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All-time XI: World

Nice guys finish first

Cricketers who'd break your spirit and shake your hand

Ramachandra Guha
Ramachandra Guha
Curtly Ambrose of the West Indies has a laugh with one of the batsmen during the nets session, The Oval, August 29, 2000

Curtly Ambrose: a smile a large as the man  •  Getty Images

The Australians have dominated world cricket over the past two decades. It is sometimes argued that this is because they have not just the best cricketers but also the nastiest.
The XI chosen below demonstrates that decency and cricketing genius can often co-exist. In any epoch, players like Victor Trumper and Anil Kumble would have stood out for their gentlemanliness; whereas those like Adam Gilchrist stand out because of the contrast between them and their colleagues.
From ESPNcricinfo's all-time country XIs, I have chosen a Nice-Guys-Finish-First XI, which, in batting order, shall read:
1. Jack Hobbs
Although in theory, a "professional", Hobbs upheld the Victorian code of fairplay far more honourably than the "gentlemen" cricketers of his day. And yet the finest opening batsman of his time, perhaps of all time.
2. Victor Trumper
A brilliant attacking opener and a man of great nobility of character, admired by his team-mates and even more by his opponents, his goodness immortalised in the writings of Cardus and Fingleton.
3. George Headley
In my view the greatest West Indian batsman of all time, greater than Richards or Lara and indubitably a more impressive human being, who braved colonialism and racial discrimination and came out of it all with his head high.
4. Vijay Hazare
A man of upright character, a quiet, steady, understated captain of India's first Test-winning side, and himself a superb batsman, conqueror of (among other bowlers) Keith Miller and Ray Lindwall.
5. Garry Sobers
The greatest cricketer of all time. A man of charm and whimsy, a delight to watch, talk to, play golf with and drink with, who set records despite never caring for them.
6. Keith Miller
A superb all-round cricketer, and like Trumper, a man respected and loved by his opponents - his best friend in cricket, unusually for an Australian, was a similarly guileless Englishman, Denis Compton.
7. Adam Gilchrist
A man apart from his crass, crude, boorish and bullying team-mates, and yet as much a world-beater as any of them.
8. Anil Kumble
The finest Indian spin bowler ever, the bravest Indian cricketer ever. Utterly principled in his behaviour to team-mates, adversaries, umpires and ordinary folks.
9. Derek Underwood
Called "Deadly" in the dressing room for the terror he struck in the batsman's mind on wet or wearing wickets, but in person one of a dreamy, gentle, endearingly harmless cast of character.
10. Curtly Ambrose
The second-greatest West Indian fast bowler (next only to Marshall), yet, like the man who bats before him in this team, deadly only with the ball. In fact, whether or not he was taking wickets, he wore the broadest smile ever seen on a cricket field (and perhaps the shiniest chain too).
11. Lance Gibbs
A gentle Guyanese, a master of offspin and a brilliant fielder at cover and slip, who (like Sobers) embodied what used to be called "calypso cricket", which was a man's game played with a grin on one's face, goodness in one's heart, and music in one's ears.

Historian and cricket writer Ramachandra Guha is the author of A Corner of A Foreign Field and Wickets in the East among other books