Suresh Menon's elegant XI October 18, 2010

Poetry in motion

Eleven players who couldn't be graceless if they tried

The trick in choosing an Elegant XI is to list favourites and then find slots for them rather than go by positions, balance, or indeed, records. It helps, for example, that Frank Worrell opened in four of his 51 Tests; he moves to the top, therefore, opening up a slot in the middle order. Sir Frank, as Neville Cardus said, never made a crude or ungrammatical stroke in his life - and that is as good a description as any for the batsmen here.

The Elegant XI is also the Poetry-in-Motion XI, as evidenced by the bowlers. Jim Laker once wrote that his idea of heaven was to have Ray Lindwall bowling from one end and Bishan Bedi from the other, so this could just as easily be the Heaven XI, for it contains both Lindwall and Bedi.

To leave out Archie Jackson, Alan Kippax, Roy Dias, Zaheer Abbas, Tom Graveney, Greg Chappell, Martin Crowe, Mark Waugh, VVS Laxman and Saeed Anwar is a wrench, and I am not sure if Jim Laker was a more elegant bowler than S Venkataraghavan. Grainy film footage of him bowling in the 1950s is inconclusive, so even in an XI where records and averages do not matter, he makes it for his superior record.

1. Victor Trumper
"The art of Trumper is like an art in a bird's flight, an art that knows not how wonderful it is. Batting was for him a superb dissipation, a spontaneous spreading of fine feathers." - Neville Cardus

2. Frank Worrell (capt)
"Worrell told me that as soon as a ball was delivered he could tell the blade of grass on which it was going to drop and therefore could place his feet and body for any stroke he wanted to make… There was no memory of anyone scoring runs with such grace and power." - CLR James

3. David Gower
"Half England wants to mother him or marry him, and everyone else wants to bat as he does, as if in some enchanted dream. Wry in calamity, nonchalant in triumph, never straining too hard." - Peter Roebuck

4. Gundappa Viswanath
To many he was the real Little Master, for the mastery involved innovation and the ability to utilise the grammar of the game to compose its poetry.

5. Ranji
"He was a law unto himself. His extraordinary quickness of mind and eye allowed him to do things utterly impracticable for others. He broke the hearts of the best fast bowlers by the way he deflected their fastest deliveries to the boundary." - H S Altham

6. Frank Woolley
This great allrounder said of himself, "When I am batting, I am the attack." Robertson-Glasgow said Woolley was "easy to watch, difficult to bowl to and impossible to write about".

7. Alan Knott
"[He was] an original, his keeping so undemonstrative that its excellence was not always appreciated until a wide catch allowed him to display his agility." -Tony Pawson

8. Jim Laker
"Jim possessed a classical action, side-on looking over his left arm, coming down hard on a braced left leg and swivelling so sharply that he even dug a pit on soft turf. It was perfection." -Trevor Bailey

9. Michael Holding
"A former track athlete, Holding, tall and sparsely built, has a long, lithe, lissom run-up, elbows pumping like a dancer's, head reared as if to delight in the zephyr resulting from his own fleetness. His gyratory action climaxes in an apparently effortless release of the ball." -David Frith

10. Ray Lindwall
"The genius of Lindwall was expressed in a variety of ways, not least in his cleverly disguised and devastating pace changes and in a bouncer delivered without any giveaways… When I saw Lindwall approaching I sensed the expectancy. A hush would descend on the ground." -Len Hutton

11. Bishan Bedi
"When you have seen Bishan Bedi twirl down his spinners after 60 overs with the same gentle rhythm as he settled into at the start of the spell, you understand why his is a great bowling action. A clockmaker would have been proud to set Bedi in motion - a mechanism finely balanced, cogs rolling silently and hands sweeping in smooth arcs across the face." -Tony Lewis

Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore