Openers August 3, 2010

Top four

Three one-time middle-order batsmen and one pure opener are in the running for the first two spots

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.

The candidates

Sunil Gavaskar
In the all-time XI, one end would seem to be reserved for Sunil Gavaskar, the first man to 10,000 runs, and a bulwark against extreme pace in the pre-helmet days. In his early days Gavaskar was seen as a clone of Merchant, whose first-class average is second only to Don Bradman's, but who played just 10 Tests (average nearly 48), all of them against England.

Vijay Merchant
If Gavaskar disqualifies himself because of opinions expressed rather too strongly for the cricket board's or the ICC's comfort, then Merchant would be the automatic choice. In fact, whatever the final XI, a case can be made for an equally balanced alternative XI - with Gavaskar opening in one and Merchant in the other.

Virender Sehwag
To open with Gavaskar and Merchant might be over-egging the pudding. Partnerships blossom by dint of differentiation and with Sehwag at the other end, India can have the best of both worlds - a top-class defensive batsman at one end and a creative, attacking one at the other.

Navjot Sidhu
Three of the four in the list (Gavaskar being the exception) began as middle-order batsmen. Sidhu began as a strokeless wonder before blossoming into an aggressive six-hitter, whose calculated attack on Shane Warne first made the great spinner look ordinary.

We'll be publishing an all-time India XI based on readers' votes to go with our jury's XI. To pick your openers click here

Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Musti on August 5, 2010, 17:31 GMT

    Many people are preferring Gundappa Viswanath and Dilip Vengsarkar for a middle order place and not VVS Laxman, who has a better overall record above them as a batsman and who is also an outstanding slip fielder. His batting average is above 46 (both Viswanath and Vengsarkar have ~42). In different countries the average of VVS ranges from a low of 37.42 in Pakistan to a high of 54.05 against Australia. On the other hand, Viswanath's average ranges between 26.1 (NZ) and 47.3 (India), whereas Vengsarkar's ranges between 24.94 (WI) and 55.59 (Eng). Clearly VVS has not only a better average, but is also more consistent across all playing conditions. Finally, neither Viswanath nor Vengsarkar scored an innings that can be compared to his 281 in Kolkata!

  • trevon on August 5, 2010, 17:01 GMT

    HA Sehwag against: Marshall Garner Ambrose Holding Bishop Roberts Hall Griffith..? hahahahha better have 2 helmets. they were the reasons for the "2 bouncers an over" rule. dont rate this dead wicket bully.

  • Dummy4 on August 5, 2010, 16:37 GMT














  • Dummy4 on August 5, 2010, 16:27 GMT

    Whoever is questioning Dhoni's abilities as a test batsman has perhaps forgotten the innings he played at Lords(2007), against Australia at Nagpur(2008), against Pakistan at Faisalabad(2006). The innings at Lords was perhaps the best attempt ever by a Indian Wicket-keeper in successfully saving a test.

  • Dummy4 on August 5, 2010, 15:57 GMT

    Sunny and Viru are no doubt the top two openers. However let us give Kris Srikkanth his due: Statistics cannot convey the impact he had as a player on the game. His murderous assault made batting easier for everybody. The cricinfo audience is knowledgeable enough to know the impact of his 38 in the WC final compared to a century against Zimbabwe on a cement pitch. The memory of a helmetless Srikkanth walking out against the fearsome foursome in 1983 at Lords, going on one knee and cutting Roberts to the boundary still brings goosebumps. The 1985 WCC chanpionship team was built on the foundation of Srikkanth's aggression, Shastri's tenacity and L. Siva's virtuosity.

    If Sunny was incomparable like Lata, and Viru irresistible like Asha then Srikkanth was ebullient like Gita Dutt who had a comparatively shorter career but who at the peak of her powers could hold her own against anybody and whose best hits are still amongst the greatest ever Hindi film songs!!

  • Ravi on August 5, 2010, 15:52 GMT

    it is amusing to read comments about players of a much earlier era. i feel it is our nature to romanticize the past. that one bruised inning here, another defiant one there, one morning of banana swingers, an afternoon of spitters, and so on. however, every single player in the all time xi has to be a man who was always a winner in his mind - be it any era, a true winner will prevail. and, here, we have people voting for players who were not even able to prevail in their own era? on that count we have two winners in the opening combination - gavaskar and sehwag. bring on the middle order now...

  • Shantanu on August 5, 2010, 15:48 GMT

    My Indian team from the players I've seen (after 1974) - Sunil Gavaskar, Virendra Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, GR Vishwnath, MS Dhoni, Kapil Dev, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, BS Bedi. Those who closely miss out are: M Amarnath, D Vengsarkar, BS Chandrasekhar, Harbhajan Singh, EAS Prasanna. With Kapil Dev coming at seven the extra batsmen is not required so can play four bowlers out of which three can be pushed to bat a bit. The team has option of Dravid or Vishwnath at three though my choice is Dravid.

  • Raghu on August 5, 2010, 15:11 GMT

    My team will be having Kirmani as my keeper as he is the best of all for keeping skills and I cannot accomodate Kumble as Chandra was magic. Kumble can walk into X1 if Chandra has a weary arm. My offspinner will be Shewag as Vinoo Mankad will be my 2nd allrounder after Kapil Dev. I couldnt accomodate Jimmy Amarnath or VVS or Gangs or Vijay Manjrekar who can easily walk into the team with their exploits. It is a tough 11 to pick. Sunny Gavaskar Shewag Dilip Vengsarkar Sachin Tendulkar G.R.Viswanath Rahul Dravid Kapil Dev Vinoo Mankad Syed Kirmani J.Srinath B.S. Chandrasekhar 12th Man Anil Kumble

  • Saeed on August 5, 2010, 15:09 GMT

    Can't believe someone's mentioned Nayan Mongia for the wicketkeeper's role.. couldn't bat and his keeping was abysmal at times.. all-time XI 1) Gavasker 2) Sehwag 3) Dravid 4) Tendulker 5) Azheruddin 6) Ganguly 7) Dhoni 8) Kapil Dev 9) Srinath 10) Kumble 11) Madan Lal

  • Ravi on August 5, 2010, 15:05 GMT

    :-) we will have 1000 fans listing their whole xi when we have to select the 3 middle order bats, and again when we have to select the allrounder, and the keeper, and the seamers, and the spinners :-)

  • No featured comments at the moment.