Who after Bradman and Sobers?
The presence of two names in any all-time world XI has traditionally brooked no argument, but one more joined them as an unanimous choice in ESPNcrincinfo's all-time XI. Shane Warne, who spun the ball a mile and made spin bowling glamorous again, was a presence in the first XI of each jury member, alongside Don Bradman and Garry Sobers. (Each juror was asked to pick two teams - a first XI and a second.)
The jury also seems to have settled the answer to the question "Who after Bradman?" The answer is Sachin Tendulkar, by a fair distance. Tendulkar, who stands a step away from 50 Test hundreds and whose lustre, in defiance of age, grows brighter with every passing day, was effectively voted, with 51 points, the fourth-greatest cricketer in the history of the game. In the batting stakes he was comfortably ahead of Viv Richards (42).
Brian Lara, Tendulkar's contemporary and great rival, didn't make it to the World XI, with 28 points, George Headley, the other West Indian in contention, and considered Bradman's equal for batting skill by many, lost out to Richards by a mere two points. In fact, the last juror's vote swung it for Richards. Walter Hammond, who had the misfortune of spending a career in Bradman's shadow, made it to the second XI.
Going by the votes, this is the order of merit in which the world's middle-order batsmen stack up: Bradman, Tendulkar, Richards, Headley, Lara, Hammond, Graeme Pollock and Greg Chappell.
There was an even closer contest for the opening positions. While Len Hutton, the master technician, who scored a colossal 364 at the age of 22, took one end comfortably with 47 votes, Jack Hobbs, who remains cricket's most prolific batsman with 61,237 first-class runs and 197 centuries, just about managed to snatch the other spot from Sunil Gavaskar, whose technique and temperament withstood the severest examinations, by one point.
Gavaskar is partnered in the Second XI by Barry Richards, whose Test career was limited to only four matches, but whose legend was established during World Series Cricket, where the contests were as fierce. The openers who came behind those two in the reckoning were Virender Sehwag and Victor Trumper, who played in vastly different eras but in the same buccaneering spirit.
The allrounder's position was, of course, a no-contest, but the jury settled an important argument by voting Imran Khan into the Second XI. Keith Miller, the free-spirited Australian allrounder, came next, followed by Imran's great rivals Richard Hadlee, Ian Botham and Kapil Dev, in that order.
Adam Gilchrist, who with his batting redefined how wicketkeepers were viewed - and selected - fought off a strong challenge from Alan Knott, the Englishman considered by many the most technically accomplished wicketkeeper ever. Gilchrist secured his position with 45 points to Knott's 37.
World XI: Jack Hobbs, Len Hutton, Don Bradman, Sachin Tendulkar, Viv Richards, Garry Sobers, Adam Gilchrist, Malcolm Marshall, Shane Warne, Wasim Akram, Dennis Lillee
Second XI: Sunil Gavaskar, Barry Richards, George Headley, Brian Lara, Wally Hammond, Imran Khan, Alan Knott, Bill O'Reilly, Fred Trueman, Muttiah Muralitharan, SF Barnes