April 13, 2011

An Indian-origin XI and other proposals

How about getting players of Indian origin from across the world together into a team to play India?

With the World Cup behind us and the IPL season in full swing, it may be the moment for a few stray thoughts on international cricket, prompted by both tournaments. Here are four such reflections, on which I would welcome comments.

The best of the rest
The ICC's reprehensible decision to prevent Associate member countries from participating in the next edition of the World Cup in 2015 has already been extensively commented upon. Perhaps indeed there is no room for more than 10 teams in the next edition, though the arguments for and against that conclusion can certainly be debated. But why not give the best of the rest an opportunity to participate in the World Cup in one team rather than several?

Couldn't the ICC hold a competition for Associate members (like the ICC Trophy that produced the last two qualifiers for this World Cup) and pick a stellar 15 from that event - comprising the most able Irish and Dutch, certainly, but also Afghans, Kenyans, Americans and Arabs? Call it "The Rest of the World".

I have often mused about the huge loss to world cricket represented by the inability of a world-class player like Steve Tikolo to parade his talents on cricket's global stage. I am sure that comparable talents are going to emerge from other associate countries, who might otherwise have to "blush unseen" in the desert of associate-nation cricket. I have no doubt that such a team, drawn even from this year's associates, would give at least Zimbabwe and Bangladesh a run for their money.

The same line of thinking prompts a second suggestion - not for the World Cup but for an exhibition match guaranteed to raise interest (and possibly funds for a good cause) in India, which is already the fount of much of world cricket's revenue. A number of cricket-playing countries now include cricketers of Indian (or part-Indian) origin. The government of India even recognises them distinctively as People of Indian Origin (PIOs), a special category eligible for assorted benefits, including an annual jamboree in the motherland: the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas. Why not select a PIO cricket XI to play India in an annual match on that occasion, with the proceeds going to a fund to construct and maintain a memorial and museum commemorating the history and experience of Indian émigrés?

In years gone by, the great West Indians Rohan Kanhai, Alvin Kallicharran, Sonny Ramadhin and Joe Solomon; the Britons Nasser Hussain, Raman Subba Row, Ronnie Irani and Min Patel; and the New Zealander Dipak Patel might have been automatic selections for such a side. Today a contemporary PIO XI, in batting order, might read: Hashim Amla (South Africa), Dion Ebrahim (Zimbabwe), Ramnaresh Sarwan (West Indies), Shivnarine Chanderpaul (West Indies), Ravi Bopara (England), Narsingh Deonarine (West Indies), Samit Patel (England), Denesh Ramdin (West Indies), Ravi Rampaul (West Indies), Jeetan Patel (New Zealand), and Monty Panesar (England), with Devendra Bishoo (West Indies) in reserve as 12th man. A bit light on pace, I know, which is probably inevitable given the mother country's own weakness in that department. But the match would be played on a slow turner in India!

Permitting Indian domestic teams to include up to two foreign players in their playing XIs would sharpen the skills of the Indian cricketers playing alongside foreign professionals; improve the quality of cricket on offer in the domestic tournaments, and therefore improve the audience for domestic games

Internationalising India's domestic cricket
The World Cup demonstrated India's dominance in the world of cricket, the size of its market, its financial and political clout, and the range of resources and venues at its disposal. If India's ambitions go beyond remaining the big fish in a relatively small global pond, it needs to work to strengthen the sport elsewhere in the world. In the circumstances the time seems ripe for India to open its game to players from other countries. There are two things it could immediately do.

One is to permit all Indian domestic teams (including in the flagship Ranji Trophy) to include up to two foreign players in their playing XIs. This would have the merit of sharpening the skills of the Indian cricketers playing alongside foreign professionals; improve the quality of cricket on offer in the domestic tournaments, and therefore improve the audience for domestic games; and, incidentally, help provide sustainable livelihoods to foreign players currently deprived of such an employment opportunity. It might be argued that an infusion of foreign talent would deprive an equivalent number of Indian players the chance to shine, but there is little doubt that the overall beneficiary would be Indian cricket. An Indian Test batsman who has grown up facing foreign pacemen in domestic cricket would be far readier for the rigours of the international game than a flat-track bully of medium-pace bowling, who may be quickly found out the moment a Steyn or even a Klusener is unleashed on him. And an Indian paceman bowling alongside a Morkel, or even an Anderson, would rapidly improve and refine his own craft.

The second initiative would be a more altruistic one. India has in the past invited the occasional foreign team (the England Lions come to mind) to play in a domestic tournament. I propose that we build on this and seek to strengthen subcontinental cricket by expanding the current, oddly-configured five-team Duleep Trophy into an eight-team South Asian tournament with three foreign sides - from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka - permanently participating in it. All three suffer from insufficient opportunities to play first-class cricket, and though Sri Lanka's strong club-cricket culture has helped them overcome this deficiency, they could use the Duleep Trophy to blood players on the fringes of Test selection. There is little doubt that such a tournament would strengthen cricket in the subcontinent, help Bangladesh establish their credibility at this level and prepare Afghanistan for greater honours in due course.

And finally, seamless Pakistanis
On sleepless nights during the World Cup, I read Shehan Karunatilaka's extraordinary first novel Chinaman (and have reviewed it elsewhere). One of the delights of the book, quite unrelated to the main plot but a potential source of endless diversion, kept me happily distracted in Mohali. This was the "Seamless Pakistani" game played by the novel's protagonist, "WG", and his friends, which consists of seeing how many Pakistani cricketers' names one can string together so that the surname of one becomes the next player's first name, and so on, till you run out of possibilities. The novel's winner has nine: Saqlain Mushtaq Mohammad Zahid Fazal Asif* Iqbal Sikander Bakht! In my idler moments I came up with 11 Seamless Pakistanis: Saqlain Mushtaq Mohammad Wasim Akram Raza Hasan Iqbal Qasim Umar Akmal. I'm sure there are enough fans on ESPNcricinfo who can do better than that.

The sequence of names is reproduced as published in the novel, though there does not seem to be a record of a Pakistani cricketer called Fazal Asif

Shashi Tharoor is an Indian MP and a former United Nations Under-Secretary General

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on April 16, 2011, 10:56 GMT

    It is a joke murali has no place in the team. Murali is pure indian origin. 2ndly I agree with agapornis atleast there can b 4 teams south west north and east

  • Dummy4 on April 15, 2011, 18:44 GMT

    Honestly, is n't the line between competitive sport and international relations so wide?

  • avinash on April 14, 2011, 21:35 GMT

    @Sachinalways....even i thought that..after INDIAs world cup win..and the comprhensive drubbing of so called good bowler umar gul...

  • Madan on April 14, 2011, 21:28 GMT

    Idea #1: Totally absurd. A world cup is more than a "cup". Its one country feeling on top of the world, a feeling it is supposed to hold on to for 4 years. Its you talking to your kids and grand kids about it for years to come. So say ICC XI wins the cup, do you think the feeling would be same? I don't think so. I guess your thoughts are an extension of IPL mantra, just swap some uniform and play. After a month, you will probably never talk to the guy you shared your room with.

    Go back to 1996, increase the number of teams to 12. 2 associate teams, 2 groups of 6, 8 QFs. Given that 4 out of 6 teams from each group WILL go through you are almost ensuring that the big nations will almost go through and you give a chance for 2 associate nations to play in the big league.

  • Dummy4 on April 14, 2011, 19:59 GMT

    The PIO team and the Rest of the World (RTW) idea sound like a far fetched fantasy, almost absurd. On the issue of inviting first class teams to play in India, that seems like a good idea. It will give the foreign teams an opportunity to play "indian spin" on "flat/turning indian tracks" while also giving young indian players to face up to genuine pace bowling. However, several limitations exist in actual implementation of this idea. As Aakash Chopra has pointed out several times before here on Cricinfo, the infrastructure provided to first class cricket in India ranks far behind those in other cricket playing nations which makes me wonder if foreign teams (albeit first class) will want to come to India to play a season of first class cricket to begin with.

  • Avin on April 14, 2011, 17:59 GMT

    The Indian subcontinent is to cricket what Europe is to Football. Yet Europe has about 30 teams of which it sends 13 to the world cup while South Asia can have a maximum of 6 or 7 teams. It is best to separate both politics and commerce from cricket and ensure that nations without states too get represented at the international stage. If Scotland, despite being a part of the UK can field its own football and cricket teams, I see no reason why the Kannadigas, Gujaratis, Balochis, Assamese etc cannot have their own international cricket teams since many of these nationalities are much bigger than Sri Lanka. If this is allowed we could have 30+ strong teams at the international level and many more talented youngsters having their dreams to play cricket at the international stage fulfilled rather than shattered.

  • Rajesh on April 14, 2011, 15:50 GMT

    Nice of Shashi to acknowledge players of indian origin. I am Guyanese indian and we have produced some of the best indian batsmen outside the subcontinent. I for one don't think there is any bowler playing now who could have bowled to Kallicharran in his prime. When he was dropped from the WI team he promptly vented his frustrations on all the WI fast bowlers in english county cricket at the time (Croft, Daniel, Holding,Clarke) especially Joel Garner whom he totally destroyed in one game playing for Warwickshire. If anyone is in doubt just check out the WC semi final of 1975 where he took on Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson - pretty handy bowlers thenselves - no helmets in those days either.

  • Dummy4 on April 14, 2011, 14:15 GMT

    Such a lame proposal.I think we need more IPL's around the world.The Africans need to have a league.The Americas,The Pacific islands, Europe,Asia too.All the international ODI tours should be stopped.The test tours should be retained and only T-20's should survive in the ODI formats. Anything that bores the general public isnt sport.

  • Akash on April 14, 2011, 12:02 GMT

    This is ridiculous..The West Indians are not Indians! Descendants of Indians after over 100 years..don't bring us into this..all the west indians are patriotic to their parent countries, in this case Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. They don't know anything of India. So please limit this search to those born in India only..leave West Indians to the West Indies, God knows we could use the talent

  • Dhaval on April 14, 2011, 11:51 GMT

    How about 'Ape Origin XI' ?

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