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Three one-time middle-order batsmen and one pure opener are in the running for the first two spots
August 3, 2010
Selectors of all-time XIs have two advantages over national selectors, who have to choose the team for the next Test match or next series. One, they can pick players they have never seen in action. Vijay Merchant played his last Test in 1951; only a couple from our jury were alive that year.
The other advantage is that all-time XIs, unlike current ones, do not have to be picked on potential alone. No place, therefore, for someone like Salim Durani, who fell short of greatness as an allrounder despite 29 Test matches, a century in the West Indies and his role in India's first-ever series win against England in 1961-62 (23 wickets, 199 runs). No potential, then, or such things as "entertainment value", just proven performance.
The Best XI is not necessarily the Ideal XI. According to Don Bradman, the Ideal XI would comprise two openers, one of whom is a left-hander; three middle-order batsmen, one of whom is a left-hander; one allrounder; one wicketkeeper who can bat; one fast bowler to bowl with the wind; one fast-medium bowler to bowl into the wind; one offspinner; and one left-arm spinner (or legspinner).
Any attempt to force a left-hander to open for India would keep out more deserving candidates whose only drawback is that they are right-handed. Nari Contractor was the first left-hander to open regularly. India believed for long that the way to get their money's worth out of a wicketkeeper was to make him open the batting.
This thinking was also partly inspired in the pre-Gavaskar days by the conviction that openers were sacrificial lambs anyway, their main duty being to protect the middle order from the new ball. No one, not even Vijay Merchant and Mushtaq Ali, began as openers.
Some volunteered to open knowing that was the only way they could fit into the XI; enlightened self-interest, it was called. It is ironic therefore, that for over half a century India held the world opening record of 413 (Pankaj Roy and Vinoo Mankad).
If all-time teams seem unfair to players of the distant past, it is partly because the later players have had more opportunities to strut their stuff upon the world stage. Also, more recent players have the luxury of better equipment, covered pitches, physical training and psychological inputs, and are thus better prepared than their predecessors, with the records to show for it. A googly might have worried Victor Trumper (or indeed Bradman himself in his final Test), but the modern batsman deals with it comfortably. All projections that give the nod to a former great over a recent candidate come with the understanding that given the same opportunities, the old-timer would have performed just as well, or better, adapting his game to the needs of the situation.
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