With Cricinfo currently starting on its Indian All-Time XI and with the Sri Lanka-India series providing as much excitement so far as an attack of measles, I thought this would be a good time to do my own India’s Best Test XI and Best One-Day XI.
A few assumptions. Only players who appeared for India post-independence were considered. Also the list is hopelessly biased towards players I personally saw, heard and read about.
For Test Matches
Openers: There is not really much room for deliberation here. Though not of opposing polarities in terms of the hands in which they hold their bats, they definitely are in terms of batting style. Which makes them a dream opening combination. Sunil Gavaskar and Virender Sehwag. One will shut the bowlers out with his impeccable technique while the other will hammer them into submission with force that even the Mahajan cannot match on his female friends.
Numbers three and four: The upper middle-order. Again surprisingly this is also a no-brainer. At number three, you just have to put in the Wall (the prospect of Sehwag getting out and Dravid and Gavaskar batting might be terrifying for many spectators) and at number four, the greatest batsman of the modern game saunters in, with the India flag on the helmet.
Numbers five: The last specialist batting spot is one where there is some room for uncertainty. If we were playing Australia, a case could be made for VVS. If we were playing against raw pace on a bouncy track, you would be hard-pressed to look beyond Mohinder Amarnath. If it was an Indian featherbed with the ball coming ankle-height, my money would be on Azharuddin. Polly Umrigar is another contender for the slot but his critics would point out his less-than-stellar record against the best of opposition on helpful pitches. Which leaves only one person—-adroit on all surfaces and masterful in strokeplay: Gundappa Viswanath. Number five was never really his spot but he still would be my choice as the last specialist batsman in this team.
Number six: The all-rounder slot. India has produced only two outstanding all-rounders in its history: Vinoo Mankad and Kapil Dev. What gives Kapil the advantage (and it is a big one) is that he is also India’s best fast bowler. That and riding BSA-SLR to a game, learning English using Rapidex and shaving with Palmolive.
Number seven: The wicketkeeper. While the temptation would be to put India’s best ever wicketkeeper-batsman (Mahendra Singh Dhoni), [that would definitely bring up the net earnings/player number considerably] considering the batting line-up ahead of him I would put my trust in the best specialist keeper India has had—-Syed Mujtaba Hussein Kirmani, more so since, as we shall we see, we will be playing three spinners.
The four bowlers: The bane of Indian cricket, the paucity of quality pace bowlers, is evident when we come to the pool of bowlers. Who would share the new ball with Kapil Dev? Three names I can think of—Ramakant Desai, Javagal Srinath and Zaheer Khan. Ramakant Desai was reputed to be really fast and accurate but not having seen him, I have to go by exclusively by his statistics which do not suggest an all-time XI placement (he played very few Tests). Zaheer Khan brings a different angle of delivery than Kapil Paaji and is an expert proponent of the art of reverse swing. However I feel he has been far too inconsistent in his career to earn the tag of an all-time great Test bowler. Which leaves one choice. Srinath—India’s fastest bowler ever (better average than Zaheer). Yes I know. If you are still not getting what’s wrong with this picture, just think of the All Time XI Pakistan would have against us—Imran, Wasim and Waqar.
Most teams would have three fast bowlers in their Test side. But as Indians, we need to play to our strength. Spin. Of the three spinners, Anil Kumble selects himself. People may say he is not really a spin bowler but honestly when someone has won so many matches for India and taken so many wickets, who cares whether he spins the ball or not. Plus he would be the best person in the XI to be the captain. With Kumble as the leg-spinner, we need someone to spin it the other way. India has produced several quality off-spinners—Erapalli Prasanna, S. Venkatraghavan and Harbhajan Singh. Based on people who played against him and those who watched him play, Prasanna with his variation and loop is considered an all-time great while the rest are not. This leaves one slot.
In my XI, I would have B.S. Chandrasekhar there purely because of his unorthodoxy. In Test matches, one needs a shock bowler—-he might not work everyday but when he is on song, he becomes nigh unplayable. Chandrasekhar was one such X-factor player, whom Viv Richards rated as the most difficult bowler he has ever played. That endorsement in itself gets him into the last spot. Which means we have our XI.
1. S. Gavaskar
2. V. Sehwag
3. R. Dravid
4. S.R. Tendulkar
5. G. Vishwanath
6. K. Dev
7. S. Kirmani
8. A. Kumble [captain]
9. J. Srinath
11. B.S. Chandrasekhar
For One Day Internationals
Openers: If in the early 90s, someone had told me that an Indian All-Time XI for ODI would not have Srikkanth in it, I would have asked him what he was smoking and whether I could take a puff. But in 2010, India have been so blessed up the order, that Krish has no place. The problem with that of course is he can become a selector and get Murali Vijay in but let’s leave that for now. In terms of candidates for Number 1 and Number 2 in the batting order, we have three giants: Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag. Because Sachin and Sourav have batted together for so long and are left-and-right-handed, I am going to pencil them in as my openers. It would be a crime not to pick Sehwag (though admittedly he is a better Test batsman than he is a One day one) if not for nothing else than the 103 career strike rate. Which makes me send him in at Number 3. Think of the bowling side who, when they see the back of Sourav or Sachin, will then see Sehwag coming in. Pity them fools.
Middle Order: With Sehwag at Number 3, one slot is taken care of. For a number four, I would like to have someone who can move the strike around, be solid technically and accelerate as needed. The person whom I have seen play this role to a perfection was Mohinder Amarnath. Dravid could also be a candidate for this fall-back-man position if the opening dashers collapse but Amarnath, to his advantage, has his deceptively swinging medium-pacers, which won us a World Cup. Coupled that with the fact that he was a fairly decent fielder for his time (he used to lead the physical drills for the Indian team as the fitness-man) and one sees why Amarnath makes this spot his own.
Number five has two contenders. Polly Umrigar, considered India’s best batsman before Gavaskar, was also one of the biggest hitters of his era, known in the Carribean as a “palm-tree hitter”. His weakness, as alluded before, was against the best of opposition under bowling-friendly conditions, a weakness he shared with Mohammed Azharuddin, the other candidate for this slot. What edges Umrigar out however is Azhar’s sublime fielding skills. In 2010, with all the improvements in physical fitness and overall fielding standards, he still remains India’s best-ever ground fielder along with India’s best-ever “playing the field” guy.
Lower Order: At number six, we have the Haryana Hurricane. End of story. Number seven has Dhoni, India’s best keeper-batsman and a master of the art of batting in a limited over game. Number eight is for the bowling all-rounder. From what I have heard and read, there can be no one better than Salim Durrani for this position. My father always used to tell me that Durrani was born in the wrong generation—-today he would have been a rockstar. Easy on the eye (Parveen Babi made her debut opposite him), he was a very accurate left-arm bowler very difficult to get away and would be the ideal person to come in if a hurricane thirty runs was needed (In “Sunny Days”, Gavaskar wrote of how Durrani could hit sixes into the crowd on demand—-people would clamor for a six and he would send it right into their area)
Bowlers: With Kapil and Durrani being regular bowlers supported by the part-time skills of Amarnath, Sehwag, Sachin and Sourav, we need three more bowlers. Zaheer makes it here because of his yorker and because of his ability to reverse. Srinath will be the third fast bowler in the absence of options. (Again this is the weakest part of the team). The spinner’s slot once again goes to Anil Kumble despite Bhajji being the better batsman and fielder, simply because Kumble is streets ahead of Bhajji in the department that matters the most, skill.
So final XI.
1. S. Tendulkar
2. V. Sehwag
3. S. Ganguly (captain)
4. M. Amarnath
5. M. Azharuddin
6. K. Dev
7. M. Dhoni
8. S. Durrani
9. A. Kumble
10. J. Srinath
11. Z. Khan
As a bonus (which you wont find anywhere else), I include GB’s Mast XI. These guys may not win matches but I would love to see them play against Mars in a underhand one-drop-one-hand out cricket match for the fate of the solar system.
1. Sujith Somasundar (Sachin predicted this big-hitting dude would be India’s next big hope. He could not get the ball beyond 5 yards, one yard less than even Angshuman Gaekwad)
2. Arun Lal (For the sheer joy of hearing him telling the bowler gems like: You are bowling the ball. Hence you are the bowler. You need to take wickets and not give any runs.)
3. Vinod Kambli (If only Sachin had paid more attention to him…Bo hoooo……)
4. Yuvraj Singh (Aiee Ganpat zyara panee la, thoda table wable saaf kar dena yaar….[Link])
5. Atul Bedade ( The one whom Imran Khan called Bedaad)
6. Devang Gandhi (Because the Golden Rule of India is that anyone with the surname “Gandhi” is to be automatically chosen and made the captain)
6. Nayan Mongia (Nayan tarse,Taras na mile, Dono se bahe dhar, Nayan Tarse)
7. Ajit Agarkar (The Gary Sobers of an anti-matter universe)
8. Ravindra Jadeja (For the sheer joy of watching him bat with Agarkar)
9. Bharati Arun (Fell down at the bowling crease in his first ever over)
10. Sreesanth (“We all go crazy sometimes” said Norman Bates of “Pyscho”. Well this is the man who is crazy all the time)
11. Noel David (Noel who?)
With apologies to Abey Kuruvilla, Ajay Sharma, Doda Ganesh, Raju Kulkarni, Raghuram Bhatt, Hrishikesh Kanitkar, W. V. Raman, Deep Dasgupta and many others…….