Alex Massie

Constantine’s XI

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You didn't think I'd forgotten did you? After Armstrong and Benaud we come, logically enough, to Chappell Constantine. [Updated after much dithering. To hell with  it, however, romance demands that Learie be skipper. Thanks to Sam G for reminding me of this.]


1. Jimmy Cook (SA)

2. George Challenor (WI)

3. Greg Chappell (AUS)

4. Denis Compton (ENG)

5. Martin Crowe (NZ)

6. Colin Cowdrey (ENG)

7. Jock Cameron (SA) (Wkt)

8. Learie Constantine (WI) (Capt)

9. Colin Croft (WI)

10. Jack Cowie (NZ)

11. Bhagwat Chandrasekhar (IND)

This is, as you will notice, a less balanced side than those previously selected in this series. Also, I suspect, a less formidable one. For that you may blame the relative paucity of bowlers blessed with surnames beginning with the third letter of the alphabet.

Chandrasekhar, for instance, is (in terms of those available for this selection. Ed) by some distance the best spinner to play test cricket - and what a strange, match-winning, beguiling bowler he was too. Alas there is no credible partner for him. Accordingly Denis Compton - who did after all take more than 600 first class wickets with his Chinamen - and Martin Crowe with his useful medium-pacers will be asked to share the duties of the fifth bowler.

The batting, however, is strong and deep especially when you recall that each player has been selected on the basis of his performance in his best years. Even so, this is an XI that requires more explanatory notes than some.

Neither opener played much test cricket and nor did they have much success when they did. In their defence neither Cook - third, following Pollock and Richards, amongst South African batsman of the past 30 years  - nor Challenor, the finest West Indian batsman before George Headley's arrival, had many opportunities. Cook was marooned by South Africa's sporting isolation, Challenor by the fact that the West Indies were not a test-playing nation until he was well past his best. Still, he scored heavily on his first two visits to England, the first as far back as 1906. CLR James and Constantine both admired him and that's enough for me. Cook may also be said to benefit from this selector's pro-Somerset bias*.

Of the others, Wisden had this to say of Jock Cameron:

Cameron, for all his fearless hitting, will be chiefly remembered for his high place among wicket-keepers not only of South Africa but in his generation. His stumping of a batsman has been likened to the nonchalant gesture of a smoker flicking the ash from a cigarette--an apt simile of the speed and art of his deeds. Cameron's concentration upon his job was always evident; some of his stumping efforts dazzled the eyesight. To place him second only as a wicket-keeper to Oldfield is not undue praise.

Those of you who know me well will understand why I couldn't resist that. Cameron also, it should be said, averaged more than 30 with the bat before his career was, alas, ended at 30 by the typhoid that killed him.

Jack Cowie, though not, I suspect, often remembered** these days, can claim to be New Zealand's second-greatest bowler (after Richard Hadlee of course). In nine tests between 1937 and 1949 he took 45 wickets at 21. More significantly his fast-medium balances the attack whereas the selection of, say, Sylvester Clarke, would, though very tempting, have ensured a lack of variety on pitches that might not favour out and out pace.

On New Zealand's 1937 tour of England he took 114 wickets at 19, prompting Wisden's editor to observe that  "Had he been an Australian, he might have been termed a wonder of the age." The Almanack also notes:

He was fast-medium off 15 paces in his prime, slower at 37 on his second trip. Hadlee is the only NZ pace bowler who may have been superior, and he had vastly greater opportunities. 'Terrific pace off the pitch, a forked-lightning offbreak and lift and swing away from the right-hand batsman; recalled Len Hutton. The admiration society was mutual. Cowie said Hutton was the best batsman he bowled to, but got him for 0 and 1 at Lord's when both made their Test debuts in '37. He couldn't confront the best often, but dismissed them when he did. In his sole Test against Australia, at Wellington in 1946, only eight Aussie wickets fell and he took six (Meuleman, Barnes, Miller, Hassett, McCool and Tallon) for 40 from 21 overs. The only other time New Zealand played against Australian opposition during his career was in three State matches, of which Cowie played in two, on the way home from England in Nov 1937. Against NSW, he had Stan McCabe for 12 and 0, both times bowled, and Chipperfield skittled for 1 the only time they met.

The South Australia match saw Don Bradman, who did not tour in 1946, arrive late on the first day for his only innings against New Zealand. He was 11 overnight. On the second morning, as many queued, Cowie's first ball to Bradman had him caught behind. The crowds found another way to spend Saturday in an era when the visitors' tour income depended on their share of the gate. NZCC treasurer Sammy Luttrell took Cowie and keeper Eric Tindill aside when they came home to tell them they owed NZCC £1000!

For reasons of romance and historical significance, I'm tempted to give the captaincy to the incomparable Constantine. However on second thoughts it goes to Chappell, thus continuing the Aussie domination of the captaincy in this series - though I'm prepared to be persuaded that it should be the other way round. [DONE! Lord Constantine will captain the XI]

As always, have your say in the Comments section.

Incidentally, the running total of players selected from each country is:

England 11, Australia 6, West Indies 4, Pakistan 4, South Africa 3, India 3, New Zealand 2.

*Why no place for Andy Caddick then? You are having a laugh aren't you. There are limits.

**Well I didn't know much about Cowie until my father mentioned him as a candidate for selection. Of course, players with good Scots names also enjoy an advantage...

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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