Things are getting too serious in this blog. Shifting tracks…

Selecting an all time cricket team used to one of my favorite exercises in school and college times. Since one day cricket was just starting to become popular – 83 world cup win, and 84 World Series Championship win happened after I joined college – there wasn’t much history and much scope for arguing. And I think we just wanted to hang out and argue more than anything else. So it used to Viswanath vs Gavaskar, Bedi vs Chandrasekhar, who should partner Kapil…

While selecting this XI, I have some guidelines to myself.
1. Performing abroad is much more important than performing in India. In Indian conditions, Kapil can be a perfectly adequate number 6 batsman – I think he averages around 35 with the bat in India. Abroad, he probably averages 25 and would be a good number 8. Bedi is a terrific bowler in Indian conditions – abroad, he needs to bowl 10 more balls and give 10 more runs on average to get a wicket.

2. Ideal composition of a team is 5 batsman, 1 allrounder, 1 wicketkeeper, and 4 bowlers. It would help if there is a mixture of right and left handed batsmen, if the wicketkeeper is a reasonable bat, if there are 3-4 batting/bowling allrounders in addition to the designated allrounder.

3. For the batsmen, ability to play fast bowling, swing bowling is valuable. This is what they can expect abroad.

Openers: Gavaskar and Sehwag. They are the only world class openers India has produced. Both average more than 50 abroad. Gavaskar does well in the company of an attacking batsman – remember his association with Srikkanth? One grafter, one attacking batsman is the ideal combination. If Sehwag suceeds, Gavaskar would have an easier job. If Sehwag fails, Gavaskar would probably try harder. Sehwag should also bowl a bit more – expect to bowl 5-10 overs in every match, especially when 3 pacers are selected.
Other candidates are Vijay Merchant – rejected because he didn’t play enough tests (had class, but not even 1000 runs in tests), Ravi Shastri (had the temperament, but didn’t open enough), Sidhu (average of nearly 54 at home, but averages less than 34 abroad), Srikkanth (poor average, failed more often than succeeded), Chetan Chauhan (good association with Gavaskar, but that alone is not enough) and Gautam Gambhir. Gambhir has come up fast in the last couple of years (this post was written approx 2 years back) and I think is the only true competition to Gavaskar and Sehwag.
Cricinfo shortlisted Gavaskar, Sehwag, Merchant and Sidhu. I think they should have at least short listed Shastri and Gambhir as well.

Middle Order: India hasn’t produced too many great batsmen. Vijay Hazare, Polly Umrigar, Gundappa Viswanath, Mohinder Amarnath, Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar, Saurabh Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman – that’s it. My ranking of them is as follows:
1. Sachin Tendulkar
2. Rahul Dravid (Runs Tendulkar close)
3. Gundappa Visvanath (Much better than his figures)
4. VVS Laxman
5. Saurabh Ganguly
6. Vijay Hazare
7. Mohinder Amarnath (Terrific record abroad, poor record in India)
8. Mohammad Azharuddin
9. Polly Umrigar
10. Dilip Vengsarkar (Figures high in many lists due to his coming at #1 in the world rankings for a year or so, but record is poor in every country except India and England)

For the record, I place Gavaskar and Sehwag, in that order, between Dravid and Viswanath. In other words, Gavaskar is the #3 on my Indian batsman list, Sehwag is #4, Viswanath is #5 and everybody other than Sachin and Dravid gets pushed down by 2 in this list.

Given this, the middle order more or less selects itself.
One down: Rahul Dravid. Tendulkar, Dravid and Gavaskar are the three world class batsmen we have produced. (Now I would add Sehwag to this list – 4 world class batsmen from India.)
Two down: Sachin Tendulkar. He should be used as a bowler to some extent – should expect to bowl 10 overs in every match.
Three down: Saurabh Ganguly! It is blasphemous not to include Viswanath, but Saurabh is the best captain India ever had, his left handedness is an advantage, and his bowling would help in England, and the right conditions. We need a strong captain to lead this team of prima donnas, and Pataudi is the only other choice. Saurabh beats Pataudi as a batsman any day.
Wicketkeeper: Farook Engineer. Pips Dhoni by a small margin. Engineer was a full fledged batsman in the early seventies, especially abroad. But I expect Dhoni to replace Engineer in a couple of more years. Kirmani is the only competition – he is the best keeper of the lot, but his weaker batting counts against him. Kunderan may be a good choice – but he hasn’t really played abroad (just 4 tests in nearly 10 years, and he failed in them)
All rounder: Vinoo Mankad. This means no Bedi. Bedi is not very effective abroad. Neither is Mankad, but we don’t have a good allrounder. Mankad averages around 30 with the bat – which is not great, but ok. In India, he is probably equivalent to Bedi as a bowler, but abroad Bedi is a bit better. But Mankad’s batting triumphs over Bedi’s advantage in bowling.
All rounder #2: Kapil Dev. Surprisingly, Kapil’s bowling figures are better in India! He has never succeeded in England. Kapil averages around 27 with the bat abroad, and 33 with the ball. Useful, but not great. But there is no choice! Manoj Prabhakar is the only competition, and he pales in comparison against Kapil.
Fast Bowler: Srinath. Only choice. Zaheer has performed well abroad, though.
Spinner: Kumble. Beats off stiff competition from Chandrasekhar, Prasanna, Subash Gupte, Bedi and Harbhajan. His record used to be very poor abroad, but he has turned things around in the second half of his career.
Last Bowler: The best bowler among the remaining crowd is Chandra. He took around 4 wickets per match, though a little expensive – averaged around 32. For balance, (Mankad is the leftie, Kumble is the leggie) if I want an off spinner here, it would be Prasanna. He is the only offspinner who had some success abroad. If I want a pacer here, it would be Zaheer. Zaheer’s performance in India is very poor, but his figures abroad are good. A wicket every 56 balls, at an average cost of 32.

Again, if I sum up the averages abroad, this team can be expected to score around 370 runs per innings without counting extras – 740 runs per test. Assuming that Zaheer plays, this set of bowlers would claim around 19 wickets at 680. Not outs skew averages; noballs & wides were not counted for bowlers from olden days. So matches would be close, but they should be able to beat most teams..

My test XI to play abroad again:
Sunil Gavaskar
Virender Sehwag
Rahul Dravid (Vice Captain)
Sachin Tendulkar
Saurabh Ganguly (Captain)
Farukh Engineer (Wicketkeeper)
Vinoo Mankad
Kapil Dev
Anil Kumble
Javagal Srinath
Zaheer Khan

Mankad or Engineer can open in a pinch.

I would select the reserves from a team of Visvanath, Laxman, Mohinder, Azhar, Shastri, Dhoni, Chandra, Pras, Bedi, Gupte, Manoj Prabhakar, Venkatesh Prasad. Ideally, I need two extra batsmen, a reserve wicket keeper, 2 bowlers, at least one of whom should be a medium pacer. It would depend on the country I am touring. For example, I would select Mohinder for Pakistan or West Indies, for example above other batsmen.

If I have to make a generic selection, it would be Visvanath, Laxman, Dhoni, Venkatesh Prasad & Chandra. If I get a 17th player, it would be Prasanna. Prasad is the weakest selection, and I hope Ishant Sharma or Sreesanth replaces him soon!