I was delighted to be asked if I would like to submit my favourite England XI. Firstly and perhaps to help as a background and an explanation to some of the selections, I thought I would provide an introduction of myself.
I am 50 years old who is born, bred and lived my entire life within Yorkshire, the first 25 years in Huddersfield and the next 25 years in a place called Yeadon, about 8 miles from Leeds and about 6 miles from Headingley. It should hopefully come as no surprise at all that I am staunch Yorkshire CCC supporter and now like to spend as much of the Summer as possible watching Yorkshire home and away, coupled with trying to get to at least 1 day of every home England Test match. Until this awful pandemic struck, I was on a run of 24 successive home Tests, with the Sri Lanka Test at Lord’s in 2016 being the last one I didn’t manage to attend. With such a run going, this had become quite obsessive!
In terms of my cricketing history, this is my 3rd “marriage” to the great game. The first, like for many others, was as a child in the early 1980’s and the biggest influence being my Grandad. During the Winter we would watch football (Huddersfield Town) and then come Summer it was cricket. Initially it was just the local village, Shepley CC in the Huddersfield League, but as my interest grew it then expanded into the professional game. Watching Yorkshire gave me my first visits to Sheffield, Headingley, Harrogate, Bradford Park Avenue and even to my hometown of Huddersfield for a Sunday League 40 over game. My first international game was a trip to Old Trafford for the Saturday of the Test against India in 1982. This was followed up in 1983 by another trip to Old Trafford for the World Cup game against Pakistan. I remember very little about either game (but can remember bits of the day itself) and have no idea why he took me to Old Trafford twice rather than watching England at Headingley!
Unfortunately, this first “marriage” ended around 1985/86, as I grew to that age where I could have independence and go watch football with my mates. This became my major obsession for the next few years and my interest in cricket disappeared almost without trace.
My second “marriage” began in 1993 and was through work. This came about as a number of us within the same office either had a current or (like me) a lapsed interest. Through conversation and spurred on by an advert that appeared in the Yorkshire Post, a few of us became members of Yorkshire CCC and started to plan the occasional days out. The first I remember was to Acklam Park at Middlesbrough where Glamorgan were the visitors and we got to see the great IVA Richards bat (and get his autograph!). With this I felt reborn and quickly remembered all the great things about watching cricket and attending matches as I enjoyed in the 1980’s. Trips to Headingley became regular (only taking a half day leave and arriving during the lunch break), plus days out at Harrogate. My favourite became an annual Jolly Boys Outing to a (boozy) day at Scarborough – with my first ever visit to my favourite ground being in 1994. The other big highlight was doing the Headingley Test, which as a small group we did multiple days of every Test from 1994 (South Africa’s first post-apartheid tour) through to 1998. Really great days.
This second “marriage” ended in 1998 which was the final year I held my YCCC membership and the final year we attended the Test. The reason was quite simple – becoming a father in 1996 had meant a huge change in priorities (and finances!) and meaning that I could no longer justify using lots of my annual leave on watching cricket as it was now required for genuine family time. It was with a heavy heart but had to be done.
Following this I did have a couple of skirmishes – the first being having a freebie from work for the 2000 Headingley Test against the West Indies. We had a ticket for the Saturday (day 3) and of course this turned out to be the famous 2 day Test – doh!! The following year I had another freebie for the Saturday of the 2001 Ashes Test (the famous Butcher innings on the last day), but I had to sacrifice this to go to work instead because I was too busy ahead of having 2 weeks off for the family holiday starting the following week. (What a foolish decision!).
My third “marriage” began in 2005. Like back in the 1990’s, I had a couple of work colleagues who were keen on cricket though both were more players than spectators. I remember quite vividly that our collective interest started before the Test series commenced, with us each having some confidence that this could finally be the Return of the Urn. I recall being enthralled by events of the first day at Lord’s – an interest that had been missing for 7 years. However, the following day we departed on a family holiday to Cuba and I had to rely on text message exchanges with my Brother to discover we had somehow lost that 1st Test. Our holiday was for 2 weeks and we departed Cuba on the Friday. In an age without smart phones, news was not easy to come by, so imagine my delight when boarding the plane for the overnight return flight to find it had started that morning in the UK complete with fresh newspapers containing reports of the first day at Edgbaston. I remember reading that report at least 3 times and discussing with my Son (who was now just short of his 9th birthday) – “England scored 407 in a day, not just that but in less than 80 overs!!”. I was buzzing. Of course, in real time, day 2 had already finished but we were none the wiser as to what had happened. We landed Saturday morning and returned home – where I spent just 25 minutes before jumping in a taxi back to Leeds station to head to Nottingham to watch Huddersfield play at Forest in the opening game of the season. (To this day I have no idea how I got away with this – it can only have been that after 2 weeks in Cuba my Mrs couldn’t wait to get rid of me!!). I was very tired and after a bit of a boozy day, I remember bumping in to my Uncle after the football, who was also a cricket fan. Having known in detail what had happened on day 1 but being completely oblivious as to what had happened since, it must have taken him 10 minutes and several repeats to bring me up to speed with what the latest score was! Back home, Sunday morning was just completely dominated by watching the final acts unfold. I still swear to this day that if that Brett Lee slap through the covers had found the boundary and Australia had gone 2-0 up, then my life today would be very different indeed! Instead it didn’t and England won an amazing Test and I was absolutely hooked!
Like the rest of the country I well and truly had Ashes fever and my Mrs (Jo) and Son (Oliver) were also both absorbed. Days at work were spent trying to follow every ball and constant discussion with colleagues; Weekends were spent watching TV from the start of the build-up right through to the programme finishing. A bit like in the 1990’s where I had rediscovered all that I had loved in the 1980’s, it was the same again but felt multiplied by many times. It was front and back page news, the topic of all conversations and I felt like never before.
Another life-changing moment also happened around now. Much was my renewed enthusiasm (but on a much higher level than before) I spotted there was to be a T20 game at Headingley as part of Michael Vaughan’s testimonial year – a Michael Vaughan World XI versus a Yorkshire XI, happening between the 4th and 5th Tests. I easily talked Jo and Oliver in to going and with England then 2-1 up in the Ashes, there was much excitement and a large crowd expected. Outside the ground I picked up the latest copy of Barmy Harmonies and inside I was treated by the Mrs to my first ever England Test shirt! Then, before the toss and teams were named (I still wonder if any England players may have actually played) it rained. And it rained and poured and absolutely pissed it down. Within about an hour, it was clear there was going to be no chance of play and off we headed home, disappointed but not downhearted. Back home and simply with nothing able to quench my thirst for cricket, as we dried out I started to read the Barmy Harmonies. In this I spotted an advert for the Barmy Army tours for the 2006/07 Ashes and they were at a price much lower than I expected a trip to Australia would be. I mentioned it to Jo and whilst expecting to be told to stop being so stupid, she showed some enthusiasm. The next day I showed it to one of my colleagues at work and he showed significant interest – and within about a week we were booked for Melbourne and Sydney and the deposit paid! The family 3 of us, plus my colleague and his mate. The big turning point here was that with such a significant commitment and expense, there was no way that the flame could go out this time on my love of cricket.
England win the Ashes (and I even took a days leave to watch the final day at The Oval at home on TV) and the Greatest Series ever had ultimately changed my life and I hadn’t even seen a single day of it in the flesh!
A final big change now was in place – Sky Sports coverage. I knew from my previous 2 “marriages” that I had real problems with the lack of visual cricket between the end of September and the start of April. This allowed my cricket flame to go out and be easily replaced by football. But not now, oh no! First there was the (nonsense) Australia v World XI series, quickly followed by the England tour of Pakistan to watch (and I regularly found myself getting up at 04.00 to watch the first session before going to work!). I then recall watch the Australia v South Africa series, especially the Boxing Day Test and telling anybody who would listen that in 12 month’s time we would be sat there, in the MCG watching England. I remember Sky kept delivering the goods with the England tour of India, plus South Africa v New Zealand. This really was it – I had finally found that I could maintain my cricket fix through live TV, pretty much 12 months of the year. This flame would never go out.
Spring 2006 came and so did a renewal of my YCCC membership after a 7-year absence. And also, a first ever membership for Oliver, who by now was very keen and loved going just as much as I did. We didn’t attend many games (compared with what I do now!) but it was enough. At work, my colleague who was booked for Australia and another colleague decided we should really get in to spectating as a group and we managed the Sri Lanka ODI at Chester-le-Street, followed by a day of the Pakistan Test at Old Trafford, followed by 2 days of the Pakistan Test at Headingley. I also managed to get Jo and Oliver convinced that they needed to attend the Headingley Test (as they couldn’t have the MCG as their debut Test!) so that created a 3rd day; then a 4th day at Headingley duly followed thanks to it going to the final day and a pay on the day to see a cracking England victory. We also had tickets for day 5 at The Oval, so imagine my anger and frustration with the “ball tampering” allegations on the 4th day which ultimately saw the Test come to an abrupt end.
Our trip to Australia followed and despite the fact we were 3-0 down before even leaving the UK, we had the most amazing time. I honestly even really loved the cricket – to do the MCG and SCG was something I had never even dreamt I would do, plus I could appreciate seeing the 700th Warne wicket and the farewell of 2 of the game’s greatest modern players (plus Langer) in Sydney. No one can deny that the euphoria around 2005 was because England had beaten not just Australia for the first time in nearly 2 decades, but because we had beaten one of the great teams of all time.
So by now, my 3rd “marriage” is much more than that – it has become an absolute obsession (just ask my Mrs!!). The flame burns so bright, all year long, that it will never go out. My love of football has long since been relegated to 2nd place (sometimes it feels even lower!), though I won’t deny that some interest was reignited recently with Huddersfield eventually having 2 seasons (1 amazing, 1 absolutely awful) in the Premier League – something I thought I would never see in my lifetime. However, this time, the football season had to wait until the cricket season had finished, unlike the other way around before 2006.
After Australia, we didn’t venture overseas again until 2010 and my 40th birthday. To mark such a milestone, Jo suggested we should have a really nice holiday and why not involve it with cricket. I won’t lie but the first thing I had my eye on was the 2010 Tests in Bangladesh (on the basis of there was no guarantee when England would visit there again) but it didn’t achieve the same sort of enthusiasm with Jo! However, when I then mentioned the World T20 was in the West Indies and I then worked out the schedule included 4 consecutive days of double-headers in Barbados, that was the point that Bangladesh truly bit the dust! So, a nice 10 days in Barbados we did, with 4 days of cricket (including 2 England games) and 6 days of relaxing, we hit the perfect balance. (I am a bit gutted that we were back at home before even the semi-final was played, but it did at least create an extra excitement about watching on TV and ultimately lifting the trophy!).
By now, with Oliver still enthusiastic and Jo who had worked out that cricket and luxury holidays were a superb combination, this was just the start! We loved Barbados so much the we also did the next 3 years, all of which included some cricket – 2011 was an ODI against Pakistan; 2012 we did all 5 days of the Test against Australia and finally in 2013 (which was booked a bit last minute!) saw us do a Women’s T20 final of West Indies v England.
That was our last full family holiday as Oliver had now reached 17 and (apart from becoming a bit too old to holiday with his parents) he had stopped qualifying for child prices!
So now it was just Jo and I and by now she has really got the bug (and really seems to enjoy the cricket!). Providing the cricket is combined with some quality free time then she is in! Since then we have gone back to focussing on watching England and have been fortunate enough to rack up: 2015 Grenada Test; 2016 Abu Dhabi (to watch Yorkshire in the Champion County match); 2016 India (Mohali and Mumbai Tests); 2018 Sri Lanka (all 3 Tests); 2019 Antigua Test and finally 2019/20 South Africa (Cape Town and Port Elizabeth Tests). Our next venture would have been a revisit to India in early 2021, but now who knows where that next trip will be.
Following that mini life story, now on to my favourite England XI. I’ve read the criteria but wanted to add my own twist – I want this to be a Test only team and only contain players that I have actually seen play a Test for England.
I did contemplate submitting a Yorkshire only England XI (based on players I had seen play a Test for England whilst still being a YCCC player) but realised it would be rather one-eyed and would exclude some true greats. But just for info, my Yorkshire/England XI would be:
- Adam Lyth
- Michael Vaughan (captain)
- Gary Ballance
- Joe Root
- Jonny Bairstow (w/k)
- Tim Bresnan
- Adil Rashid
- Liam Plunkett
- Darren Gough
- Ajmal Shahzad
- Matthew Hoggard
(Disappointingly, my strict criteria means that I cannot include Sir Geoffrey Boycott, Craig White or Anthony McGrath (all of which I didn’t see play for England), so is therefore a bit bowler-heavy!).