Our choice of the fast bowlers for our all-time Australian Ashes XI has certainly provoked some debate on the BBC 606 site. Given we had already picked Keith Miller as the all-rounder the discussion was centred on whether there should be two extra quicks or three and therefore one or two spinners. For what it’s worth, we concede that on some tracks you might just opt for the one spinner, but with the quality of spinners Australia have produced on most occasions we’d go with two spinners, two pacemen and Keith Miller.
Given that we’ve already nailed our colours to the mast and made Dennis Lillee and Ray Lindwall our first two fast bowling choices this means that Glenn McGrath will carry the drinks, which appeals to our warped English sense of humour.
So on to the spinners. Now that we’ve made the decision to pick two this becomes a much easier task and indeed we’ve narrowed our shortlist down to three leg-spinners. Before we get onto them, there are a few other Australian spinners who merit a mention. Off spinner Hugh Trumble may be the only man to take two Ashes hat-tricks as part of his 141 wickets at 21 against England, but in our opinion falls just short of our final three. As does Richie Benaud, who took 83 Ashes wickets at 32 and was a very fine Australian captain.
Also ruled out were Arthur Mailey, Bert Ironmonger and Chuck Fleetwood-Smith. What Ricky Ponting would give to have any of those great spinners available now.
But being realistic the choice boils down to three names. Two of whom played together to form arguably the most potent spin pairing in cricket history - Clarrie Grimmett and Bill ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly. Grimmett had to wait until he was 34 to make his test bow, but wasted no further time in becoming the fastest in test history to take 200 wickets and invented the flipper along the way. In all, Grimmett took 106 wickets at 32.44 against England in 22 matches with an impressive 11 five fors.
O’Reilly was probably even better than Grimmett. Described by Bradman as the greatest bowler he had ever faced or watched, O’Reilly took 102 wickets in only 19 Ashes matches including the key wicket of Hammond 10 times. Given that he played all his test cricket in the batsman-dominated 1930s his average against England of 25.36 was astounding as was his economy rate of 1.97. A fierce competitor, O’Reilly was considered Australia’s greatest ever spinner until a spiky haired kid from St Kilda emerged in the 1990s to create a pub debate that will last for eternity.
Shane Warne is the best spinner by some distance that this writer has seen in over 30 years of watching cricket. As he proved at Adelaide in 2006, he held a spell over England and could make them collapse in a heap at almost any opportunity. His self-belief is staggering and so are his stats. Against England, right from the first ball he bowled against Mike Gatting in 1993, Warne was unstoppable with 195 wickets in 36 matches at 23 – well over five wickets per match. Australian’s are over-fond of the phrase a ‘once in a generation cricketer’, but in Warne’s case it is entirely appropriate. Warne and O’Reilly it is who make our XI.