November 14, 2012

The fifteen that Gods would stop to watch

A stats-based selection of an all-time XV evaluating mutliple batting and bowling parameters

Glenn McGrath is the automatic bowling selection in any location © Getty Images

Important schedule change announced at the end

This article has been on the anvil for some time and despite my weak shoulder, I have hammered it through. My selection is just a starting point to get a comprehensive user response to determine an all-time World team.

I have selected a team of 15 players. I have also made an attempt to select eleven players for the 8 locations that I expect or would like Test matches to be played at.

I have taken the major decision that this will be a team of specialists. No all-rounder, however great he is, will be considered for his all-round skills. They will be evaluated on their specialist skills and if they qualify, and in this case let me add that two qualify, they will be selected. This may be at variance with other strategies and I am ready to stand by my decision because I believe that specialists win matches.

My fifteen consists of 7 batsmen, 1 wicket-keeper and 7 bowlers. For the playing XI, I expect to select 6 out of the 7 batsmen; the keeper stays on everywhere and 4 from the 7 bowlers. This will give me the flexibility to select suitable bowlers based on the expected conditions and the way the bowlers performed in these locations in their careers. I need more flexibility in the bowler selections than batsmen selection.

I am willing to compromise on batting positions in order to maintain the team balance. I also believe that a top quality early middle order player would be good enough to open. And a great no.3 would bat equally well at no.6. I will not be a slave to preconceived notions and dogmas.

I have selected my XV. The reader may not agree with that set of players. That is democracy at work. Instead of raking me over the coals for my (non-)selections, the readers can now have their voice heard by giving their own fifteen. All of us have a single vote each and this will be truly Vox populi.

My seven batsmen, and the chosen wicket-keeper, are shown below, in alphabetical order.

Batsmen and wicketkeeper in top fifteen © Anantha Narayanan

Bradman, Gavaskar, Hobbs, Lara, Richards, Sobers, Tendulkar, Gilchrist

The qualities I have looked for have been listed below. All of them would walk into their own Team XVs. Let me also confirm that Sobers has been considered purely as a batsman and his bowling skills would be a bonus. Any more details are not necessary at this stage. More than 72000 runs at display here at 60+ average.

- Team balance (3 left-handers)
- Defensive skills (Hobbs and Bradman)
- Attacking potential (The middle order)
- The ability to play long innings (Lara, Bradman, Sobers)
- Match winning ability (Gilchrist at no.7)
- Match-saving ability (rarely for this team) and
- No clearly identified weakness.

The wicket-keeper position was very easy. There was only one candidate: Adam Gilchrist. As my recent article on wicket-keepers showed, he is head and shoulders above the others. A great keeper, no weaknesses and a truly match-winning batsman. If there is a keeper or two ahead of him on keeping ability, again an unproven purely subjective view, the run difference per innings would be of the order of 25.

The seven bowlers are shown below, again in alphabetical order.

Bowlers in top fifteen © Anantha Narayanan

Ambrose, Hadlee, Marshall, McGrath, Muralitharan, Warne, Wasim Akram

Again I have looked for qualities listed below. These have been considered as individual bowlers and their ability to bowl together as a pair has not come in for consideration. Again, let me confirm that Hadlee has been considered purely as a bowler and his batting skills would be a bonus. There is no need to provide any justifications for these selections. 3700+ Test wickets at an average of 22 is enough justification.

- Variety (Pace, seam usage, left-handed swing, spin options)
- Match-winning ability
- Top strike rates (Even spinners below 60)
- Injury-free careers
- Ability to bowl tightly, when needed (Ambrose, Hadlee, McGrath)
- Ability to defend a total of 100 in the fourth innings and
- Ability to dismiss a team for a sub-100 total on the opening day.

I have done a Team rating which is

Average of Batting averages of the top-six batsmen
12.5% of The wicket-keeper index as outlined in my recent article
(Based on Dismissals, Dismissals per Test, Byes conceded per Test,
Runs scored and Runs per innings)
80.0-(Average of Bowling averages of the four specialist bowlers)
The only table which will be presented indicates the selection of the playing XI in the selected 8 countries.

Location Avg / IdxAusEngIndNzlPakSafSlkWin
Richards650.24 RichardsRichardsRichards  RichardsRichardsRichards
Tendulkar655.08TendulkarTendulkarTendulkarTendulkarTendulkar Tendulkar 
Gavaskar451.12Gavaskar    GavaskarGavaskar Gavaskar
Ambrose520.99AmbroseAmbrose   AmbroseAmbroseAmbrose
Marshall520.95  MarshallMarshall MarshallMarshall Marshall
Akram423.62  AkramAkramAkram Akram 
Murali422.72  MuraliMurali  MuraliMurali
Warne425.42WarneWarne  WarneWarne  
Hadlee222.30Hadlee  Hadlee    
Batting  62.2962.1562.1562.1562.2962.1562.2962.15
W-K  10.3110.3110.3110.3110.3110.3110.3110.31
Bowling  57.4157.7557.7757.4357.0957.7557.7658.43
Team  130.02130.21130.23129.89129.70130.21130.36130.88

Bradman, Hobbs, Lara and Sobers are the batsmen who have been selected for all the 8 locations.
Gilchrist is the wicket-keeper in all the teams.
McGrath is the only automatic selection amongst all bowlers.
Gavaskar has been selected in countries where he has done well and there is need for his skill-sets. He will, of course, open in these matches.
Tendulkar will open in the 4 locations where Gavaskar is not playing. He has impeccable technique and I am sure he would do an excellent job opening the innings.

Readers can give their selections by following these guidelines.

- You can select 11 to 15 players.
- 16th and onwards players will be rejected.
- If you select 10 or fewer players or there is no wicket-keeper, the entry will be rejected.
- I have included a few sample comments. I will be pragmatic about it since the content is more important than form.
- However my task will become easier if you maintain format especially because I have to do some cut-and-paste operations to index these submissions.
- Reader identity is desirable but not mandatory. Suppose your selection matches the all-Readers XV, "James Thompson" would sound much better than "Lord-of-Lords".
- In general any selection should be acceptable. My general comment is that your selected players should have a very good chance of selection to their own country XVs.
- I will have no problems if you select Boycott or Bedi but if you select Blewett or Boje, two randomly picked names, I would conclude that you are mocking the selection process.
- If you do not select Bradman, fine, that is your choice. But then you may find your bowlers bowling at him!!!
- If you give duplicate entries, the latest one, if it passes the above criteria, will replace the earlier one.
- Do not give two XVs. I am asking for ONE XV and not two equal strength XIs to play matches between these teams. No problems if you give a First XV/XI and a second XV/XI and ask me take the First one.
- Do not restrict yourself to any period. Your selection will not be accepted.
- Please read all comments. At least read all my responses since the answer to your question might be there.

Justification on your selection, comments on my selections, comments on other readers' selections et al will be fine but not essential. These will be published as received. In general most comments will be published with least amount of response from me. This is the perfect article for that much-needed luxury for me.

Your comments containing the selections should reach me on or before 31 December, 2012. Further analysis articles will appear during December. I will refer to this article in those ones too. I will process your comments and come out with a final wrap-up summary article on or around 15 January, 2013. The Readers' XV, based on an analysis of the readers' selections, will also be posted in that article in which I will also come out with a second XV/XI.

The suggested formats for giving your entry are

Selection of Anantha Narayanan
Wasim Akram

Or Anantha Narayanan: Hobbs, Gavaskar, Bradman, Lara, Richards, Tendulkar and Sobers Gilchrist Wasim Akram, Ambrose, Muralitharan, McGrath, Gavaskar, Hadlee, Marshall and Warne.

Or XI of Anantha Narayanan: Tendulkar, Hobbs, Bradman, Lara, Richards, Sobers, Gilchrist, Ambrose, Wasim Akram, McGrath, Muralitharan.

Or Something similar.

You could share the link of this article with your friends and acquaintances in order to can get more selections.

The ball has been served and is in your court now. Have fun!!!

My last article elicited very few comments. Understandable since that was a bowler-centric one. However, two related and pertinent questions for the period 1985-2012, for which I have no answers, have to be raised. We have to keep in mind the fact that, in just over three days of play in the Brisbane Test, 3 wickets were disallowed because of subsequent detection of no balls. And all were expensive transgressions.

The first is "How many wickets were lost because of bowler bowling no balls?".
The second one is "How many wickets were illegal because of undetected no balls?".

A few interesting statistical moves at the end of the Brisbane Test (not the "highest score made on a week-end south of Equator" type of tidbits).

- Kallis has crossed the 57 mark. He is sixth in the table, has crossed Hobbs' mark and is now within sight of Sobers, if he continues his excellent form. Hammond's 58.x might not be tough to overtake in this series.
- Clarke has re-joined the 50-average club, which now has 33 members. What a move? More than 2 runs in a single innings.
- Amla has gone above 50, after spending a few Tests away from this mark. Smith and Pietersen are poised to return to the nice number if they have decent showings.

Since I feel most of the responses would be in soon and as requested by a few readers, I have decided to close the acceptance of entries on 7 December and come out with the follow-up article on or around 15 December.

Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems