Chris Waters: Why Yorkshire's Jonny Bairstow deserves place in England's greatest XI over Alan Knott

THERE has been much discussion in cricketing circles this week after the selection of the all-time greatest England Test XI to mark the occasion of the country's 1,000th Test match, against India at Edgbaston.

GET HIM IN ! England's Jonny Bairstow scores watched by India wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik at Edgbaston earlier this week. Picture: Nick Potts
GET HIM IN ! England's Jonny Bairstow scores watched by India wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik at Edgbaston earlier this week. Picture: Nick Potts

An online survey conducted by the England and Wales Cricket Board drew 6,108 respondents, who were invited to pick their best team from more than 100 players ranging from WG Grace in the 1880s to current Test captain Joe Root.

After two weeks of voting, with some selections coming down to just a handful of votes, the side selected was: Alastair Cook, Len Hutton, David Gower, Kevin Pietersen, Joe Root, Ian Botham, Alan Knott (wicketkeeper), Graeme Swann, Fred Trueman, James Anderson and Bob Willis.

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As with all such exercises, it was essentially meaningless, although it did set everyone thinking as to the identity of their own best side.

Mine, for what it is worth, contains just six of the above, although if you were to ask me to repeat the exercise again next week, I would probably come up with a different set of names.

So, after much deliberation (well, at least five minutes or so), my side is as follows: Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Wally Hammond, Kevin Pietersen, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow (wicketkeeper), Ian Botham, Wilfred Rhodes, Fred Trueman, James Anderson and Sydney Barnes.

What, I hear you cry, no Bob Willis or Brian Statham? No Derek Underwood, Graeme Swann or WG Grace?

What about Hedley Verity (didn’t you write a book about him? … well, yes, I did as it happens, available in fine bookstores everywhere...).

Fred Trueman: None finer.

But then I’ve got another Yorkshireman to bowl left-arm spin in Wilfred Rhodes, who took more first-class wickets (4,204) than anyone in the game’s history and scored 39,969 runs into the bargain.

Admittedly, I found it difficult to leave out Ken Barrington (average 58.67 in Tests), and I went for Root ahead of him despite the latter’s disappointing conversion rate at this stage of his career.

But I would not mind betting that, in years to come, Root will be ahead of Barrington in English cricket’s pantheon, if he is not so already, while Pietersen is simply the best batsman that I have seen since Vivian Richards.

Bairstow gets my vote over Alan Knott, who may well have been the greatest of all wicketkeepers but who cannot hold a candle to Bairstow with the bat.

We have moved from the era of specialist wicketkeepers and Bairstow is an outstanding performer with bat and gloves.

Trueman’s credentials speak for themselves (307 Test wickets at 21.57, sunshine), while Sydney Barnes (189 Test wickets at 16.43 in the early part of the 20th century) must have been one heck of a player, and the perfect man to bowl first change.

“Most cricketers and students of the game belonging to the period in which SF Barnes played were agreed that he was the bowler of the century,” commented Wisden, which is good enough for me.

Hammond simply has to be chosen; I find it incredible that he was not in the ECB’s XI.

In addition to averaging 58.45 in Tests, he could catch pigeons in the slips and bowl, too; he was England’s successor to the great Jack Hobbs, another mystifying omission.

Anyway, there you have it, my side for the first Test against a fantasy World XI at a date to be decided.