) as pitches were sub-standard in Trumper's era and he invariably had to bat on uncovered sticky dogs on which he was a reputed master. Trumper is also widely acknowledged by most cricket historians including Gideon Haigh (see article by Haigh on Trumper here) as the greatest Australian batsman after Bradman. And if heis good enough for Haigh, then he is certainly good enough for us.
So who to pair with Trumper. We've discounted Ponsford and Woodfull as despite them being run machines during the period between the two world wars, they both struggled against Bodyline particularly the former. As this was one of the rare occasions that bowlers held the upper hand in that era then that perhaps puts some of their feats into context.
We've also discounted Lawry, Langer and Simpson as we don't believe they are quite in the class of Hayden, Taylor and Morris, who therefore comprise the final shortlist to pair with Trumper. Hayden was a devastating opener and he frequently destroyed English attacks during Ashes encounters in Australia where he plundered four hundreds from ten tests at an average of 57 - Nasser Hussain is probably still shaking from the brutal 197 Hayden scored after he erroneously put Australia into bat at Brisbane in 2002. But the Bully Boy was less effective in England where he struggled on both the 2001 and 2005 tours averaging only 34.50 in ten matches and scoring only the one hundred. This we have deemed not good enough for our all-time Aussie XI.
Taylor played against England in a period where there was a more equal battle between bat and ball, but still managed to plunder just four short of 2,500 runs in his 30 Ashes tests at 42.30 with six hundreds. But Morris shades it for us. As part of the 1948 Invincibles, Morris outscored Bradman having already hit three hundreds in the 1946/47 series. He scored eight hundreds in all in 24 Ashes tests at an average of 50.73 - a figure bettered by only three other Australians - Bradman, Border and Steve Waugh.