<
>

India v Pakistan - Inzamam never seemed fazed, and if nothing works, Dhoni will do it

With India and Pakistan facing off in the showpiece group-stage match of the 2019 World Cup, and people from the two countries rooting for their stars, we asked a selection of former cricketers, writers and senior journalists to pick their favourites from the opposition camp.

Kamila Shamsie on Rahul Dravid

Perhaps it's because we were born in the same year - 1973 - and he seemed like someone any boy or girl would want to grow up alongside. Perhaps it's because I was in the stands at Lord's watching his Test debut, feeling the sharp disappointment on his behalf when he was out for 95. Perhaps it's because sometimes what you love most is what you lack most, so given how often the word "crumble" attaches itself to the Pakistan batting line-up I couldn't fail to be captivated by The Wall. Or perhaps it's because his concentration, his reliability, the beauty and intelligence of his stroke play, his ability to radiate all that was good in cricket and - it's possible - the world just made it impossible to respond in any other way.

Suresh Menon on Wasim Raja

Gifted player and charming man who didn't act as if a loss in a match was the end of the world. Got to know him after his playing days and he came across as a lovely man who understood life beyond cricket.

Saad Shafqat on MS Dhoni

India today has boatloads of talent and there are many cricketers worthy of admiration, from frontline batsmen to strike bowlers to wily spinners. But my favourite Indian player continues to be MS Dhoni. He never gets carried away yet invariably carries himself with great dignity. He's also been a pioneering figure as a commercial entity, with sponsorship deals and financial earnings approaching North American figures, which marks the start hopefully of serious money finally coming into cricket. And then of course there are his achievements - marshalling his side to the World T20 championship, the ODI World Cup, and the ICC Test Mace, in addition to serving the team as a wicketkeeper-batsman extraordinaire. When the dust of history settles, his legacy will reign supreme, casting the longest of shadows on not just Indian or subcontinental cricket but indeed on the sport as a whole.

Mukul Kesavan on Abdul Qadir

Pakistan's cricketers are the Edisons of modern bowling. Their bowlers innovated on the grand scale, producing not just variations but alternative realities: worn balls that swung in the wrong direction, off breaks that went like inverted googlies. But they didn't just invent, they also nurtured and revived cricket's classical skills. My favourite Pakistani cricketer is Abdul Qadir, Pakistan's leg-spinning mage. If Warne's run-up was the assassin's deadpan amble, Qadir's theatrical twirling was a magician's misdirection. The great Bhagwat Chandrashekhar kept wrist-spin alive through the Seventies but it was Qadir who sustained an endangered art at a time when cricket seemed to have given itself over to brute fast bowling. Without his match-winning example through the desert of the Eighties, leg-spin might have been condemned out of hand as an unreliable, expensive indulgence. It was his guile, accuracy and flamboyant enthusiasm that kept the torch burning for Kumble and Warne. Whether Zampa, Tahir or Chahal know it or not, Qadir is both their kinsman and their ancestor.

Sharda Ugra on Wahab Riaz

There have been many, mostly for the dread they brought when playing against India, but at the moment on the day, Wahab Riaz. Unexpected selection, innate competitor, left-arm stealth and menace. He wears the older cousin's disgruntled impatience on his face, pushing tykes aside, "God, you guys… let me handle this." Ball or bat, give Wahab an occasion, the bigger the better, he will grab it by the throat and sneer in its face, "show me what you've got." When Wahab is on fire, economy rates, strike rates are pushed to the side. He'll give you drama, he'll make it a contest.

Ahmer Naqvi on Virat Kohli

Life is a funny thing. Growing up, had you asked me to write on my favourite Indian player, I would have genuinely struggled. Having never warmed up to Sachin, the others in the 90s never really inspired too much excitement. Over time, as the rivalry has flipped on its head, it has come with the further despair of finding Indian cricketers cool. Yuvraj melted the wall of resistance, Dhoni then set up camp in my heart, and finally King Kohli came over to rule it. It's not like Kohli is the most aesthetically pleasing batter India has produced, but what sets him apart is the attitude and swag. While some complain about his histrionics, for Pakistanis and our long history of celebrating divas (hello Shaiby!) Kohli is the rare combo of talking the talk and walking the walk. Having lived through the nightmare of trash-talking, soul-crushing Aussies, it was just a relief to see someone be able to stand up to them. After all, the Pakistani ideal in cricket is to see it as a vessel of asserting ourselves and our place in this world. That's how cricket is meant to be played in our eyes, and no one quite makes the world stand up and take notice like Kohli. My favourite Indian player.

Ayaz Memon on Imran Khan

It's a no-contest. Imran Khan wins hands down. For his superb all-round skills, poise and charisma on and off the field, the consistent excellence which defined his personal performances, the bravado and self-belief with which he approached the sport, and not the least for his supreme leadership qualities.

Actor Rahul Bose on Wasim Akram

I have never seen a bowler have so much control over a cricket ball. He could do things with his shoulder, his arm swing, his wrist, even his fingers. He could make the ball talk in any conditions. And he was quick, really quick when he wanted to be. He was aggressive, had great bowling intelligence, and was absolutely fearless. For me, the greatest fast bowler I have ever watched. On another note, I have actually faced him in an exhibition game. I didn't see the ball. And he was bowling off a one-step run-up. Terrifying.

Sambit Bal on Misbah-ul-Haq

Majid Khan, Imran Khan, the Ws… they were all dazzling, but I am going for someone not too far away from us at the moment. Very unlike the heroes that went before, he didn't get your pulse racing: Misbah-ul-Haq was so predictable that you could set the clock by him, was never destined for greatness, batted at No. 5, lost Pakistan a World T20, and couldn't take them across a World Cup semi-final, but he built a team that became No. 1 in Test cricket without superstars, tantrums and scandals. In the place of charisma, he had zen, for flamboyance he had commonsense, and for mercurial, he sought that boring thing doggedness. It's not that Pakistan didn't implode under him, but somehow, they stayed clear of turmoil. Without fanfare or pomp, and with mostly a smile and never a snarl, he became as colossal a leader - blasphemy alert - as Imran Khan. As unPakistani a cricketer as you could get, yet he was, every inch, Mr Pakistan Cricket throughout his reign.

Osman Samiuddin on Virender Sehwag

We all grew up knowing one thing: India did not have any real opening fast bowlers. Okay, Kapil Dev was one. Early-years Srinath had pace but the prototype was Venkatesh Prasad. Awkward build, long arms, zero pace. A stream of others went by, just names: David Johnson, Salil Ankola and others whose names I actually can't even remember. Things got much better, of course, as the years went on, but the first truly frightening opening weapon India had, as far as Pakistan were concerned, was Virender Sehwag. Rightly, he was described as the express opening fast bowler India never had in the early 2000s by Rahul Bhattacharya. He really was - in those opening sessions of Tests, his runs were the equivalent of a side being reduced to 60 for 4. A Test, or an ODI, could be decided by his early opening salvo. And for that time, he was unorthodox - I loved how he used to confound so many people by just not being the opener they thought one should be. See ball, hit ball reduces it much too much, but he was always so clear-headed in approach. If the ball was one he felt he could hit, he did, and he didn't leave any doubt behind in execution. A genius.

Jayaditya Gupta on his favourite Pakistan team

Not one player but a team - Asif Iqbal's team that toured India in 1979. The team for the first Test, in Bangalore, had nine players who could conceivably be among Pakistan's all-time greats: apart from the captain, in batting order, Majid Khan, Mudassar Nazar, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miandad, Wasim Raja, Imran Khan, Wasim Bari, Abdul Qadir. But it wasn't merely a collection of batting talent. In those dire 1970s, when the two previous touring sides to India were the Packer-ravaged, almost unrecognisable Australia and West Indies, the arrival of some of the world's best players was huge. And they didn't just arrive, they strutted in, tall, handsome, different. They bowled fast, they hit high and hard, they ran fast, they fielded well. And they oozed (well, Imran oozed) sex appeal. The "Big boys play at night" T-shirt legend seemed made for him. I was a pre-teen kid and they were my first cricketing heroes (although my friends' elder sisters had markedly different feelings for that team). Many years later I found the analogy: They were the Rolling Stones, coming to strut their stuff in your town. Dirty, bluesy, ballsy. The West Indies team of that era are my all-time favourite cricket side but that Pakistan team probably turned me into a cricket fan.