April 26, 2008

Stranglers and swordsmen

The King and Pollock, up against Murali and Pidge

Clockwise from above Murali, Richards, Pollock, McGrath © Getty Images, PA Photos

Having been fortunate enough to watch Glenn McGrath and Muttiah Muralitharan front up against Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, my mind has often wandered to a place where imaginary contests light up the field of dreams. As with many children of the 1980s, for me picking up a bat meant one thing - wanting to be like King Viv. An average of 50.21 seems almost commonplace in this age of flat-track bullies, but Richards could strut his stuff anywhere and against anyone, smashing centuries against BS Chandrasekhar and Bishan Bedi in India and counterattacking gloriously against Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson at their white-hot best.

In McGrath he would be confronted with perhaps the most effective bowler of all time, a man without the charisma of a Dennis Lillee or the repertoire of Wasim Akram, but possessed with an uncanny knack of knocking over the big boys time after time. With Scrooge at one end, Murali would be free to experiment at the other, extracting prodigious turn with those freakishly supple wrists.

Given that Murali has sometimes struggled against left-handers, Graeme Pollock would partner Richards. I wasn't fortunate enough to watch Pollock play, but archival footage of the 125 at Trent Bridge and another masterpiece for the Rest of the World reveal a batsman whose ability to time the ball as sweetly as anyone before or since was almost incongruous given his rugby-scrum size.

McGrath and Murali would be like twin boas, slowly choking their prey, but neither Richards nor Pollock would hold back, launching into strokes with the hauteur and majesty that only the anointed possess.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo