Magazine article The Spectator

Bradman's First XI Is Enough to Make You Think ... about Plato and Aristotle and Even Kant

Magazine article The Spectator

Bradman's First XI Is Enough to Make You Think ... about Plato and Aristotle and Even Kant

Article excerpt

The Times has revealed posthumously the late Donald Bradman's ideal cricket XI of all time. Few political scoops have inspired so much conversation, and argument.

Admittedly, mainly among males; more women seem to like cricket than any other important sport, apart from tennis. But the compiling of lists of the greatest, in various fields, seems to be an almost exclusively male activity. If a paper had a list of the ideal couturier XI, it would almost certainly be from a male hand. The male is the listmaker of the species.

An old journalistic mentor of mine, the late Colin Welch, deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, used to compile ideal cricket XIs with the late Desmond Williams, an Irish historian. Williams was one of those rare people who think great or interesting thoughts long before they are thought by the famous. Apparently, he produced the thesis of AJ.P. Taylor's Origins of the Second World War quite a few years before Taylor did. But Williams did so in a learned journal, and in any case he made no effort through his prose to excite the lay reader. He was also unfamous. Taylor had a propulsive way of writing - all staccato and aphorism - and the fame derived from his being the first television don. Williams did not mind. He seemed content to write his academic prose, and to sit from time to time with Welch in the Kings & Keys - the pub of ill repute next to the old Telegraph building in Fleet Street - compiling their cricket teams; both contentedly, and not at all obnoxiously, drunk.

Except that the teams would not be made up of cricketers, though Welch certainly knew much about the game, and perhaps Williams did too; he seemed to know about everything interesting. Instead, their teams comprised, say, German philosophers (both had a knowledge of German culture). I would go into the pub of an evening after a hard day's, or rather a soft day's, leader writing.

Welch: 'I have decided to put in Hegel at number one.'

Williams: `Are you mad?'

Welch: `What's wrong with that? Slogger Hegel will get us off to a good start against the new ball.'

Williams: `My dear Colin, that's all Hegel is. A slogger. He is at least as likely to be out first ball as hit the pavilion. His theory of the dialectic was wide enough of the boundary to be taken up by Marx.' Welch: `Be that as it may. There remains the question of the captaincy. I suggest Schopenhauer.'

Me: `But he was a leader of the Pessimist School of German philosophy, wasn't he? Fancy having to listen to him just before you got out to field: "Right, lads. Time to go out there and lose!"'

Welch: 'I don't think you know anything about this sport.'

Bradman's list is similarly contentious. There are only two English names on it: Bedser and (only as 12th man) Hammond; another humiliation for English cricket at Australian hands in this dreadful summer. But at this point we English should stop conceding that, at this or that, we are not world class. What is the most important and hardest of Man's functions? It is to think. The selection of an international, dream thinking XI would tell a different story about the English. Yet we often concede a lack of world-class players in thinking as well. Some of us assume that the French think better than us. Some even think that Welch's and Williams's Germans were better thinkers than ours. (Neither Welch nor Williams did: both admired the intellectual achievement of the Englishspeaking peoples. …

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