The Antagonists XI: a team we couldn’t bear to lose to

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The basic premise of The Realm’s England XI is that it comprises players we love and can’t help but root for. To maximise excitement, they obviously have to play against a team we absolutely could not bear to lose to: The Antagonists XI.

The first time we picked this team, it was a failure. It came out kind of samey with just a dash of incoherence.

So we tried again. We gave it a bit more thought and tried to be more creative.

That team was even worse.

So for our third attempt, we reverted to the players who’d formed the spine of the first team and then we really leaned into that.

What we’ve ended up with is… an Australia XI.

To our mind this is a purer and more truthful way of going about things. It’s definitely interesting to trawl through world cricket and pick out arseholes from every nation, but what you end up with is showy and artificial.

Who do you most hate losing to? We most hate losing to Australia, so all the players we most hate losing to are Australian.

They’re also overwhelmingly from one era. This, again, is not a coincidence. England lost every Ashes series from 1989 to 2002-03 and with each defeat we hated them more and more.

That 1989 squad? We hate them quite a bit. The 2002-03 squad? We hate them most of all.

If you understand nothing else from this article, understand this: that run of defeats and the exponential loathing for the team that inflicted those defeats is why the 2005 Ashes was so amazing. It is not a series that should be considered in isolation. The emotions were built on the foundations of what preceded it.

Which isn’t to say that the 2002-03/2005 vintage Australia side was flawlessly objectionable. It’s a tough team to get into, but some players have managed it.

Steve Smith is in – not for the cheating thing – but because Steve Smith is an unbearable batsman to come up against in an Ashes series.

Mitchell Johnson is in too. We can’t bring ourself to get too worked up about Andy Bichel or Michael Kasprowicz, while Brett Lee was actually hugely ineffective against England. Johnson though? He had a moment there, didn’t he?

Steve Waugh is in too because that period when England were getting battered is essentially his Test career. He even made a ton in the 1990s Ashes Rematch, the prick.

You’ll also note a striking omission: David Warner.

This could have gone either way, if we’re honest. Warner is unquestionably an arsehole (it gives him special powers) but we’ve long felt he is primarily – perhaps even exclusively – an on-field arsehole. Away from cricket, when he’s not being driven to madness by the overly-competitive part of his personality, he seems a lot more thoughtful and self aware.

He’s also lost Test matches to England quite a bit. And he’s been bowled out by Stuart Broad quite a bit too. These kinds of things really dilute the vitriol.

So Warner’s been edged out by Justin Langer.

It’s true that Langer is more of a bell-end than an arsehole, but he is still annoying and this is compounded by his playing record. He averaged 50 against England. That’s more than Matthew Hayden, Ricky Ponting or Adam Gilchrist. It’s also more than Michael Slater, who had a decent shot at making this team.

But here’s the clincher: Hayden and Langer batting together at the top of the order, being all pious and self-important and talking about themselves like they do the most important job in the world. That’s why Langer’s in the team. So that we can reunite The Elite Brotherhood of Toolery.

Here’s the team. They’re going to play a Sim Series Test match against our Realm XI, starting on Monday. It is going to be a painful disaster that will emotionally destabilise us to a quite surprising extent.

  1. Matthew Hayden
  2. Justin Langer
  3. Ricky Ponting
  4. Steve Smith
  5. Steve Waugh (c)
  6. Damien Martyn
  7. Adam Gilchrist (wk)
  8. Mitchell Johnson
  9. Shane Warne
  10. Jason Gillespie
  11. Glenn McGrath

42 comments

      1. Shockingly bad.

        And yet… and yet… and yet there’s always that (faint) glimmer of hope that this time, this time, just *maybe* this time it will be different.

        Can’t wait.

  1. Its dawned on me that Australia’s XI is a very good at playing cricket…. and they could win.

  2. This is exactly what I was worried about

    Hopefully the simulated match doesn’t follow the same path as the simulation I’ve run in my head, in which Australia win in 3 days, Monty cries, Rob Key can’t finish his dinner and I curl up in a corner rocking back and forth whispering ‘Jones…Bowden…Kasprowicz the man to go’ over and over to myself for several days.

  3. The non-Australian equivalent team is pretty difficult to achieve, but I’ll give it a go. It’s a bit unbalanced, but then what isn’t around here:

    Chris Gayle – for not giving a toss about the people who put him where he is.

    Geoff Boycott – for deliberately playing against the team’s needs

    Kepler Wessels – for playing for Australia at a time when South Africans really should have been playing for England.

    Saurav Ganguly – for telling the new coach, when asked where his kit bag was, that he was a test cricketer and didn’t carry his own bag.

    Ravi Shastri – for everything ever.

    Salman Butt – for match fixing

    Eldine Baptiste – because he played ten tests, averaged 23 with the bat, 35 with the ball, and has a 100% winning record.

    Moin Khan – for slowing the over rate then complaining when it went dark.

    Jonty Rhodes – oh come on, I bet everyone at his school absolutely hated him, bloody sport Billy.

    Harbajan Singh – for all that innocence thing when he was just being a racist.

    Mohammed Asif – for match fixing

    I appreciate that this list is largely based around specific, one-off incidents, whereas the original team was more of a long-term thing. And there’s a couple in there that aren’t overly bad really. But hey, this is defined as a list of annoying cricketers with almost all of the annoying cricketers disqualified, so the quality is never going to be that great.

  4. I’m impressed you’ve managed to pick any bowlers at all, to be honest. Johnson, Warne and Gillespie were fairly unobjectionable at the time (as people, agonising though it could be to watch them), and even McGrath was pantomime.

    Hayden
    Langer
    Warner
    Graeme Smith
    Ponting
    Border
    Steve Waugh
    Mark Waugh
    Cronje (even prior to The Incident)
    Kallis
    Healy

    Hard-faced smirking self-satisfied wankers, the lot of them. At least that’s how I remember them. Plus with that batting line-up and an attack of Kallis, Waugh and Waugh, every match they played would be a tedious draw, apart from the ones where the other team got out playing stupid shots and therefore being humiliated. So everything about them would be awful.

    1. Cronje took 43 wickets in Tests and averaged a smidge under thirty so I always thought of him as an all-rounder. That’s four bowlers (being generous re the Waughs counting as two whole bowlers) and a few of the others turned their arms over a bit so this probably constitutes a legitimately playable, albeit unbalanced, team.

      1. Great stuff, thanks. God, even reading the names makes my skin crawl. Five years of that team as the best in the world and test cricket would be finished. Lords would be burnt to the ground by a crazed mob after they beat a Rest Of The World XI 1-0 in a six test series, and we’d all agree to pretend that we’d always been baseball fans.

  5. Although it was inevitable that it was going to end up as a Australian XI, I would have found room for Kallis and maybe Graeme Smith.

    No Michael Clarke? It is a team of uncommon obnoxiousness that keeps him out.

    I’d also have Nathan Lyon in for Warne. Warne May be Warne, but at least he was a phenomenal talent. Lyon combines braying objectionableness with 400 test wickets of mediocrity.

    It would be tempting to make Langer 12th man to force hi to rant intensely on how important it was to do whatever you can for the team, whilst dropped.

  6. Dunno if I’ve seen too much of his current hippy-ish persona, but I can’t get up any dislike for Gillespie. I’d be tempted to put Starc or Thommo in.

    1. Gillespie has cleverly masked the horror of playing against him by being a bit rubbish at the end and by being a thoroughly decent sort since.

      But make no mistake, playing against peak Gillespie was utterly miserable.

      1. Particularly used to hate the way McGrath would deliver an over of stiflingly metronomically brilliant stuff, induce some uncertainty and a few heart-in-the-mouth “how did that miss the edge moments”, then just when you think “thank goodness that one’s over” and start contemplating how much longer this tandem spell will last before they bring their second-string quicks on, Gillespie nabs a wicket with what seems an objectively worse over.

  7. I had a go at an England Dickheads XI recently.

    Boycott
    Vaughan *
    Pietersen
    Bopara
    Botham
    Buttler +
    Cork
    Lewis, C
    Overton, C
    Broad
    Swann

    Any advance?

    1. Surely not Broad? I’d have picked Tom Curran over him for the hairstyle alone. Also WG Grace should probably be in there somewhere.

      1. I think WG is an automatic inclusion if we are going that far back but then a host of other candidates arrive too. Jardine? Bet a lot of Aussies would opt for him. And West Indians might throw Tony “Grovel” Greig into the mix? Broad is a defensible selection, annoys the antipodean cousins at least.

    2. Missing an opportunity to have a father-son combination there. Broad Sr. was at least as obnoxious as Jr.

      I’m assuming Darryl Hair is officiating.

    3. Boycott
      Strauss
      Vaughan
      Pietersen
      Morgan
      Prior
      Botham
      Cork
      Swann
      Gough
      Broad

      Not sure I really mind a dickhead, though, at least not unless it’s added to something else. We’re all dickheads really, some of us are just better at hiding it. Quite fond of a lot of the above, and less fond of a number of players who were/are a bit more self-aware. Noteable all of them could bat a bit too – the proper rabbits had humility beaten into them (though it’s taking a while with Our Stuart).

      Think Grace was too joyous to be hateable. Hawke, Warner, etc., much more like it from further back.

  8. You’ve gone and included the only modern Aussie to walk before being given out!

    Always felt that Haddin was vastly more objectionable than Gilchrist. At least Gilchrist had the ability to back up his chatter behind the stumps. Haddin was just a bad player who couldn’t shut up.

    1. Maybe it’s partly players we hated England coming up against. We have a more visceral reaction to Gilchrist than Haddin or Wade.

      Gillespie is a good bloke too. Hated him being in the opposition though.

  9. I can’t believe Haddin isn’t in there either… Gilly was the only Aussie player i actively liked. Mainly because he smiled in genuine manner and not like a shark as the others did.

      1. If the criterion is really “a team we couldn’t bear losing to”, I’m not sure I minded losing to Gilchrist specifically. Always aimed to provide top-class entertainment to the paying punters and often succeeded – bearing in mind professional sports is part of the entertainment industry, there isn’t much else you can ask of a pro, particularly one representing the opposing team. If that financial angle is too grubby and unwholesome and you’d rather see cricket as art, he was a proficient performing artiste. If a couple of hours of a Gilchrist Special was ever the difference between your side winning and losing, you never had that galling feeling of having lost to the worse man.

        Gilchrist was annoying because you disproportionately often lost to him (and indeed as a result of him) and there was a sinking feeling of anticipation seeing his name announced in a touring party that at some point in the series something was going to happen, or indeed something was going to Be Happened To You. But he wasn’t, individually, annoying to lose to. Part of the bitter taste of another Ashes humiliation was never “God, I can’t believe we’ve just lost to bleeding Gilchrist.” Now a certain Mr Haddin, on the other hand…

        On the other other hand, with Haddin the losses were cushioned by being fewer in number and the sense you always had a chance against him, whereas the inevitability attached to any incident of a Gilchristian Force of Nature was pretty crushing. Perhaps that’s the thing really. Losing to Gilchrist wasn’t unbearable because it was annoying. Losing to Gilchrist was unbearable because it was crushing.

      2. This is excellent analysis. You’ve explained our decision better than we were about to.

  10. No Healy? I thought he was nailed on for this team, along with Slater. Gilchrist by and large gives me the impression of not being an irremediable dick. If not Healy, then Haddin, surely?

    I really don’t think I could pick Martyn out of a police lineup, I’d have to have Border there instead (or Waugh, M, who generally gets forgotten by dint of being (very) slightly less of a prick than his brother and a (much) more attractive batsman).

    I’d probably drop Gillespie too, I hated him when he was playing but unlike my eternal loathing of McGrath, I haven’t been able to maintain my dislike of him since he retired.The one that really annoyed me was Reiffel, he never seemed that good and yet he just seemed to take a ton of wickets. And we could never get him out.

    I’d drop Warne for MacGill just to piss Shane off.

  11. I’d have Warner as the first name on the team sheet so he’d replace S Waugh who comes across as a pretty decent fella off the field. I’d also have Lyon in ahead of Gillespie and anyone but Gilchrist, probably Haddin.

  12. If we’re doing it on the basis of them being tossers, Warner (the fact he isn’t a nob off the pitch makes it worse not better), Bancroft and Smith (for trying to style it out about sandpaper and then excessive self-pity once they got slammed. Also Smith for being really good but in a really aesthetically unpleasant way), Andre Nel was irritating (because it all felt a bit forced), Cronje for being a massive hypocrite, Butt for being a dick and ruining the careers of the two bowlers, Shoaib Akhtar is quite clearly a dick, but he does it with style so I find it hard to hate him. Same for Gayle (to an extent; his bad behaviours are throughly unpleasant) and Marlon Samuels (who I actually like), Ganguly is a proper smug git who I can’t stand, Graeme Smith I hated as a player but he seems a nice man, KP was/is a dickhead, Swann, definitely Vaughan post playing career, Cork must have been annoying to play against, Shane Watson is comically self-absorbed but fun to be in opposition to, and Andy Flower for just trying too hard all the time and being a misery guts and sucking all the fun out of playing international cricket for a living. Oh and Matthew Wade. Obviously. And Ramdin for the whole “talk naah Viv” thing. Which was very petulant. He embarrassed himself.

    Rant over.

  13. It seems to me as an armchair psychologist (taking a sabbatical from being an armchair epidemiologist) that this team is selected not so much on dislike (or hatred for a stronger term) but fear or some haunting (repressed) memories.

  14. Is it possible to construct an Australian team of likable people?

    First name on the team sheet is Benaud but am struggling to find the next name.

      1. And real or fictional? I’m trying to think whether Sandy Stone was ever portrayed as an ex-cricketer. If not, surely Les Patterson would have been up for a game, particularly if there were some members of the opposite sex on the boundary to impress, and maybe that means Sandy Stone counts too, seeing as they’re sort of the same person…

        Sandy Stone would be a thoroughly decent, if rather dull, cricketer, who knew exactly which lines not to touch with a barge-pole.

    1. Victor Trumper was apparently a really good guy, and very popular among those who knew him. I think the English press loved his style rather than picking holes in his personality.

      Cricinfo has a speech by Ashley Mallett about Trumper that’s just good heart-warming stuff aside from the inevitable tragedy: https://www.espncricinfo.com/story/_/id/17335319/talented-mr-trumper

      There are so many stories about Trumper, as there have been about Bradman, both true and apocryphal, that it is difficult to know which is which.

      We do know Vic was generous to a fault. That he loved his mother’s cooking and his favourite food was toad-in-the-hole. He was said never to have smoked or touched alcohol, nor did he bet. He learnt to play euchre and he became an accomplished pianist …

      In 1899, Vic went into partnership with Hanson “Sammy” Carter, the New South Wales and Australia wicketkeeper who doubled as an undertaker, in a sports business. The Trumper and Carter Sports Depot was situated at 108 Market Street, Sydney. By all accounts Victor was a hopeless businessman. He once grabbed a bat off the 7/6d rack after a hectic Saturday morning trading, hit a glorious century for Paddington that afternoon, and on the Monday returned the bat to the rack with the note: “Used bat. Special 3/9d.”

      Former New South Wales governor Sir William McKell, who once sent me a fading photograph of Trumper, told me that as a boy he once went into Trumper’s shop with a few mates. He asked Vic for a real ball, a six-stitcher, but Vic talked the boys out of buying it, saying it would quickly scuff on the asphalt pitches. He advised them to buy the cheaper composition ball. Sir William said over the phone: “Eventually Victor gave us a few balls, a bat, and a pair of pads, a set of stumps and a pair of batting gloves… all this for the cost of the compo ball.” No wonder the kids loved him. …

      Vic was concerned about how rugby union had no practical insurance scheme in place for injured players. When Sydney player Alec Burdon broke his arm in 1907, he spent weeks off work during his rehabilitation, but he received not a penny in compensation from the New South Wales Rugby Union administration.

      At that time the Australian Board of Control for International Cricket (formed in 1905) too was riding roughshod over the players. No longer were the players in charge of profits. Trumper found himself fighting a battle on two fronts – cricket and rugby union – and he was in the frame of mind to fight back on behalf of all sportsmen. His fight to help form a breakaway rugby league succeeded, but his clash with cricket officials five years later didn’t go quite so well. …

      When researching my book Trumper: The Illustrated Biography I found brief notes in Vic’s personal 1902 diary. On the night of Thursday, July 24, the self-effacing Trumper wrote: “Wet wicket. Fourth Test. Won toss, made 299. Self 104. RAD [Reg Duff] 50. Ist w 135. England 5 for 70. Tate first Test. Fire G Peak and Co.” All he wrote about his amazing century before lunch on the first day of the Test was “Self 104”.

      In the third Test, at Bramall Lane, Sheffield, Vic scored 1 and 62 in Australia’s crushing 143-run victory. For a teetotaller, Vic’s diary note of July 5, 1902, the last day of that Test, might raise the odd eyebrow: “Hurras. Won match. Glorious. All drunk. Left for Birmingham. Arrived 12pm.” …

      Some 13 years after Trumper’s death, Australia’s new batting phenomenon, Don Bradman, first strode on to the Test match stage. Unlike Trumper, who often threw away his wicket after he completed his century, Bradman upon reaching his first ton would narrow his eyes and set his sights on the next milestone. In contrast to Trumper, whose batting soared majestically like an eagle, Bradman’s batting was ruthless, relentless, ever pressing with the efficiency of a giant A380 airliner.

      At the start of his Test career Bradman heard a great deal about Trumper’s batsmanship from the players who had played with and against Vic. These men included Alan Kippax, Johnny Moyes, Herbie Collins, Clarrie Grimmett, Charlie Macartney, Hill and Arthur Mailey. Their glowing reports were said to have infuriated cricket’s newest batting wonder. Kippax often said within earshot of Bradman that Trumper was undoubtedly the greatest batsman of all time.

      Of course, the fact is undeniable that Bradman’s Test average of 99.94 makes Trumper’s Test average of 39.04 pale into relative insignificance. However, statistics, as Cardus points out, do not tell the whole story of a cricketer’s worth: “You no more get an idea of the quality of Trumper’s batsmanship by adding up his runs than you will get an idea of the quality of Shelley’s poetry by adding up the number of lines written by Shelley.”

      Just go and read the whole thing. As an Englishman, I’m particularly keen on the idea of an Aussie who’ll throw his wicket away after reaching his century!

      1. Excellent thanks for that. Will read the whole thing. Any biography of him you can recommend?

    2. Trumper
      Brown, Bill
      Hughes, Kim
      Moody
      Watson
      Miller
      Gilchrist
      Benaud
      Johnson, Mitchell
      Gillespie
      Grimmett

      Weird number of all-rounders, for an Australian team. Could have picked a few other spinners, too. Their strike rate after they decided their national cricketing character was “Jardine, but louder and boorish” some time in the 1970s isn’t so great.

  15. I’m onboard with everyone bar the inclusion of Martyn…can you really hate any player THAT elegant?

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