Sons of a golden age
If the all-time XI is any indication, this is the golden age of Indian cricket. Four players in the list - Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, MS Dhoni - are currently in the national side and two others, Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath, retired fairly recently. The trouble with golden ages is that they are seldom recognised as such by those living through them. In sport especially, greatness is usually bestowed retrospectively. Perhaps it is no coincidence that India are currently the No. 1 side in the world.
That six of the XI made their debuts after November 1989, when Tendulkar first announced himself to the world, is a tribute to the Mumbai man's impact. Golden Ages must have their iconic figure and Tendulkar is clearly the one here, both for what he has accomplished himself and for his qualities that inspired the others.
The XI, so heavily tipped in favour of the modern players, has only two cricketers who appeared before independence. Vijay Hazare and Vinoo Mankad both made their debuts at Lord's in 1946. Mankad was 29 and opened the batting with Vijay Merchant; Hazare was 31 and opened the bowling with Lala Amarnath, although each was to become better known for his other skill.
Erapalli Prasanna alone of the spin quartet of the 60s and 70s makes the cut. Srinivas Venkatraghavan might have been the offspinner of choice towards the end of Prasanna's career, but in an all-time XI, Prasanna's greater variety and classicism were bound to make the difference. The presence of Mankad with his dual skills kept Bishan Bedi out, while Bhagwath Chandrasekhar had to make way for Anil Kumble with his superior record and aggressive outlook.
Four players - Sunil Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Kapil Dev and Mankad - were unanimous choices, while Sehwag, Dravid and Kumble were nearly so.
The bowling attack is well balanced, with three different types of spinners and two fast-medium men. There is no left-hand batsman, and that speaks of a lack of variety in the middle order. Syed Kirmani might have run Dhoni close for the wicketkeeper's slot, and with a re-jigging of the batting order it might have been possible to include Zaheer Khan (again, for variety). Perhaps he might have been in the 12.
Nine of the 11 have captained India, so who should get the vote here? A case can be made for Hazare. Or Gavaskar. But for the dignity he brought to the job, his commitment to the team and the game itself, and his demonstration through the 14 Tests he led in that you can be aggressive without being boorish, my vote would go to Anil Kumble.
Tendulkar might have set up the golden age and been its most obvious representative, but it was Kumble whose bowling secured the victories that made the difference in that period.
"My view is that Sunny Gavaskar is the greatest batsman I have come across. He has opened the innings against genuine fast bowlers like Michael Holding, Roberts, Croft and Garner. He has made more runs away from India - in the West Indies, Australia and England." Garry Sobers
"Virender destroys all strategies. He brings the excitement and drama from the first ball. If Test cricket is still alive, it is because of players like him." Matthew Hayden
"Once Dravid was set, you needed the bowling equivalent of a dozen cannon firing all at once to blast him down." Shane Warne
"He has the technique and his record proves his ability on all surfaces." Ian Botham
"If I had a son I would have wanted him to play like Sachin." Brian Lara
"Tendulkar is one of that narrow stratum of elite sports stars whom people will clamour and even make great sacrifices to watch, regardless of their national identity. If you care for cricket, you must love Sachin. In this regard, his peers are few - and mostly found in other sports, and certainly in other lands." Mike Marqusee
"He is No. 1 in my book - the best player I have ever had the privilege of bowling to. There's Steve Waugh and there's Brian Lara, but Tendulkar is a class above, consistently special." Allan Donald
"Hazare was one of the most graceful batsmen it was my pleasure to see and perhaps the best compliment I can pay him is to say that his batting more closely resembled that of the great West Indian star Sir Frank Worrell, than anyone I can remember." Don Bradman
"Vinoo was unorthodox - more bent on getting on the offensive than defensive but he also had tremendous powers of concentration." Nari Contractor
"Although called upon to bowl so often on all types of wickets Mankad rarely departed from a perfect length and, even if not carrying all before him on a wet wicket he was rarely mastered. Indeed but for the shortcomings of some of his fieldsmen, his number of wickets [on the 1946 tour of England] might have been increased by as many as 40 to 50." Wisden Cricketers' Almanack
"Kapil Dev, whether batting, bowling or fielding, is a spectators' delight." Fred Trueman
"He was a fantastic cricketer and he was a great asset for Indian cricket during his time at the helm. He set the pace for them early on and he came to the fore and did wonderfully well - he played like a true champion and was a brilliant leader." Clive Lloyd
"He is exceptional. He can play purely as a batsman or as a wicketkeeper. He doesn't jump at the ball while keeping and collects cleanly, moves well. He is a fine leader and has forged the team aggressively. He reads the game well… it helps that he is a wicketkeeper." Wasim Bari
"Dhoni is the kind of guy who will create something and win matches." Kiran More
"Anil Kumble became the best cricketer he could be and to me that is worthy of the highest honour. He redefined spin bowling in India, he was a game changer, and he soared above people's initial expectations of him to become a giant in the game. He was one of the most aggressive cricketers India has produced and carried that aggression with unfailing dignity and class." Harsha Bhogle
"As one who has been privileged to watch and comment upon his best bowling displays at home, in England in 1996 and in South Africa in 1996-97, I can say that he made me feel proud to be an Indian." Rajan Bala
"Srinath, by far the quickest Indian bowler of our era, could unsettle the best with the steep bounce he could produce even on unhelpful tracks. Though an underachiever, given the quality of his bowling, he is a perfect foil to Kapil Dev's control and incisive swing." Pradeep Magazine
"He could drift the ball either way, and then there was the sharp spin coming off the smoothest use of the wrist. Much as Bradman rated Bill O'Reilly the best bowler he saw, Ian Chappell, who batted in an era rich with spin bowling talent, held a similar opinion of Pras. It's all in the wrist, said Muttiah Muralitharan about his success. Pras had that wonderful wrist that gave him his great range in the air." R Mohan
Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore