Middle order August 9, 2010

Modern masters or stalwarts of old?

Will the picks skew towards the current crop, or will the Vishys and Hazares get a look in?

The poet Yeats nearly got it right. He wasn't referring to cricket, of course, but he could have been speaking about the middle order: things fall apart when the centre cannot hold.

In the 1930s and 40s, India's middle order was shored up by Vijay Hazare and Lala Amarnath. The next decade belonged to Polly Umrigar, Vijay Manjrekar and Chandu Borde. Then came Tiger Pataudi, ML Jaisimha and Ajit Wadekar before Dilip Sardesai, Gundappa Viswanath, Mohinder Amarnath and Dilip Vengsarkar took over in the 1970s. With three centuries in his first three Tests, Mohammad Azharuddin announced himself in 1984-85.

The golden age was certainly the 1990s and 2000s, when Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman came together to give India the best batting side in the world.

The larger shortlist means picking the middle order for an all-time India XI is more difficult than selecting the openers. One player more or less selects himself, leaving two other slots up for debate.

The candidates

Rahul Dravid
The finest No. 3 in the history of Indian cricket, and one of the best ever. A one-day aggregate of over 10,000 suggests that he can adapt his game. His record away from home makes him the most valuable batsman when the ball does things domestic players are unused to.

Sachin Tendulkar
Most runs, centuries, Test matches, and the man Don Bradman thought played like him. Enough said.

VVS Laxman
Played one of the most valuable innings, 281, by an Indian. It led to a win after following on against Australia and the start of the run that saw India finish as the No. 1 Test team in the world. In an age of utilitarian batsmen, his batting remains a visual delight.

Gundappa Viswanath
Has anybody been more pleasing to watch than this wonderful player of pace and spin alike? Carried the middle order on his shoulders for a decade, attacking the best fast bowlers and throwing the finest spinners off their length with creative batsmanship.

Vijay Hazare
Two hundreds on successive days against Don Bradman's Australia, and the Don's wicket in the same Test. He was India's first Test-winning captain, and the finest batsman in the middle till Viswanath.

MAK Pataudi
Led the self-respect movement in Indian cricket, inspiring the team into believing they could win. Trevor Bailey once said Pataudi might have been in the Bradman class if it were not for his handicap. Six Test centuries and innings of 75 and 85 in Melbourne in 1967, despite a pulled hamstring, established him as the Indian batsman of the 60s.

Mohinder Amarnath
Successful series against the best fast bowling in the world, in Pakistan and the West Indies, earned him the right to be labelled the best for a while. Innings of 90 and 100 in Perth had already hinted at what was to come. As a medium-pacer, he gives the captain more options.

Polly Umrigar
His 12 centuries formed the mark Indians aimed at, till Sunil Gavaskar made such calculations redundant. Innings of 56 and 172 not out in Trinidad in 1962 (he had five wickets in the first innings, besides) seemed to repeat Vinoo Mankad's famous Lord's performance of 1952.

Sourav Ganguly
The only left hander in the list, but that is not the only reason he is there. His average of 42.17 over 113 Tests compares favourably with Viswanath's 41.93 (91 Tests) and Dilip Vengsarkar's 42.13 (116 Tests). India's most successful Test captain, besides.

CK Nayudu
Was already 37 when he led India in their first Test, and was playing first-class cricket a quarter century later. Nayudu top-scored in the first innings at Lord's. He never lived up to his reputation as a six-hitting bowlers' nightmare in the seven Tests he played, but was an inspiring figure who put India on the international map.

Mohammad Azharuddin
Belonged to the Viswanath tradition of wristy batsmanship. He never really had to shoulder the batting on his own, though, since in his early days Vengsarkar or Mohinder Amarnath did that job, and soon Tendulkar arrived.

Dilip Vengsarkar
The link between the Gavaskar and Tendulkar generations, he held the middle order together, once making 166 against Sri Lanka on a dodgy track when no one else made more than 60. His three centuries at Lord's and six against West Indies' pace made him the most valuable player in the middle order in his time.

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

Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore

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