The Alphabet XI’s have reached the final straight. With the terrifying prospect of having to pick an X side looming on the horizon, it’s perhaps fitting that its immediate predecessor is one of the very best teams we’ve been able to put together. A solid opening pair followed by a truly phenomenal middle order and a bowling attack which amassed over 1,500 wickets between them, the W’s would take some beating. The sheer strength of their starting XI is emphasised by the fact they couldn’t find a place for Dave Warner or Shane Watson, two of the biggest W’s of modern times.
1. Bill Woodfull (Australia 1926-1934) 35 Tests, 2,300 runs @ 46.00 Nicknamed ‘The Rock’, he certainly laid the smackdown on many a bowling line-up. Particularly England’s, against whom he scored six of his seven Test centuries. He is one of many leaders in this side, having captained Australia in the Bodyline series of 1932-33. The fact that he thrice passed 50 that winter despite the extremely hostile line of attack demonstrates his quality at the top of the order.
2. Cyril Washbrook (England 1937-1956) 37 Tests, 2,569 runs @ 42.81 A good batsman in his own right, Washbrook will forever be associated with Len Hutton, with whom he opened the batting for England for five years after the Second World War. Together they averaged exactly 60 in 51 innings together and are the 11th most prolific opening pair in Test history. He was famous for his attacking play against the short ball, so it’s fair to say the two at the top of the W order would be able to handle themselves against anything the others could throw at them.
3. Sir Everton Weekes (West Indies 1948-1958) 48 Tests, 4,455 runs @ 58.61 The first of the ‘three W’s’, Everton Weekes was perhaps the greatest. Although, strangely, the last to be knighted. He has the seventh highest batting average of all time and also once scored five hundreds in a row on a tour of India – a world record. Indeed, in 15 innings against India his average disappears over 100. After a solid opening partnership, Weekes represents the start of a fearsome middle order with over 30,000 runs between them.
4. Sir Frank Worrell (West Indies 1948-1963) 51 Tests, 3,860 runs @ 49.48, 69 wickets @ 38.72 Where Weekes was the most dominant batsman, Worrell was by far the most influential. As the first black captain of the West Indies he brought a group of independent islands together as one team. As a batsman he was one of the more stylish players, and had such a range of shots that England captain Norman Yardley once remarked that it was impossible to set a field to him. His ability to bat for long periods of time is demonstrated by the fact he is the only batsman to be part of two 500 run partnerships in first class cricket.
5. Mark Waugh (Australia 1991-2002) 128 Tests, 8,029 runs @ 41.81, 59 wickets @ 41.16 When he wasn’t being put in his place by Jimmy Ormond’s razor-sharp wit, Waugh Jnr was a mainstay of the Australian middle order for over a decade. His average is lower than you would expect – perhaps a sign of his tendency to lazily give away his wicket on occasion – but 20 Test centuries demonstrate his class. On top of his batting he offered a mixture of medium pace and off break bowling as well as being a brilliant slip fielder. Caught M Waugh bowled Warne accounted for 39 batsmen, the joint fifth most common bowler/outfielder combination in history.
6. *Steve Waugh (Australia 1985-2004) 168 Tests, 10,927 runs @ 51.06, 92 wickets @ 37.44 The numbers speak for themselves. Second only to Sachin Tendulkar as the man with the most appearances, the seventh highest run scorer of all time, and an incredible win percentage (71.92) as captain of Australia, including being in charge for 15 of their 16 game winning run – a Test record. His batting was gritty and determined, without the flourish of his twin brother but incredibly effective. Until back problems put paid to his bowling he was a dangerous medium pacer. Between them the Waughs would certainly offer excellent part time options with the ball.
7. +Sir Clyde Walcott (West Indies 1948-1960) 44 Tests, 3,798 runs @ 56.68, 53 catches, 11 stumpings The final man in this side’s astonishingly strong batting line-up is also the third West Indian great to feature. He kept wicket for the first part of his career until he too suffered back trouble and had to relinquish the gloves. Having averaged just over 40 as ‘keeper that leapt to 64.66 as a specialist batsman. His skill behind the stumps should not go unappreciated, though, as he once had to contend with Alf Valentine and Sonny Ramadhin bowling 231 overs between them in a Test in England. He conceded just 16 byes in the game.
8. Shane Warne (Australia 1992-2007) 145 Tests, 3,154 runs @ 17.32, 708 wickets @ 25.41 Now that he spends his time advertising cures for baldness, turning his face plastic, playing poker and going about with Liz Hurley, it’s easy to forget just how good a bowler Warne was. Having announced himself in England with that Gatting ball at Old Trafford, he went on to take 195 wickets against them over fourteen years. He is also, of course, the second highest Test wicket taker of all time. Or top, if you discount people who cheated. Alongside his bowling, his batting also improved a lot as his career progressed, although he remains the man with the most Test runs without a century.
9. Johnny Wardle (England 1948-1957) 28 Tests, 653 runs @ 19.78, 102 wickets @ 20.39 Despite having to compete with Tony Lock for a place in the England side, Wardle still managed to take five wickets five times in Test cricket and impressed Jim Laker to such an extent that he described some of his bowling on the 1955-56 tour to South Africa as the best he’d ever seen. He may have played more Tests were it not for an acerbic tongue and over-critical nature, which landed him in trouble both at Yorkshire and with the MCC. He was sacked by the former and had an invitation to tour Australia withdrawn by the latter in 1958, which ended his international career.
10. Robert George Dylan Willis (England 1971-1984) 90 Tests, 840 runs @ 11.50, 325 wickets @ 25.20 Would have got into this side even if he’d had a terrible international career, such is 51allout’s love for the man. The pain of an England defeat is always tempered by the sight of Willis charging in off his long run when analysing the game afterwards. A genuinely fast bowler, whose height only made him more threatening still, he is England’s second highest wicket taker behind Ian Botham. The man to whom, of course, he also conceded top billing to at Headingley in 1981, the scene of his greatest performance. Would form part of perhaps the best new ball attack of all the Alphabet XI’s.
11. Courtney Walsh (West Indies 1984-2001) 132 Tests, 936 runs @ 7.54, 519 wickets @ 24.44 Walsh retired as the leading wicket taker in Test history. Even now he stands fifth on the all-time list and Glenn McGrath is the only seamer to have gone past him. In partnership with Curtly Ambrose they took 421 wickets in 49 Tests together and, while Ambrose had a more classical action, Walsh’s was much looser but he lost little in pace or accuracy in comparison to his sparring partner. It also allowed him to perform at the top for longer than perhaps any other fast bowler ever and he bowled an unbelievable number of overs across his career. On top of his bowling prowess, he holds a batting record too; he managed a world record 43 ducks in Test cricket.