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By Suresh Menon
Viv Richards or Brian Lara? Keith Miller or Walter Hammond? Malcolm Marshall or Waqar Younis? W G Grace or Ranjitsinhji? These are only some of the questions a sole selector of an all-time World XI has to face on the eve of the 2000th Test match. The answers may be logical, based on figures, romantic based on the rich literature on the game, personal and based purely on biases or simply illogical, inconsistent and unexplained.
But three, possibly five slots are already taken, and it is useful to recognise this early in the process. Jack Hobbs of the 197 first class centuries is the quintessential opening batsman, and the No 1 position is his. At number three it has to be Don Bradman, he of the 99.94 Test average. No. 6 has been reserved for Garry Sobers for nearly half a century now, and is likely to be till the sun runs out of fuel and the stars collapse into themselves. Sobers is a five-in-one cricketer – a batsman who once held the world’s highest individual record, a left arm fast bowler of genuine pace, an orthodox spinner , a back-of-the hand chinaman bowler and a close in catcher of the highest class.
Two other slots were filled in the recent past, one by a batsman on the brink of his 100th international century, and the other by a leg spinner. Sachin Tendulkar at number four to follow Bradman is a drool-worthy prospect. With Sobers capable of bowling in three styles, two of them spin, the side needs only one other spinner and that has to be Shane Warne.
Now let the arguments begin!
The candidates for opener’s slot include Len Hutton, Sunil Gavaskar, and if we want contrast, Virender Sehwag . Victor Trumper averaged just under 40, but it was said of him (inevitably, by Neville Cardus) that his art “is like the art in a bird’s flight, an art that knows not how wonderful it is. Batting was for him a superb dissipation, a spontaneous spreading of fine feathers.” Give me that over mere averages any day. The best of cricket manifests itself in both the runs made and the manner of making them; a Trumper or a Ranji takes us beyond figures into the realm occupied by the highest forms of music or the greatest art. Exaggeration from someone who never saw Trumper bat? Perhaps. But what is cricket without romance? So Hobbs and Trumper, then, to open. A marriage made in heaven.
At five, it will be Viv Richards, one of the most destructive batsmen to have played the game and one of its greatest all round fielders to boot. For the all rounder’s slot at number 7, there are Jacques Kallis, statistically the best of them all, Wilfred Rhodes who batted in every position from one to 11, was good enough to play Test cricket at 52 and who finished with more first class wickets than anybody else, and Walter Hammond, classical batsman and top quality medium pacer. Perhaps we could pick both Rhodes and Kallis here, and name a twelve. One of them plays depending on the nature of the wicket – Kallis if the call is for a fast medium bowler and Rhodes if spin is needed.
Adam Gilchrist is possibly the greatest wicket-keeper-batsman the game has known, but as a pure wicket keeper, England’s Alan Knott is superior. In all-time XI selections, the better specialist should make the grade .
Who are the two fast bowlers to open the bowling? The shortlist includes Malcolm Marshall, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Dennis Lillee, Waqar Younis, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Harold Larwood, Ray Lindwall. I will go with Marshall and Lillee. Here’s the team:
Jack Hobbs (Eng), Victor Trumper (Aus), Don Bradman (Aus, captain), Sachin Tendulkar (Ind), Viv Richards (WI), Garry Sobers (WI), Jacques Kallis (SA), Alan Knott (Eng), Shane Warne (Aus), Malcolm Marshall (WI), Dennis Lillee (Aus), Wilfred Rhodes (Eng)