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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.
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?
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