Spurred on by a casual suggestion from a reader, I embarked on an exhilarating journey which culminated in a pair of articles on the best XIs to visit each country. These two articles elicited tremendous response from the readers: 154 comments for Part 1 and 163 for Part 2. It was indeed nice to receive a lot of appreciation. However, my readers are the creme de la creme and, while offering their unstinted appreciation, also asked for their pound of flesh. There were many suggestions, the important ones of which are summarised below. Taking this feedback into account, I have set out to complete a mammoth task, which grew in complexity and scope as I worked on it. What transpired is another intriguing double-header. First let me summarise the readers' comments and suggestions.
1. Reduce the weight given for Runs and Wickets. A very sensible suggestion.
2. Add two other selection criteria: The Pitch Quality and Support available. Both are excellent suggestions and I have done these based on my two recent articles, the PQI piece and the Support Index one.
3. Create for each country an all-time best Home XI. This request has a lot of validity since there are many players who are kings while they travel while being only average at home. Wally Hammond, Graeme Smith and Stephen Fleming are shoo-ins for their respective teams' away tours but stand very little chance of getting selected for their home series.
4. Look at strengthening the wicketkeeper selection. Unfortunately not really possible and not worthwhile.
In addition to the above, I changed the basis of weighing the key metrics. All this is explained later. As I had done last year, this article will also be divided into two parts. However the split will be unlike the last one: The first part will cover Australia, England, India and West Indies, covering both the home and away careers of players, while the second part will cover South Africa, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. This will enable the user comments to be presented in a logical manner.
Now for the changed basis of calculation. In the first attempt, I assigned the three measures - Runs, RpAI (Runs per Adjusted Innings) and Bowling quality - values out of 100, determined the index values for each batsman and added the individual values. This method works very well when there are a number of measures such as for Innings Ratings in which there are, say, ten to 12 measures. Wild fluctuations in one measure will not disturb the overall balance a lot and the final index value derived would be a composite of different measures, amalgamated very nicely.
The problem here is the presence of extreme outliers such as Hammond's RpAI in New Zealand of 214.0 and George Lohmann's bowling average in South Africa of 5.80. The bowlers who bowled to Hammond and the batsmen who faced Lohmann were a motley collection of average amateurs. Even if the respective Bowling quality and Batting quality measures were made zero, the impossible RpAI and Bowling Average values hit whatever ceiling was proposed and it was very difficult to maintain a rational allocation.
"It must be understood that in general, the home RpAI figures, compiled across many Tests, would be lower than the figures related to away Tests. So the index values are not comparable"
So I have adopted a different method for this exercise. First let me make it clear that runs are runs and wickets are wickets. Test runs and wickets are tough to achieve and should be given the deserved respect. No effort should be made to change the value of these basic measures. These should be left as they are.
However the Batting Average/RpAI/Bowling Averages are derived measures. I myself feel that the Bowling Average is perfectly all right but the Batting Average is quite weak. Hence I use only RpAI, described in Part 1, in most of my analyses. I would have no problems in tweaking these. I do not mind saying that an RpAI of 40 against a very strong attack should be treated at par with, say, a RpAI of 50 against an average attack.
Hence I intend to adjust the RpAI with the other three measures: Weighted Bowling Quality, Pitch Quality Index and Support available. In order to maintain an overall balance, the Adjusted RpAI will be limited to 100 since only eight values are above 100. I will use the Runs scored and Adjusted RpAI to derive an overall Batting Index.
Similarly, I will adjust the Bowling Average with the other three measures: Weighted Batting Quality, Pitch Quality and Support available. In order to maintain an overall balance, the Adjusted Bowling Average will be capped to 15 since only six values are below 15. I will use the Wickets taken and Adjusted Bowling Average to derive an overall Bowling Index.
The Runs scored and Wickets taken will carry a weight of 25%. The RpAI and Bowling Average, duly adjusted by the other three measures, will carry a weight of 75%.
The Bowling quality index and Batting quality index will have adjustment factors between 1.33 to 0.67.
The Pitch Quality index (PQI) will have adjustment factors between 1.20 to 0.80.
The Player Support index will have adjustment factors between 1.10 to 0.90.
Using the Batting Index values, I will shortlist the top 12 batsmen to select the final six. Using the Bowling Index values, I will shortlist the top 12 bowlers to select the final four. Using the Batting Index and wicketkeeping numbers, I will select the keeper. To the extent possible, I will restrict myself to the shortlists. In rare instances, in order to maintain team balance, I may have to go outside these shortlists, especially in the selection of the bowlers.
Let me move on to the team selection. A few relevant points on the selection and presentation are outlined below.
1. I will present the shortlists in a side-by-side manner for the home and visiting players for each team.
2. The qualification requirement for the batsmen is 1000 runs for home batsmen and 500 runs for visiting batsmen.
3. The bowlers need to take 50 wickets at home and 25 wickets away in the concerned country, to qualify.
4. I will select a 12th man for each team. This will not be a fielding selection but a recognition of the player who missed very narrowly and ought to have been in the team.
5. I will estimate the Team Strength Index (TSI), based on the Adjusted RpAI/Bowling Average values and present these.
6. Based on these TSI values I will also do a crystal-ball prediction of a five-Test series played in the home country. It is possible that, sometime in the future, if all the dice fall well, I may be able to do a simulation of these matches.
7. It must be understood that in general, the home RpAI figures, compiled across many Tests, would be lower than the figures related to away Tests. So the index values are not comparable. Similarly, the Bowling averages in home Tests could be higher.
8. When I did the work related to the Home players for Pakistan, I realised that if I did not get the UAE Tests in, the selections would be wrong. Hence I have considered the UAE Tests as Home for Pakistan and Away for visiting teams.
9. Wicketkeeping continues to be measured by DpT. Percentage of dismissals was considered but not implemented since it meant that too much complex work had to be done for minimal benefits. These are anyway only guidelines.
The selection of five batsmen for Australia is quite a tough task because of the preponderance of talent there. Only one batsman, Greg Chappell, is an almost certainty. The opening batsmen are plenty but very few stand out as automatic selections. I decided on Matthew Hayden and Colin McDonald, reluctantly leaving out Michael Slater, who is just outside the shortlist. As many as 307 out of Bob Cowper's 1000-plus runs came in one innings. This selection may not be in line with the recent selectorial approach in Australia.
Neil Harvey will, no doubt, add the left-hander's elegance, while boasting good numbers. The sixth batting position is tough: the candidates are Doug Walters, Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke and Steve Waugh, given in decreasing order of RpAI. Barring a team or two, the bowling attacks in operation in Australia over the past two decades have been quite ordinary and this is reflected in the low numbers of the latter three batsmen. These batsmen have also had much better support. Hence, I plumped for Doug Walters, an extraordinary strokeplayer, maybe born in the wrong era. Of course, the incomparable Don has not come into the discussions at all. Words are superfluous.
Adam Gilchrist walks in as the keeper. He boasts a 40-plus batting average and has snaffled an amazing four-and-half dismissals per match.
The bowling selection is rather easy, like falling off a log. The top four bowlers select themselves. A magnificent fast bowler, a world class legspinner, an aggressive fast bowler and an outstanding left-armer. Translated to names: Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Dennis Lillee and Mitchell Johnson. Ah! What an attack! Almost a 'dream-team' quartet.
The 12th man is Ricky Ponting, deservedly so.
Look at the top three batsmen in the shortlist. That is, inarguably, the best top three in history of cricket. The English giants, Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe and Walter Hammond get together for the only time in these chronicles since they do not all make it to England's home XI. These three are followed by two modern giants, Sachin Tendulkar and Viv Richards, very deservedly so. These two bring in together 42 Tests of pure class. The top six is rounded off by the magnificent South Africa allrounder, Aubrey Faulkner. When we talk about allrounders, Faulkner's name never enters the picture. It is for lack of information. In 25 Tests, Faulkner scored 1754 runs at an RpAI of 38.69 and took 82 wickets at 26.59, all with scant support.
Alan Knott, with an RpAI of nearly 30 and four dismissals per Test, is the undisputed wicketkeeper. Up to now, this is the same team which was selected last time around.
Richard Hadlee and Curtly Ambrose were giants down under and are the first two bowlers to be selected. Last time I had selected Sydney Barnes. However, this time around, I have gone for Michael Holding, whose Bowling Average improved by over 10% through adjustments.
Now I come to the spinner selection. Bobby Peel's Bowling average figure took a hit. Anil Kumble's overall figures of 49 wickets at 37.7 do not look great. Until we see that Anil Kumble bowled to the toughest set of batsmen in the history of Test cricket. Yes, you read it right. The average Batting index of the batsmen Kumble bowled to was a staggering 43.7. He also bowled on pitches which were primarily batting wickets. To top it all, the support Kumble received was below par. These three factors have brought his Bowling average down to 23.97. So I have decided to go with Anil Kumble as my main spinner. This is the major change from the team selected last time. Anil Kumble is the first player to be selected from outside the shortlist.
Larry Gomes is the 12th man - maybe a surprise selection but he has fabulous numbers in Australia.
The TSIs are very close and on the result-oriented Australian pitches, the score may be 3-2, with Home XI and Visiting XI winning in alternate years.
The shortlist of 12 England batsmen contains no fewer than five openers. In a strange manner, this has made the selection a rather easy task. I see no reason why anyone should separate the all-time great opening pair of Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe. Both have adjusted RpAI figures of over 50. I also know that Ken Barrington would bring to the team the solidity needed amongst the strokeplayers to follow.
Now, I merely need to slot in the top two in the shortlist: the master of the '50s, Peter May, and the modern master and a legend already, Joe Root. For the sixth batting position I have Denis Compton, Tom Graveney, Colin Cowdrey and Kevin Pietersen. One modern-day destroyer against three totally different types of batsmen. Much as I was tempted to take in Compton, I finally decided on Kevin Pietersen, who, if things had turned differently, could well have scored 10,000 Test runs. He would be my match-winner.
There is no escaping the fact that Geraint Jones has excellent wicketkeeping stats - over four-and-half dismissals per Test - and Alec Stewart has better batting credentials. However I would be daft to look beyond Alan Knott for the wicketkeeper position. He averages 26 with the bat and has effected just over three dismissals per Test.
The bowling selection, like for Australia, is a rather easy task. Four of the top five get selected, almost automatically. Unfortunately Stuart Broad misses out. That gives me this beautifully balanced quartet: James Anderson, Fred Trueman, Jim Laker and Alec Bedser: Two from the Roses counties and two from Surrey. Just look at the quartet which misses out: Bob Willis, Barnes, Ian Botham and Derek Underwood.
It is no surprise that Denis Compton is the 12th man.
As usual, we are left with only five batsmen to select when we have a certain Don Bradman in the mix. He doesn't need numbers to justify his selection. The already high RpAI of Viv Richards was increased by about 17% through the quality of bowling he faced and the relatively lower scores prevalent. Almost a similar situation with Garry Sobers. Rahul Dravid had his sixty-plus average enhanced a bit.
Now we have to select the two opening batsmen. Arthur Morris, with a huge RpAI figure of around 68 says, "I am the first opener. Then you look at my partner." His claims cannot be overlooked. I have three contenders for the other opener position, Bill Ponsford, Graeme Smith and Gordon Greenidge, all with RpAI values above sixty. I eventually settled on Graeme Smith, particularly because of his amazing 113 runs per Test. It is of interest to note that ten of the 12 in the shortlist have RpAI values exceeding 60.
Adam Gilchrist is the almost undisputed keeper. He boasts of an RpAI of 37 and has a terrific four-and-half dismissals per match.
The bowling selection for England is the easiest task ever. Just pencil in the top four bowlers, beautifully balanced already. Can we have a better attack than Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Malcolm Marshall and Terry Alderman? What about the next four bowlers: Ray Lindwall, Joel Garner, Lillee and Bill O'Reilly. And then come Curtly Ambrose, Michael Holding, Muttiah Muralitharan and Charlie Griffith. Three terrific quartets in the top twelve.
Allan Border is the 12th man.
The Visiting XI is much stronger and the strong edge is with the Visiting XI: maybe 3-2 or even 4-1.
The selection of India team is both easy and hard. A few players select themselves but there are obvious surprises. Cheteshwar Pujara is at the top, no doubt due to the high quality of bowling he faced and the generally medium level scores. Then comes Sachin Tendulkar, the icon of icons. Sunil Gavaskar is the undisputed opener. Despite the steep drop in Virender Sehwag's RpAI, no doubt due to some indifferent bowlers and a slew of high scores, let me send him in with Gavaskar: a terrific and very effective opening pair.
Rahul Dravid is no surprise at all. How can we select an Indian team without The Wall? The sixth batsman is a real conundrum. Mohammad Azharuddin the stylist, the aggressive Virat Kohli, the elegant Gundappa Viswanath and the redeemer of lost causes, VVS Laxman, present themselves. Whom do I select? I have spent hours on this. I have pencilled in, and removed, names many times. Finally I realised that I could not ignore the numbers. Laxman's 281 and 73* notwithstanding, I cannot ignore the low RpAI figure. Hence I settled on GR Viswanath. On another day, I might have gone for Laxman and yet another day, for Azharuddin. You could say this is almost certainly my personal selection. At this juncture itself, I have decided on the 12th man: The legend, Laxman himself.
MS Dhoni is the undisputed captain who will be donning the gloves. He brings with him a 40-plus RpAI, just over three dismissals per Test and an unflappable temperament to handle this collection of stars.
Like England, the bowlers almost select themselves. The top three bowlers, Anil Kumble, R Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh and the incomparable Kapil Dev, who is in the fifth position. I considered Bishan Bedi briefly but could not ignore the claims of the other feisty Sardar. The problem is also the impressive numbers of the wily Ravindra Jadeja.
VVS Laxman completes the team, but is outside the XI.
Everton Weekes books his passage to India as, arguably, the surest selection, other than Bradman to England. Garry Sobers and Andy Flower are two left-handers of contrasting but amazing skills and huge RpAI values. Steven Smith is the next batsman selected. Smith's is an interesting case. His RpAI of 55.0 is increased by about 25% because of the quality of Indian bowling and tough batting conditions, in the recent Test series.
Now we come to the openers. Do I go with the regular openers, Alastair Cook and Hayden or do I go left field with an out-of-the-box selection of a middle-order batsman? Alvin Kallicharran and Younis Khan present themselves as candidates. I look at the numbers and reflect on what each of them achieved. So I select Younis to accompany Cook at the top of the innings. It seems as if Botham could walk in as a specialist batsman but I have to be true to my commitments on the balance of the team.
This story tends to get repeated often. Gilchrist comes in, backed up by his RpAI figure of 28 and four-and-change dismissals per match.
The bowling selection is almost a replica of what I have done so far. Four of the top five-six bowlers are selected. A lovely and balanced attack of Richie Benaud, Alan Davidson, Courtney Walsh and Dale Steyn form the quartet. Look at the huge improvement of Steyn's bowling average from 21.38 to 15.6.
Clive Lloyd is the 12th man. He just misses selection into the XI.
A very strong visiting team. Two-thirds Visiting XI win and one-third Home XI win. There are possibilities of draws. Could even be 3-1 or 4-1 for the Visiting XI.
Barring one compromise, the West Indies batsmen selection is on expected lines. Brian Lara is the best, by a mile, and walks in as the surest selection. Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge form the opening pair, not a surprise since they could be ranked the second-best opening pair ever. Sobers, despite a steep drop in RpAI, is a certainty. Weekes achieved amazing batting feats and selects himself. Richards completes the sextet. I am afraid Shivnarine Chanderpaul is outclassed and Clive Lloyd does not have the required numbers. Richie Richardson is unlucky. What about George Headley? I would love to have him in the team. But he has never opened in Tests and which giant amongst the quartet do I leave out?
What do I do about Clyde Walcott, who boasts of the highest RpAI amongst all West Indian batsmen? A real problem indeed until I found out that Walcott dismissed around 40 batsmen, in the dozen or so Tests he donned the gloves. Voila! There is my solution. Clyde Walcott is my designated wicketkeeper.
As has happened in all the selections so far, the bowling selections are indeed rather easy. This time I left out Walsh and Colin Croft from among the top six bowlers. That makes the bowling quartet as follows: Malcolm Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Joel Garner and Lance Gibbs. I am not going to adopt the scorched-earth policy of Lloyd. I will have balance in my bowling attack.
George Headley is my choice as the 12th man.
Two magnificent opening batsmen, Len Hutton and Sunil Gavaskar will walk in to face the mighty and fearsome Caribbean opening attack. Both of them had great tours to the islands. Neil Harvey, with the best playing record in the West Indies, is in a pivotal middle-order position. Rahul Dravid, whose record in the West Indies is excellent, gets in next. Steve Waugh, gets selected in dual positions of No. 6 and captain. Finally, the underrated Mohinder Amarnath, whose brave exploits in West Indies are legendary, completes the top six positions.
Brad Haddin, whose RpAI is at par with that of MS Dhoni, gets the nod for the wicketkeeper position based on a better keeping numbers (4.60 against 4.14).
The top two bowlers in the short list, Glenn McGrath and Angus Fraser have had excellent tours of West Indies and get in as first choices. Muttiah Muralitharan is the best spinner available and gets selected quite comfortably. Muralitharan just about makes the shortlist. The final bowling position is a toss-up between Imran Khan and John Snow. Does Snow's bowling average of 15.0 get the nod ahead of Imran's undisputed all-round skills? He doesn't, and Imran gets the nod.
Colin Cowdrey completes the touring team.
3-2 almost always with clear edge to the Visiting XI. Possibility of draws.
Let us see what happens to those two extraordinary outliers I had referred to earlier. Hammond's RpAI in New Zealand of 214.0 is adjusted downwards by 45% and gets down to 117.2. It is further capped at 100.0. Lohmann's Bowling average in South Africa of 5.80 is adjusted upwards by 67% and moves up to 9.7. It is further capped at 15.0. I am confident I have got this correct.
In Part 2, I will cover the remaining teams: South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and New Zealand. I will also summarise the Visiting team XIs.