Cricinfo has been running a feature called All Time XI where various analysts, former players, cricket historians and writers form a panel that selects all time XI. So far the All time XI have been rolled out for Australia, Sri Lanka, New Zealand, England and South Africa. The process is now on for Pakistan. There is no rhyme or reason for the order they have chosen the countries; Its not alphabetical order or a chronological order by which these countries started playing test cricket. Perhaps, they are saving India for last, as that might be the one that gets cricinfo the maximum readership and debate? Not so much on this blog. We are going straight for it.
A lot of the final XI are typically legends of the game and will be a direct write in on anybody’s list. So, let’s get those out of the way and we can focus on the ones that need debate.
Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Kapil Dev, Anil Kumble. (We can’t have any disagreements on these, gentlemen. They have served Indian cricket for a long time and admirably. They all feature near the top of the lists of all time run-getters/wicket takers.)
Let’s discuss The Others now:
The Opening partner for Gavaskar: Names like Farookh Engineer who was a swash-buckling, fearless artiste with the bat in his days, Pankaj Roy, Vinoo Mankad, Navjot Sidhu, Chetan Chauhan (who partnered Gavaskar himself) and Virender Sehwag easily pop up. In my opinion, the other opener needs to be someone that complements Gavaskar’s game. Sunny is one of the most technically perfect batsmen to ever play the game and was equally comfortable on fast, bouncy wickets and turners. But, he was someone that did not go after the bowling aggressively but chose to grind the attack to dust, thanks to his enormous internal source of concentration and discipline. One person who has shown that the type of pitch and the bowling attack has no effect on how he approaches his game is Sehwag. He already is considered one of the best openers of the game and is just entering his peak. He has shown his ability to play the long innings and is the only Indian batsman to score triple century (and he did it twice and another 293 to boot)!
That moves us right to batting spots 5 and 6 in the middle order as we have The wall and the God holding hostage the one-down and two-down spots. There are several candidates as this is India’s forte – The middle order. We have Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare, ML Jaisimha, Mohammed Azharruddin, Dilip Vengsarkar, Gundappa Viswanath, Sandeep Patil, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. In my opinion, these 2 spots should go to batsmen that can come in drive home the advantage given to them by the top order and also show the ability to play with the lower order, and the ability to play play on fast bouncy pitches, as the services of 5 and 6 in the batting order is rarely required within India, considering the quality of the top 4. With that in mind, I award these 2 spots to Gundappa Viswanath and Dilip Vengsarkar. Vengsarkar holds the record of scoring 3 centuries at Lords and was one of the gifted batsmen of his time, and Vishy, well… his backfoot play was something to behold. These two batsmen have shown their ability to perform outside India and were marvelously gifted stroke makers. Perhaps, I am a little biased towards players of the modern era. In my mind, the closest contest to this spot is from VVS Laxman, who has performed exceedingly well against the best team of his era, the Aussies.
Wicket-Keeper: This spot coming in at 7, requires a safe pair of hands behind the wickets (as they will have to keep to some of the finest spinners the game has ever seen) and someone who is capable of contributing with the bat. A quick 50 to drive home the advantage or have the nous to dig in, if the situation demands it. The contenders are: Farookh Engineer, Syed Kirmani, Nayan Mongia, MS Dhoni and Kiran More. Except for Dhoni, all these were naturally gifted wicketkeepers, especially, Kirmani and Engineer. Mongia was no slouch with the bat. Dhoni, in his short time behind the wicket, has shown tremendous promise but has been a lot more effective in front of it, although his technique is suspect in swinging conditions. Based on the needs I have laid out (Glove work and Quick-hit batting based on solid technique), I choose Farookh Engineer. (His technique beyond doubt, is the best of the lost, as he used to open the batting for India during the periods of WI domination!)
The Number 8 spot is of course, reserved for one of the greatest all rounder the game has ever seen, Kapil Dev and Number 9, the all time highest wicket taker for India Anil Kumble. This leads us to #10 and #11. These 2 remaining spots could be taken by 2 pacers or 1 pacer and 1 spinner. As this team needs to be equipped to win in India and abroad, the two pacers-two spinners is ideal for all conditions. To pick the 2nd pacer (after Kapil Dev), the choices are: Amar Singh, Abid Ali, Javagal Srinath, Prabhakar and Zaheer Khan. The fact that Kapil was a swing bowler (of the highest order, I might add), there is a need for the other pacer to bring in the variety, either as a seam bowler or a left hander. I am torn to make a choice here but I have to make a choice here and so, I am going with Javagal Srinath, someone that kept going and going, was zippy off the pitch and troubled batsmen with seam movement. Zaheer Khan (especially the recent avatar) would be an ideal foil with his left arm swing and his ability to reverse. (May be I’ll keep Zaheer as the 12th man).
There is no question the #11 spot (for the 2nd spinner) needs to come from the following: Chandrashekhar, Bedi, Prasanna, Venkat and Harbhajan Singh. Bhajji has shown the knack of disappearing when playing abroad, so I am kicking him out. I cannot go wrong with picking any from the spin quartet, but the fact that Bedi was a magician with the ball – the loop, the pace, the drift, gets my vote and was never afraid to toss the ball up and always looked to get wickets, an essential quality for a test match spinner.
So, without further ado, Here is my All Time XI (Of course, captained by Kapil Dev – The only one to take India to a world cup triumph and always led the team from the front). All I have to do now is wait for Cricinfo to come up with theirs and see how many they get right! In the meantime, let me know what you think.
Farookh Engineer (WK)
Kapil Dev (C)