The only criteria for selection is you have had to have seen the player live in any format or level of cricket!
Sir Alastair Cook – It just has to be the man currently holding so many England records, some of which might not actually be broken. I became a fan from watching his debut in Nagpur on TV and then getting to see him in the flesh during the following Summer. We then managed to bump into him at Sydney airport on our return from Australia and had a really nice chat with a lovely young man and he happily posed for photos with Oliver – he was a firm favourite from then on! At times, not as easy on the eye as many of his colleagues – but he knew his game, knew his strengths and that made him so bloody effective. I was at Edgbaston on the day he ended on 294 and felt absolutely gutted for him to fall 6 runs short of becoming England’s first triple centurion since Gooch in 1990, plus I was also at Edgbaston to see his 243 against the West Indies in 2017. Sadly, I never saw him score a century overseas. However, my very favourite memory will have to be being at The Oval (for 3 days) in 2018 against India and seeing his final innings and that unforgettable farewell century, made even more special because Jo had come down for that 4th day and saw it also. Absolute pure magic and the standing ovations that followed both his hundred and his dismissal will never, ever be forgotten. (And yes, I definitely did have a bit of dirt in my eye that day!).
Sir Andrew Strauss (captain) – Perhaps strangely, I contemplated this for quite a while. I did want it to be Sir Geoffrey as he was my genuine boyhood hero in the 80’s – however, records show that he didn’t actually play in my only Test attended in the 1980’s, so that scuppered that. I also strongly considered Michael Atherton (wanting to show I’m not a total one-eyed Yorkshireman!) and Michael Vaughan (but I never actually saw him open for England). But in the end, it really had to be Strauss to rekindle that superb opening partnership that served us for many years and still haven’t managed to properly replace. Strauss would also be my captain, as I believe he is the best natural leader we have had in recent years and achieving that holy grail of winning in Australia, plus taking England to world no.1, were both fantastic accomplishments.
Joe Root – Possibly not in his best batting position (I much prefer him at 4) but I simply have to find a place for Yorkshire’s golden boy! So fabulous to watch when he is in full flow and a genuine modern great in both red and white ball for England. Probably the only man who can threaten some of Cook’s records – I’m sure if he stays fit and hungry, he can overhaul the total runs, though not sure about the number of centuries. He had been talked about in very high regard around Yorkshire for a couple of years before finally breaking in to the first team. I recall being there for his first ever appearance in the first XI against Essex in a Pro-40 game at Headingley in September 2009 (an Essex team that also included AN Cook!). A very useful 63 that day instantly had people knowing there was really going to be something about this baby-faced wonder. I was also present for his Championship debut in the first game of the 2011 season at Worcestershire – and saw him make a 12-ball duck in his first ever innings! But that was a mere blip and the 20 year old continued to develop, showing his class with a maiden Championship century in the August at Scarborough with a 160 against Sussex. Just 16 months later he was making his Test debut for England in Nagpur! I have so many great memories of seeing Joe for England (and hopefully many more still to come) that it is hard to pick just one – but if I had to, then I would probably have to say being there for his maiden Test hundred, done at Headingley in May 2013 against New Zealand. It was on the Saturday, at around 4.30pm, with the Western Terrace in full flow. The reception and the ovation was simply magical. Carlsberg don’t do maiden Test hundreds, but if they did….
Kevin Pietersen – One of the most divisive characters in English cricket and even I can’t make my mind up (as time passes) whether I like him as a person or not – but I have no doubt whatsoever that he is definitely the best England Test batsmen I have ever seen. Yes, even better than Joe – and the reason that Joe must bat at 3 in my team! KP was simply sublime. The thing for me that puts him ahead of the rest was how much time he always seemed to have to play the ball – I cannot recall any bowler giving him the hurry up. My Mrs asked me many times over many years what it was that made me rate him so highly and I repeatedly tried over the years to point this out when watching him on TV (but I don’t think she ever really understood it!). From that amazing 158 at The Oval in 2005 that I saw on TV, through the hundred on captaincy debut in 2008, to the acrimonious end of his international career, he was a true entertainer. I was fortunate enough to see 2 of his double-hundreds – at Headingley in 2007 and at Lord’s in 2011, but my favourite innings I saw has to be his 149 against South Africa at Headingley in 2012 (where it really all started to unravel). Thankfully Sky seem to keep showing this innings quite regularly so I can keep my memory fresh with the way that he took Dale Steyn apart on that Saturday afternoon, making him look like a club bowler (but a club bowler who was bowling at nearly 90mph!!). A fantastic afternoon watching a true genius.
Ben Stokes – The Summer of 2019 will mean that Ben Stokes will forever have a place in my favourite England XI. Firstly, I was lucky enough to be at the World Cup Final and to see that superb innings that got us to the Super Over and so very close to winning the trophy in normal time. Then, just 42 days later – Headingley. The most incredible Test match and what must be the best ever Test innings that I have seen. That Sunday itself was so magical – turning up with just a glimmer of hope that we might find a couple of telling partnerships to get us over the line and then sat in the beautiful warm sunshine as the wheels came off after lunch. Then, with that hope fully disintegrated as Jack Leach strolled to the crease, the fun began. At first it seemed like a bit of fun and a bit of an exhibition to ease the disappointment of watching the Aussies retain the Ashes. But the runs required kept reducing, the shots kept coming and all of a sudden this started to become serious. I have a memory that I didn’t start to become nervous until it was around 20 to win – then it became extreme nerves as this was now a real possibility (and with the added personal pressure of having tickets for days 3, 4 and 5 at Old Trafford, plus days 3, 4 and 5 at The Oval – which would be almost unbearable with the Ashes already gone!). The sixes kept coming, switch hits and scoops, the wasted review, the missed run out, the lbw shout and then the infamous Jack Leach single. I celebrated this run with nearly as much joy as I had done 42 days ago – it meant we couldn’t lose, the Ashes were at least still alive and my Old Trafford tickets meant something! Then, just a minute or so later, the sheer ecstasy as Cummins is hammered through the covers, the crowd erupts and the most unlikely victory is complete. The atmosphere that final afternoon was something else. And being the Sunday before Bank Holiday Monday and the most glorious weather, by 5pm it was out in to Headingley for some serious celebrating! But that game itself cannot be left without mention of that herculean bowling effort from Ben at the end of day 2 and start of day 3, which played a fair part in keeping the Aussies within sight and providing a target that proved to be achievable. I can’t finish without a quick mention of what was also witnessed last Winter in South Africa – at Cape Town that superb 72 (off 47) which played such an important part in the declaration, followed up by that awesome spell when it appeared time was going to run out, capturing the final 3 wickets in just 14 balls to crown another amazing Test win and send the travelling supporters into Headingley-esque delirium! And then seeing him follow that up with a splendid 120 at Port Elizabeth in a 200+ partnership with Ollie Pope which laid the foundations for another victory. He has made himself absolute box office and will no doubt now go down as a modern day great.
Sir Ian Botham – My first blast from the past and another boyhood hero (alongside Boycott and IVA Richards). That Summer of ’81 will rightfully always have a place in my childhood memory watching on TV and without doubt Beefy will always be the centre stage. Firstly, I recall watching his return to the pavilion at Lord’s in complete silence after registering his second duck of the match and then resigning as captain; through the incredible 149 at Headingley; the match winning last 5 wickets at Edgbaston and the century at Old Trafford – this was true hero stuff. I was lucky enough to see him play in my first ever Test match against India at Old Trafford in 1982 – though interrogation of the scorecard suggests I will have seen him do nothing more than field, as he was already out for 128 the day before I was there and I doubt he bowled in the few overs that India faced that evening. And that, sadly, was the only Test I saw that he played in – but I did see him and he rightfully takes his place in my favourite team as a true all time great.
Jonny Bairstow (wicketkeeper) – My current favourite cricketer. Without doubt there is an element of Yorkshire bias in this and, similar to Joe Root, having seen so much of his early days as he broke his way in to the Yorkshire first team and then broke his way in to the England set up for all 3 formats, it gives that extra sense of pride to see what he has achieved. There is also a significant element of his background and losing his Dad at such a young age, which creates an extra soft spot. I managed to see his Test debut and first ever innings at Lord’s against the West Indies in 2012 (when it was concluded he had a problem against Kemar Roach and the short ball). But as has happened on more than one occasion throughout his career, when needed to he has gone away, worked on his game and come back a better player with a point to prove. I was thrilled to bits to see him score a century at Headingley in 2016 against Sri Lanka – and equally as chuffed to see him score another against Sri Lanka in Colombo in 2018, when playing as a batsman at no.3 having missed the first Test through injury and then not being selected for the second Test. That celebration in Colombo was wonderful! As much as I love seeing him for England (in all formats) I equally love his occasional return visits to play for Yorkshire when, at times, he has come back and made the game look just far too easy for him. In my opinion he is England’s best keeper/batsman and even without the gloves he would have a place in my team. I don’t want to write much about his white ball game as part of my Test team, but bloody hell what a player he has become! And I’m so delighted to have seen him (and Joe and Adil) win the World Cup. A great player, a wonderful character and such a lovely person to meet and talk to. My favourite!
Graeme Swann – I had to include a spinner in my team and that sent me trawling through the internet to see who I had seen in the 80’s and 90’s. The answers turned out to be: Geoff Miller, Phil Edmonds, Phil Tufnell, Richard Illingworth, Robert Croft and Ian Salisbury. There could easily be a case made with some of those. I also considered from 2006 onwards: Monty Panesar, Simon Kerrigan, Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Gareth Batty, Liam Dawson, Jack Leach and Dom Bess. Again, some worthy candidates and definitely Monty, Moeen and Adil have all provided some great watching moments (and I would hope in a few years’ time that Jack and Dom will have made a strong case with a collection of performances to come). But in the end, it really could only be one man and England’s most successful spinner in (at least) a generation. Swanny was such a talent and it does make me wonder what his international career could have been if he had been mature enough to make his breakthrough much earlier (or had injury not cut short his career). 255 Test wickets and 17 5-fers in just 5 years feels well short of what it could have been. A look through his career shows that I only saw a couple of his 5-fers in the flesh (though at least 1 other was achieved in a Test on a day I was not there). So most of my best memories were probably through watching him on TV, though 2 that do stand out from being there were both at Headingley – in 2009 against Australia when he hit 62 in an 108 run partnership with Stuart Broad as Stuart Clark was smashed all over the park (a bit of light relief in a hopelessly one sided contest) and his 6-90 in the second innings (and 10-fer in the match) in 2013 against New Zealand in a game where it looked as though we had declared too late and the day 5 rain might save the Kiwis. A real character both on and off the field and I really wish we had seen a lot more of him.
Stuart Broad – Broad and Anderson – two absolute modern-day Test greats and for me, absolute no-brainers for a favourite England XI. My early memories of Broady are of someone who seemed destined to play for England for some time before he did, then eventually making his first senior appearances in white ball cricket at the end of 2006, most of which I watched closely on TV. The hype certainly appeared justified though I doubt anyone could truly predict just what was to come over the next 15 years. I don’t recall seeing him play for Leicestershire and think my first sighting must have been at Headingley for the ODI against India in 2007. My first Test sighting was in his 6th Test, in 2008 against New Zealand at his new home ground of Trent Bridge – though unfortunately missing his maiden Test half-century as it had happened the day before. He could always be counted on for some worthwhile lower order contribution with the bat and when he scored that magnificent 169 in the infamous Pakistan Test at Lord’s in 2010, many did wonder if he really could kick on and become a true all-rounder. Alas, that never really did come to fruition and I did have the misfortune of being at Old Trafford against India in 2014 when he top edged Varun Aaron into his face – and, quite understandably, his batting has never been the same since. Bowling wise he has just got better and better and better with age and experience, with many stand out performances along the way. I recall seeing his (2nd) Test hat trick at Headingley in 2014 against Sri Lanka, though it was slightly spoiled by occurring across 2 overs that nobody initially realised it had happened! That is still the only Test hat trick I have seen in the flesh. Broady is probably best known for those magical spells he can have, where from seemingly nowhere he can reduce a batting card to rubble. I’m not sure how many of these I have seen in the flesh (and how I really wish I’d been there for his 8-15 at Trent Bridge!), but one that I do remember with great fondness was in the second innings against Australia at Chester-le-Street in 2013. With Australia on 120-1 at tea and looking very nicely placed chasing 299 to win, up steps Broady with 6 wickets in 7.3 overs as England take 9 in a session to win the Test and win the Ashes. The ball which relieved Michael Clarke of his off stump was absolutely sublime. As I say, hopefully we’ve far from seen the last of him and if he can keep himself fit and hungry then who knows where his final wicket tally could end up.
James Anderson – Just like his mate, there isn’t even a question of this selection in my mind. Statistically, England’s most successful ever Test (and ODI!) bowler and if it wasn’t for Broady still being around then you could surely claim his eventual Test record will never be overhauled for England and probably never touched by any fast bowler. I didn’t see any of the first phase of Jimmy’s Test career and my first sighting was in Sydney in early 2007. This was just his 16th Test match and just 43 wickets to his name before this! I do keep promising myself that one day (probably during retirement!) I will sit down and work out how many of his next 557 wickets I have seen! I do already know about a number of Jimmy milestones that I have witnessed – his previous best bowling figures of 7-43 at Trent Bridge in 2007 (though he already had 6 of those wickets from the day before!); his top score of 81 at Trent Bridge in 2014; his 400th Test wicket at Headingley in 2015; his current career best of 7-42 at Lord’s in 2017 (just missing his 500th Test wicket the day before!). Hopefully I’ll be in the crowd somewhere for his 700th!! There is so much to love and admire about Jimmy on and off the field – from his bouts of grumpiness, to his humour in the Tailenders podcast (which I’m a big fan of), through to his unbelievable skill with the red ball, making it move like it is on a string and making his opponents frequently look like mere amateurs. A real big favourite of mine who I love to watch and hopefully still have plenty more to see. A true England great of any era.
Bob Willis – I’m pleased to have my final selection as another blast from the past and in my eyes, another England great and one who was taken far too soon. My first memory of RGD of course goes back to 1981 and the remarkable Headingley Test on TV with that incredible spell of 8-43. He became a household name overnight and was there any kid in the country who wasn’t doing an impersonation of his run up?!! I was lucky to see him play in that 1982 Test against India at Old Trafford – and the scorecard tells me I must have seen him take the wickets of Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri before heading home that evening from my debut Test. It isn’t until recently that I learnt he was actually England captain at that time, with this being just his second match at the helm. I was fortunate enough to see him again the following year in the 1983 World Cup against Pakistan at Old Trafford, with again him being captain. I’m pretty sure they were the only occasions that I saw him play and, being totally honest, it was until much later in life that I learnt so much more about the game and what a real legend he was. Added to his on-field greatness was his post-playing career in the media, especially with Sky where he became a household name for another generation. If truth be told, I wasn’t the greatest of fans of his actual match commentary, but the role he carved for himself alongside “Well, Charles..” on The Verdict was TV never to be missed! Another great character, fabulous player and my final favourite.
And that is it! No room for Gower, Lamb, Gooch, Atherton, Stewart, Fraser, Gough, Ramprakash, Malcolm, Hussain, Thorpe, Russell, Caddick, Flintoff, Harmison, Bell, Trescothick and many, many more who would have qualified.
I have pondered whether there is too much recency bias with my selection – and perhaps there is an element of truth in that. But these are the players I have seen the most and therefore got to provide me with many magical and unforgettable moments.