It's late on a fiercely cold evening with the rain lashing and the wind howling down the Yarrow valley. Obviously, then, it's time for an exciting new Debatable Land series!
Readers possessing elephantine memories may recall this post in which I confessed - nay, revelled! - in being a cricket geek. I'm not alone in this. Like a good number of other sensitive souls I often spend idle moments (of which, blessedly, there are many) selecting imaginary cricket XIs. Thus one can spend hours pondering the greatest West Indies XI of time or the finest selection of left-handed cricketers or, well, you get the idea.
An old and favourite variety of this parlour game is to choose sides whose players all share a surname that begins with the same letter. Some members of the alphabet are weaker than others. We shall have to wait for the great Chinese cricketing revolution before the X's are competitive, for instance.
Still, a start must be made. And where better than at the beginning of the alphabet? A it is then. This is, in my opinion, the strongest A team available to be selected from the ranks of cricketers who have played at least one test match. You may, indeed probably will, disagree with the selection. Let's hear your arguments in the comments.
Some ground rules: each side must, as best as possible be balanced. Thus no selecting eight bowlers or nine batsmen. Also, there must be an at least semi-serviceable wicket-keeper.
THE A TEAM
1 Dennis Amiss (ENG)
This is not a bad team though not, as we shall see later in the series, as good as some of its rivals from other letters. It is also unusually well-stocked with players from the Sub-Continent. The batting is solid (Amiss, Zaheer and Les Ames all scored 100 first class centuries) while in Amiss* and Amarnath there are two superlative players of fast bowling. Saeed Anwar, and Azhar constitute a fine brace of dashers while the attack is, I think, nicely balanced.
I am prejudiced in favour of spin, hence the selection of two leg-spinners. Wasim and Ambrose will do fine with the new ball, leaving only the choice of a third seamer. Shoaib Akhtar's pace seemed superfluous given the selection of Ambrose and Wasim, so in the end it came down to Appleyard or Terry Alderman. True, Appleyard only played 9 tests, but he took his test wickets a 17 and 708 wickets in 152 first class matches at an average of 15. His career was curtailed by injury and he had the misfortune to play in the 1950s when England had what was arguably their strongest pool of bowlers ever. His medium pacers and accuracy as a stock bowler also balance the attack. Plus, every side deserves one wild or semi-wild selection. He just edges out Alderman.
Warwick Armstrong is the obvious - indeed only real - candidate to skipper the side.
Other players who didn't quite make the grade: Mike Atherton, Jimmy Adams, Intikhab Alam.
Next week: The Killer B's!
UPDATE: Slight overstatement here, Amiss did have a torrid time against Lillee and Thomson, and his overall record against Australia is miserable. Still, he scored heavily against the West Indies.