December 23, 2010

Mike Holmans

Dear Santa

Mike Holmans
Ian Bell goes over the top during his century, Australia A v England, Hobart, 2nd day, November 18, 2010
Ian Bell is the successor to Michael Vaughan as the premier exponent of classically elegant batting.  © Getty Images
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Dear Santa,

I hope I've been good rather than bad and nice rather than naughty this year, and that you will therefore look kindly on my Christmas wish.

What I want is a series of five-day cricket matches between my team and yours. Obviously there will be some difficulty fitting it into the international calendar, so what I suggest is that you simply give the World Cup to India and then we can have the matches when that bloated waste of time was scheduled. In South Asia if you like, but only if you can find a couple of pitches there that will assist the pace bowlers: there needs to be a decent variety of conditions for the five-match rubber.

My team is a pretty good one, though by no means unbeatable. The basic criterion for selection has been that I really enjoy watching these players, and I hope you'll enter into the spirit of it by picking players who are at least interesting if not necessarily as attractive as mine. So that means no Bangladeshi pace bowlers or Australian slow bowlers, and above all it means no Jacques Kallis because even thinking about him makes me yawn.

My first opener is Tamim Iqbal because his Lord's hundred was the most enjoyable innings I saw all year. He paid no respect to the solemnity of a Lord's Test match and simply went out there and had fun, which annoyed the England fielders no end. And a good thing too.

Partnering him will be Chris Gayle. The way he uncoils to launch the ball over the boundary reminds me of a bear swatting away buzzing insects which are disrupting his attempts to get on with some serious sleeping. Admittedly the middle of a cricket pitch isn't a very sensible place to try and have a good kip, but then I'm not going to try arguing with a bear, especially not a grumpy one.

Since we're liable to be 36 for 2 by the end of the fourth over as often as we reach 180 for 0 by lunch, we'll probably need a bit of rebuilding. At number three will therefore be Rahul Dravid, the calmest of today's defensive batsmen. Where most defenders make it obvious that the bowling is dangerous, Dravid plays his forward defensive and looks down the pitch slightly puzzled, as if wondering why they are making things so easy.

At number four comes the captain, Mahela Jayawardene. He has to captain because he is one of those, like Graham Gooch, who is transformed by captaincy from a pretty good batsman into a world-beater – he averaged 67 during his stint leading Sri Lanka. He can play the long rearguard innings when required, but it's really for his twinkling feet and jewel-precise stroke-making when in the ascendant that I'm picking him.

The most compelling of today's batsmen is Kevin Pietersen, who will slot in at five. Watching him fills me less with pleasure than with awe, but no other Test player astonishes more often with the audacity of his hitting; although the shots are quite deliberate, you weren't expecting him to hit that ball in that direction.

Fidel Edwards bends his back on an unresponsive surface, England v West Indies, 2nd Test, Chester-le-Street, May 14, 2009
The only thing missing from Fidel Edwards' aggressive approach to the crease is smoke coming out of his ears  © AFP
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My current favourite batsman comes in at six. Over the last year, Ian Bell has shown that he doesn't lack bottle and that he can score hundreds even if no one else does, thus nullifying the two major criticisms previously levelled at him. To me, he is the successor to Michael Vaughan as the premier exponent of classically elegant batting. He has the strength to give the ball a good, solid clout but relies far more on pinpoint timing and excellent placement to keep the runs flowing like champagne at a tycoon's party.

I was going to be really stuck for a keeper until a few days ago, since I don't think a great deal of any of the current crop of international stumpers, and Kamran Akmal is offensively bad. But then Mark Boucher demonstrated his trick of running people out with his back to the wicket and earned himself a spot in this XI.

Graeme Swann will be the main spinner, because of his attitude. He is an attacking spinner rather than one who relies on boring batsmen out, and he has an engaging personality. He knows that playing a game as a job is inherently ridiculous and refuses to take it too seriously – until there's a batsman standing thirty yards away as he starts his run-up. And just as it was once thought that legspin was destined to become a type of fairly useless bowling practiced only by weird Asians until Shane Warne proved the opposite, so Swann is doing his bit to show that conventional finger spin is not obsolete and can be fairly tricky on any wicket, not just a dustbowl.

Dale Steyn is the obvious choice to lead the pace attack. He is in the line of fast bowlers stretching back through Michael Holding, Dennis Lillee and Fred Trueman, with a controlled run-up which seems to expend little excess energy and a beautifully clean action unleashing highly accurate lightning bolts.

First change will be Fidel Edwards. His run-up is anything but economical, being a full-tilt charge, the only thing really missing being smoke being blown out of his nostrils before the explosion at the end. What gets down to the batsman isn't quite as frightening as the run-up might suggest, but he's still a pretty lively customer.

He won't be opening with Steyn because Chris Martin does swing the new ball a little. I've always felt that Martin is slightly underrated as a bowler; not that he's an unsung genius, but he's a cut above the average hack and a worthy Test match competitor. However, I will admit that what gets him into the side is his batting. Though you know in your heart that he is more than likely to add to his large collection of ducks, there is an exquisite suspense in waiting for the inevitable.

So that's my preferred playing XI. Obviously for a five-match rubber I'll need to have a squad, but you can have first pick of the rest. I'll just say that if you don't want them, my backups would be Graeme Smith, Andrew Strauss or Gautam Gambhir as openers, Younis Khan, Michael Clarke or Jesse Ryder for the middle order, Suleiman Benn as backup spinner and Jimmy Anderson and Ryan Harris as reserve pace men.

Santa, I realise that this is a pretty tall order and you probably won't be able to deliver. But could you (or some of my readers) at least say who you would pick as the opposition so I can at least fantasise about the games?

Best wishes,

Michael

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Posted by Abdul Qadir on (September 10, 2011, 7:48 GMT)

My Team M.Hafeez Cris Gyle Shahid Afridi Yonus khan Kamran akmal Umer Akmal M.Ammir Abdul Razzaq Branden Mcollum Aziz Cheema Wahab riaz Umer gul

Posted by Nilesh chavan on (July 28, 2011, 8:39 GMT)

Dear Michel My team will surely beat your team

My team is

1. Virendra Sehawagh

2. Shane Watson

3. Jack Kallis

4. Sachin Tendulkar

5. A.B. Develiers

6. Sakible Hassan

7. Mahendra Singh Dhoni ( Captain)

8. Shahid Ajmal

9. Zaheer Khan

10. Brett lee

11.Jimi Anderson

Back for Openers ( Dilshan )

Back Up for middle order ( Amala / Mike Hussy / VVS Lakshman)

Back Up for Spin ( Ajanta Mendis)

Back Up for pace ( Morne Morkal / Bollinger / Ishant Sharma )

Best of luck for your team

Posted by shikhar on (July 27, 2011, 16:02 GMT)

My team:- A)Openers viru and gayle (both two times triple centurians and devastating batsmans one left handed and other right handed so left/right combinations works murdering the bowlers from both ends) Middle Order 3)Dravid(captain)(THE WALL always the most reliable batsman) 4)TONdulkar(when god wanted to play cricket he sent sachin) 5)Kevin Peterson (most extraordinary and charismatic cricketer) 6)Kumar Sangakara(wk)(the best keeper/bat in the business) 7)Shane Watson/VVS (both are gr8 players) Bowlers Graeme Swann (best spinner in recent times) Zaheer Khan (LEFTIES beware zak is present in my team) Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel (one has got pace and swing other has pace and bounce both has got the ability to put the best batsman in trouble and has done in the recent past seems like the pair of ambrose/walsh is back but the white ones)

Reserves Jimmy Anderson Ricky Ponting Saeed Ajmal

Posted by shikhar on (July 27, 2011, 12:39 GMT)

I don't know how ppl here have suggested bhajji and dhoni's name in there teams.However my team would be:- 1)Chris Gayle (the triple centurion openers) 2)Virender Sehwag 3)Rahul Dravid(c)(if he wants to) 4)Sachin Tendulkar 5)Kevin Peterson 6)Kumar Sangakara(wk)(otherwise my second choice for captain) 7)Shane Watson 8)Graeme Swann 9)Zaheer Khan 10)Dale Steyn 11)Morne Morkel

Posted by sorry on (January 16, 2011, 10:59 GMT)

how can u not have Sachin at no 4? u call it best eleven?

Posted by Rahul Uk on (January 13, 2011, 12:22 GMT)

Suliemann Benn... Thats a little to optimistic.....

Anyways My Opponent XI

1. V. Sehwag 2. A. Cook 3. J. Kallis 4. S. Tendulkar 5. S. Chanderpaul 6. M. Hussey 7. B. Mccullum (as Wk) 8. D. Vettori 9. Z. Khan 10. L. Malinga 11. K. Roach

Posted by Fabian on (December 28, 2010, 20:13 GMT)

Sorry Mike,You did specify "No Kallis" So his replacement would be AB De Villiers. As for Amir being banned...I forgot. What a silly silly boy you are Amir. I guess it's going to have to be Mitch Johnson then. Please,please get that line and length right Mitch.

Posted by KOUSHIK DAS on (December 26, 2010, 8:07 GMT)

Seein ur XI,i thnk ur sum choice r ri8 n sum r rubbish! MY XI acrdin 2 ordr: 1.VIRENDER SEHWAG 2.HASIM AMLA 3.RAHUL DRAVID 4.SACHIN TENDULKAR 5.MIKE HUSSEY 6.MS DHONI(c & wk) 7.DANIEL VETTORI 8.GREAM SWANN 9.MICHETTEL JOHNSON 10.ZAHEER KHAN 11.DALE STAYNE -jst luk at my team... IQBAL is jst began 2 ply,a nwcumr,h shuld nt part f ds XI..y do u pick him?

Posted by riz on (December 25, 2010, 17:58 GMT)

Dravid's batting is surely defensive. Even though batting has become all about hard-hitting & scoring quickly, Dravid's batting is still wonderful to watch. Great pick!

Posted by waterbuffalo on (December 24, 2010, 15:19 GMT)

I agree with the poster who said that picking the "World's Best" is boring, I'd rather create a team out of a certain philosophy and see what happens, so to start with, let's have four spinners-Ajantha Mendis, Harbhajan Singh, Danny Vettori, Shakib Al-Hassan- next, wicky, Mahendra Singh Dhoni,Openers-Sehwag and Shane Watson, Watson can take the shine off the ball, 3-Amla,4-Mohd Yousuf ( two bearded guys running around will confuse the opposition and bring back memories of WG Grace)5-Mike Hussey (too good to be left out) 6-Jesse Ryder, who will share the new ball with Watson, they can bowl 8 or 10 overs and then give it over to the spinners.7-MS Dhoni (Captain)8-Harbhajan Singh.9-Daniel Vettori.10-Shakib al Hassan. 11-BAW Mendis. As you can see, this team bats to number ten, and the spinners will have 4 men around the bat with Amla at forward short leg, no more ring fields and sweepers and negative boring fields that you get from pace men, pure attack, Bishen Bedi style, that's my team.

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