Legends October 26, 2010

The best of the best

While it can be argued that picking fantasy XIs are ultimately exercises in futility, they also serve the worthiest of causes

I am yet to meet a cricket fan who doesn't fancy himself as a selector. This of course makes the job of professional selectors among the most hazardous in the business. Everyone thinks they could have done a better job than you and, no matter what team you pick, there would be a billion people disagreeing.

But picking all-time XIs is always fun because it allows you to enter the realms of fantasy with nothing material at stake. So we stand accused of having indulged ourselves for over 15 months in picking all-time XIs of each major Test-playing country and then capping it off with a World XI. Judging from your whole-hearted participation, though, it's clear that we haven't been the only ones enjoying ourselves.

However, fun was only part of the deal. While it can be argued that picking fantasy XIs are ultimately exercises in futility, they also serve the worthiest of causes. They give us a reason and opportunity to peek into the past, and regard the present in its context. Cricket is so incessant, so over exposed and, if you live in the subcontinent, so pervasive that it allows little room for contemplation. And the modern game can get so raucous, so frenzied and so over-hyped that it can feel too rarefied for its own good.

The word "great" is bandied around so casually and so carelessly - and never so insincerely as on TV commentary - that it has been stripped of all value. An exercise like picking an all-time team is to force yourself to examine greatness in proper context and restore it to its rightful place.

Picking an all-time XI is never about whom to include but whom to leave out. Selectors regard the problem of plenty as a happy one, but this is a problem of obscene abundance. Picking one player means leaving out at least five others who could have done the job as well. But, as Ian Chappell has said, the best way to examine great players is to judge them by their opposition. We can go on quibbling about the players we would have had in our team, but is there anyone in that XI who didn't earn his place?

Happily, my role was restricted to picking the jury and I can explain that part of the selection. We chose eight Test captains, most of whom started their first-class career in the 1960s; assuming they all started watching cricket at least ten years prior to that, that would have given them a span of almost 60 years. As captains, they were all keen students of game and were closely involved in selecting teams. Additionally, we chose three cricket historians for obvious reasons and one of world's most-travelled cricket writers who has been a captain himself.

Now we can go on quibbling about the players we would or should have had in our team - Where's Imran? Why not Hadlee? No Gavaskar? Gilchrist over Knott? Why not both Murali and Warne? - but to a great degree that's what it is all about: getting involved, digging into memories, caring and feeling for your heroes and celebrating them.

And in keeping with the spirit of things, I have allowed myself the indulgence of picking my own team. I would make two changes. Alan Knott wins my vote for being the better wicketkeeper and because this team might not be so reliant on Gilchrist's batting.

And because I saw him tackle the most fearsome bowling attack of our times with the assuredness none of his contemporaries could manage, and because so much my childhood and youth was spent worshipping his batting, I would have Sunil Gavaskar open the innings. But who would I drop - Hobbs or Hutton? - is a question to contemplate over the next few days.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • testli5504537 on December 20, 2010, 7:33 GMT

    This is the perfect team.

    @ Heramb Gude.........I totally agree with u...

    Just that LARA should have done sth individually in WCs which did not....Lara's individulal performance is very pathetic in tournament finals WCs and of late against pace bowlers....He could only score against spin or slow medium bowlers He would always get lbw as the ball nipped in ...........As far as Sachin is concerned many argue that if AUS scored 360 on a pitch in WC 2003 it must have been a placid pitch and Tendulkar should have chased it down too....but they fail to understand that it is India's pathetic wavererd bowling that make every pitch look placid. That pitch had a lot of movement. but Pathetic Indian bowlers were failing to control too much movement that day, hence they bowled with cross seam.

  • testli5504537 on November 13, 2010, 7:52 GMT

    My all time 50 Cricketers of all time in order of merit are Sobers,Bradman,W.G.Grace,Imran Khan, Warne, Hobbs, Tendulkar,Viv Richards,Murlitharan, Marshall,Lara,Lillee, Hammond,Ponting,Gavaskar,Hutton ,Botham,Hadlee,Headley,Akram,Barry Richards,Trumper,Mcgrath,Graeme Pollock,Keith Miller ,Ambrose,Greg Chappell,Kallis,Lindwall,Trueman,Kanhai,Miandad,Weekes,Border,Kapil Dev,Worrel,Arthur Morris,Steve Waugh,Ian Chappell,Andy Roberts,Holding ,Hayden,Garner,Gooch,Greenidge,Walcott,Walsh,Harvey,Cowdrey,and Waqar Younus.

    When the chips were down we had greats like Ian Chappell,Javed Miandad and Allan Border who could bat for their lives.In his era in the 1970's Ian Chappell was the best batsman in a crisis even overshadowing both the Richards,and brother Greg Similary Stev waugh and Javed Miandad would overshadow contemporaries like Viv Richards or Tendulakr in a crisis-great bad wicket stars.

  • testli5504537 on November 13, 2010, 7:18 GMT

    West Indian maestro,Rohan Kanhai posessed more prowess and creative genius for batting than any batsman in Cricket .Had he done justice to his ability he may well have been the best batsman of all as at his best his batting entered regions even surpassing Bradman.He came in at one down where he averaged over 53 runs.He was the most consummate of all batsman which his average of 47.53 does not reveal.He was a superior player of fast bowling than Lara or Tendulkar.

    On wet pitches Jack Hobbs and George Headley were the best.Hobbs scored 12 centuries against Australia and scored a majority of his record 197 first-class hundreds on wet pitches.Headley outscored Bradman on wet pitches and was a better batsman on bad wickets.

    Had Barry Richards had a full International career he would have been the greatest ever opening batsman and perhaps even surpassed the likes of Viv Richards,Lara or Tendulkar.No batsman combined such pefect techniqe with such phenomenal destructive ability.

  • testli5504537 on November 7, 2010, 7:19 GMT

    My all time 1st team is Hobbs, Gavaskar, Bradman, Lara, Tendulkar, Sobers, Gilchrist, Hadlee, Marshall, Warne and Akram

    My all time 2nd team is Hutton,Barry Richards,Viv Richards, Hammond,Pollock,Botham, Imran Khan, Knott, Lillee,Murlitharan, Mcgrath.

    Alltime 3rd team-Morris,Sutcliffe,Headley,Ponting,Greg Chappell,Clyde Walcott,Keith Miller, Lindwall,Trueman, Ambrose Bill O'Reilly

    In a combined one day and test team Viv Richards would replace Lara in the 1st 11,while Hadlee was the best fast bowler amongst allrounders.

    My best paceman are in order Marshall,Lillee,Hadlee,Mcgrath,Andy Roberts,Holding,Imran,Ambrose,Akram, Lindwall,trueman,Allan Donald

    best allrounders in order Sobers,Botham,Imran,Kallis,Keith Miller,Kapil Dev,hadlee,Shaun Pollock, tony Greig,Procter,Mankad,Chris Carins

    best batsman in order-Bradman,Hobbs,Sobers,Tendulkar,Richards,Lara,Hammond,Ponting,Gavaskar,Hutton,Greg Chappell,Pollock.

  • testli5504537 on November 7, 2010, 6:50 GMT

    Gary Sobers is the greatest allrounder as no allrounder changed the complexion of bat and ball together as consistently.Kallis matched his figures but never equally excelled in matches with bat and ball.In that light the Ian Botham of 1977-1982 was the best after Sobers,taking 200+wickets with 5 wickets per innings and scoring over 3000 runs at a 38+average.In the 1981 Ashes at home and the 1980 Jubilee tset in Bombay he even surpassed Sober's match-wining efforts.

    Imran Khan would beat Botham statistically and was the best from 1981-1987.However he never performed equally well in his career with ball and bat.In the mid 1980's when arguably the best fast bowler as a match-winner his batting did not match that mark.While similarly averaging over 50 with the bat from 1988-1992 his bowling was not at par with his batting.

    Kapil Dev was very close to Botham considering he was superb on docile Indian tracks,while Hadlee was vey much like Imran becoming a great batsman later.

  • testli5504537 on November 7, 2010, 6:39 GMT

    Those who undermine Dennis Lillee forget his peformances on docile tracks against great batting line ups eg. melbourne in 1977 and 1989 and at the Oval in 1972 and 1981.With Marshall he was the most complete of all fast bowlers taking 5 wickets per test and adding Packer supertests would have captured 434 wickets.Statistically Hadlee is he best paceman taking 36 5 wicket hauls and capturing 10 wickets 9 times that too at astrike rate of 50.9 with 5 wickets per test.Mcgrath is very close statistically.Imran was a great match-winner with his great pace and champion with the old ball with the ball but did not posess the armoury and versatality of Marshall and Lillee nor Hadlee and Mcgath;s accuracy,and control.Wasim Akram was the most versatile of all paceman who swung a new and old ball as much as the greatest paceman.Had he been consistent and a posessed the control and accuracy of Hadlee or Mcgrath he would have been the greatest fast bowler of all.

  • testli5504537 on November 7, 2010, 6:24 GMT

    Overall I feel Tendulkar is rated far above the other great batsman.True in combined cricket he is the greatest ever and been the most consistent and arguably complete but he has not equalled the prowess of brian Lara in a crisis nor could he like Lara compile such mammoth scores,that too at such a breathtaking strike rate,superior to Tendulkar.Lara has 9 200+scores including a 300 and a 400,while Sachin has 6.At his best Lara could change the complexion of a test match to a greater extent and would win my vote over Viv Richards and Sachin in a test 11.

    At his best Viv Richards was better than Lara and Sachin was witnessed in the 1976-1980 period where he demolished the greatest fastbowling with greater ferocity than even Bradman and changed complexion of matches in both forms of the game like no batsman ever.

    The most complete of batsman after Bradman was Gary Sobers-A great match-winner and a champion in a crisis in any conditions against the best bowling.

  • testli5504537 on November 7, 2010, 1:17 GMT

    I played cricket up to the age of 40 in queensland nsw and tasmania not at state level but learned how to bowl and the rules of batting. You bowl line and length and dont try to buy wickets, patience is the name of the game. Batsmen wait for a ball to hit usually a couple each over. Mitchell Johnson is the worst bowler I have ever seen. His bowling is guesswork. Ricky Ponting fails the test of fundamentals crabbing across the wicket and skying balls to the legside for constant easy catches is novice stuff. Surely we dont need these two and then we drag up a player named hastings who I would think hasnt played cricket before. And then they drop Dougherty who got 4 wickets and a runout in his debut. Success is punished in this team of dopes. Maybe we could forfeit for awhile to give the fans some respite of incompetence and dumbness.

  • testli5504537 on November 6, 2010, 15:19 GMT

    By the way, Sambit - I recently did a post on Gavaskar's somewhat overrated reputation that owes a lot to his seemingly extraordinary average against the mighty West Indians. Would love to get your views on the same!! Awaiting your comment.


  • testli5504537 on November 3, 2010, 19:20 GMT

    @hattrick..the fact that Lillee very few chances to play in subcontinent & WI cannot be held against him..somebody needs to play at least 10-12 tests in a particular country/continent for a fair accessment of his performances..he was outstanding in packer series 78-79 which had great icons in all teams & he was more hostile than most legendary fast bowlers cricket has seen.I agree weightage should be more for better performances in subcontinent..but check out Lillee's record at Aelaide..similar batting friendly pitch as in subcontinents..Lillee took 45 wkts in 9 games Av 27,Strikerate 55 balls /wkt..a good proof of his quality.He missed out 5 test in WI'78 & 6 test in India'79 during his packer stint..no doubt he's a top performer..Now in my one of earlier comments I missed out Ray Lindwall in my bowling rankings..& think he shd be at 14th spot jtly with McGrath & also giving imp on subcontinent performances I had rated Marshall at no1 ahead of Lillee(at 2).

  • No featured comments at the moment.