It's 1998, and we've got ourselves a low-scoring ODI on a cracked up Chepauk pitch in Chennai that is offering turn and uneven bounce. Your Rest of the World XI has scrabbled to 190 against the hosts, India. In the chase, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly have the game seemingly locked up at 70 for 0 after 20 overs when you are given a wild card. A portal has been opened to the future, allowing any two bowlers (Indians included) from 2020 to be shipped in for an over each, one to bowl at Tendulkar and one to Ganguly. Whom do you teleport in to break open the game?
You have to get them now. Five more overs and the game is gone. So a gamble is called for. Against a set Tendulkar, you need a left-arm bowler, either a fast bowler or left-arm wristspinner, but not someone of a known pedigree - that puts T on high alert. What we need now is to feed his ego some juicy carrots in the form of an under-the-radar type. Make him look for gimme runs and mistime one into the air. Step up Tabraiz Shamsi, lurking in the shadows of the Imran Tahir spotlight. Against Ganguly, even if this is a breaking Chepauk, no spinners. He knows how to handle that stuff. In the mood, he can extract gimmes from everyone, throw them off their lengths. You need fast, you need fierce, you need both accuracy and variety. Mitchell Starc is the man.
In what may seem a counterintuitive move, I'm going to eschew slow-bowling options - despite the turning pitch - on the ground that both batsmen had far better records against spin. It wasn't such a well-established fact back in 1998, but Ganguly's weakness against the short ball has to be targeted (even if the young Ganguly might be better able to get himself out of trouble). Who has the meanest bouncer in the game currently? Let's not look any further than Jofra Archer, who spent the 2019 World Cup pinging helmets for fun. As for Tendulkar, I have a hunch the left-armer's angle might help unsettle him. With his range of cutters and slower balls that should be perfectly suited to a dry Chepauk, I'm going to bank on Mustafizur Rahman to make the all-important pop for my ROW XI.
My pick to bowl at Ganguly is a no-brainer: R Ashwin is from Chennai and is lethal against left-hand batsmen. Against Tendulkar, I'd go out of the box and bring on Colin de Grandhomme. He'd be a great option anyway on a pitch with uneven bounce, looking to bowl stump-to-stump, dry up the runs, and force an error, but I'm calling him from the future specifically because Tendulkar disliked facing medium-pacers such as Hansie Cronje, and often got out to them while trying to force the pace when the ball didn't quite come on.
I'd throw Rashid Khan in there. This match needs to be desperately shaken up if the World XI are going to have a chance, and what better shaker is there than Khan, the likes of whom did not exist in 1998? It's possible that familiarity with Anil Kumble's bowling would help Tendulkar and Ganguly become quickly accustomed to the pace of Khan's legspin, but they almost certainly will not have faced anything like his variations. From the other end: a rapid fast bowler. I was tempted to go with Lockie Ferguson, who was remarkably penetrative through the middle overs in last year's World Cup, but purely because his body of work is more comprehensive, Starc seems a surer bet. His pace through the air makes him a threat anywhere, and that bouncer will only become more dangerous on a track with uneven bounce.
The ball has started to misbehave, jumping at the throat from short of a length at times and shooting into the shins if pitched an inch fuller. Although Ashwin knows Ganguly is uncomfortable against offspin, his eyes are set on Tendulkar. With only 120 runs to defend, World XI have no option but to attack. Slip, point, cover, mid-off and short leg wait in anticipation. Ashwin is sticking to the middle-and-leg line, turning the ball into Tendulkar's pads. The wicked bounce is troubling Tendulkar, who is also wary of Ashwin's carom ball. With runs drying up, Tendulkar, who usually likes to dominate, is restless. He is trying to play inside out. Ashwin has gained the upper hand. At the other end, Archer knows what makes Ganguly cringe: the rib-ticklers that dart from short-of-a-good length. Already, Ganguly has had to fold up a few times trying to fend off the short deliveries. Archer has added two slips to show who is dominating. It is a duel of four grandmasters on a checkered pitch. The Chepauk faithful are all eyes.
In seven combined ODI innings that Tendulkar and Ganguly played at Chepuak Stadium, neither ever gave their wicket to a spinner. But since this is a dust bowl, for Tendulkar, I'd throw Kuldeep Yadav the ball. Yadav has begun to hone the wrong'un, and on a turning pitch, the batsman must play at every ball. If Tendulkar feels he could leave a couple alone, just remember the ball Yadav bowled to Babar Azam at the 2019 World Cup. Ganguly is, famously, brilliant against spin, but who could withstand Rashid Khan on such a pitch? Averaging under 19 from 71 ODIs, Khan has raised the bar for legspinners worldwide. A bit of flight, and Ganguly may not be able to resist dancing down the pitch. Should he succumb to that temptation, trouble awaits.