Comparing eras and players is not easy

BOB SIMPSON

Many, many, many years ago I wrote to Sir Donald Bradman to seek further information about a subject we had been discussing in the Sydney Cricket Ground dressing room.

Sir Donald was the Chairman of the Australian Selectors and I was a 21-year-old, 12th man for Australia.

As was his wont Bradman used to wander into the Australian dressing room, prior to lunch, when we were fielding. He would find out from the 12th man whether the captain, in our case Richie Benaud, would like to discuss anything during the break.

Sometimes Richie did sometimes he didn't.

This was my second match as 12h man for Australia in 1958/59 and my last game for Australia for two years and I am glad to say my last match as 12th man for my country.

In those days, the only people in the room when the team was fielding was the 12th man, the physio and the room attendant.

Unlike today, when you can have nine or ten extras at any given time.

It was a wonderful opportunity for me to discuss cricket and on this occasion, I was asking him to compare his era to the present one.

As usual, he was happy to do that, but unfortunately before Bradman could finish the subject I was called on to the field. Hence my letter requesting him the completion of the story.

As usual, he was prompt with his reply with the contents both concise and thought-provoking.

What to me seemed to be a simple question invoked a detailed four- page explanation.

In comparing eras and players, he said "you must take in every possible consideration and difference between the times you are trying to compare, before you can make a judgement."

Those consideration should take in such things as changes in pitches where the matches were played, rule changes, changes to the ball and examination of the quality of the opposition, improvement of the general skills of the players of the time... to name just a few.

When I was asked by the esteemed Editor of The Sportstar to pen a comparison between Steve Waugh XI and other wonderful Australian teams, I thought of Sir Donald's points and realised just what a daunting and perhaps futile assignment I had been set.

I decided immediately that I would restrict my thinking to the period I had seen, namely after World War II.

The Invincibles, the 1948 Australians were the obvious to start with and immediately raised a problem even Sir Donald hadn't mentioned.

They were my heroes and would I look through rose coloured glasses in examining their performances.

I was lucky in everyway. I had seen them all play, albeit as a youngster. But as I began my first class career in the 1952-53 season I had played with or against 70 per cent of them.

In assessing any team, I believe you must first look at the bowlers for they are the ones who win matches.

Bradman was certainly well served in this regard with a great line-up of quicks, including Miller and Lindwall and one of the most underrated bowlers of my time, Big Bill Johnson. A left-hand fast swing bowler with a fearsome bouncer.

Were they helped by a rule change? Certainly, for at that time the English inexplicably agreed to a new ball change ever 40, eight-ball overs.

Talk about suicide.

With Bradman in the side and supported by Barnes, Morris, Hassett and Harvey you can't get much better opposition. I think, it is fair to say, England had been badly depleted by the War and they weren't at their full strength.

Disappointingly, generally, when you attempt to compare eras and players you generally find the outstanding team is head and shoulders above the opposition to an extent. The teams are not meeting on every playing field, and judgement is almost impossible.

In my time, only once have the teams met when they were equal and that was the heart-stopping Australia vs West Indies clash of 1960-61.

Australia, I believe, had just tipped over the top on the way down and the future great West Indies team were on the way up and we met them on equal terms just before they scaled the final summit to greatness.

Benaud's team were a fine, tough combination. A fielding team to match any combination.

They had the two finest bowlers in the world in Benaud and Davidson. The batting link up which includes Lawry, Simpson, Harvey, O'Neill, Booth and Burge coupled with the all-round skills of Davidson and Benaud that would hold their own anywhere, anytime.

Benaud's team had probably the best home and away record, having won in South Africa, India, Pakistan and England and being also unbeaten at home in that time.

How good were the opposition. Well, England beat Australia in later series in England in 1956, South Africa drew with England in South Africa in 1956-57.

Australia were the underdogs in 1977-78 in South Africa but won 3-0 and against England the next year the team won 4-0.

The Ian Chappell era was one of Australia's finest. He had a wonderful team. Great fast bowlers in Lillee & Thomson and a wonderful swing bowler in Max Walker. To help out they had Ashley Millet. Perhaps Australia's best ever off-spinner.

Battingwise they had a line up to envy, Stackpole, Redpath, what a wonderful all seasons all-wicket player I & G. Chappell & D. Walters.

Interestingly, I. Chappell team did not tour a great deal and did not play in India or Pakistan.

At home they were unbeatable as they blasted the opposition into submission on the bouncy Aussie wickets.

It is difficult to get an accurate slant on their opposition as so many matches were played in Australia.

England were on the way down after a good era as were the West Indies.

New Zealand had an excellent tough team and gave a good account of themselves.

And what of Steve Waugh, perhaps we should bracket Mark Taylor here also for they captained almost the same team.

In the new era of Test cricket where teams play more Tests and go on more, but shorter tours, records can be made or broken in a short time.

When in form matches come up so quickly you can keep form and build up an imposing record.

Unfortunately, it can work against you if you and your team lose confidence.

Fortunately, Australia haven't and they have the players to dominate in all countries except India. In McGrath, Warne and Gillespie they have the best attack in world cricket.

Langer, Hayden, Ponting and the Waughs compare favourable with any combination of any time.

Australia have a top fielding side even if in the last season or two they have dropped too many chances.

Their record is outstanding but how do you compare this team's performances against some of the newer teams who Waugh's team alone have had the opportunity to play.

I am always a little loathe to declare that the present era is not as good as the past, but I have to say I can't remember a time when I have seen so much poor bowling from all teams at present except Australia.

Of course, this is all grist for the mills so I will continue what I have always done, remember the past with great affection but still admire and enjoy the present.