With the forthcoming World Cup in mind, I sat down with the journalist and cricket nut Rajdeep Sardesai to choose an all-time Indian One-Day Eleven. We excluded from our consideration those players whose careers had ended before India began playing this form of cricket at the international level. With this restriction, we arrived at the following team, in batting order: 1. Saurav Ganguly 2. Sachin Tendulkar 3. Virendra Sehwag 4. Mohammed Azharuddin 5. Yuvraj Singh 6. Mahendra Singh Dhoni 7. Kapil Dev 8. Harbhajan Singh 9. Anil Kumble 10. Javagal Srinath 11. Zaheer Khan.
No one will question the inclusion of Tendulkar, Ganguly, Kapil, Kumble, and Dhoni. However, nostalgia for the 1983 World Cup victory might lead to claims being advanced on behalf of the strokemaker Krishnamachari Srikkanth, and the seam-bowling all-rounders Mohinder Amarnath and Roger Binny. Those who remember our more emphatic win in the 1985 World Championship of Cricket (played in Australia) would press the names of two of that tournament’s heroes, Ravi Shastri and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. A case can also be made for Rahul Dravid to replace Azhar, and for Manoj Prabhakar to be chosen instead of Srinath.
Choosing mythical elevens is always contentious, but let me say no more about this team and instead go about picking an eleven composed of those Indians whose own careers ended before the era of one-day internationals. For earlier generations had also produced attacking batsmen, wicket-taking or restrictive bowlers, and fine fieldsmen. What then might a Dream Team of Golden Oldies look like?
The first name I shall pencil in is that of Syed Mushtaq Ali, who was as inventive and effective a strokemaker as Virendra Sehwag, as useful a change bowler, and incomparably the better fielder. His partner at the top of the order shall be Budhi Kunderan, who likewise scored at the rate of knots (ask the England bowlers of the 1960s), and would in this team handily keep wickets too. At one drop, we have Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, who had the misfortune to lose one eye in a car accident shortly after he began his first-class career. With two good eyes he might have matched Bradman, but even with the handicap he remained a fine forcing batsman, and a brilliant outfielder. At the pivotal position of number four we have Polly Umrigar, who like other Bombay batsmen before and after, could play in different gears, consolidating the innings or dominating the bowling as the situation demanded. Polly was another outstanding fieldsman, and a decent off-spinner as well.
Number five would be C. K. Nayudu, who was without question the most charismatic cricketer ever to wear Indian colours. C. K. could clear the boundary as easily as Yuvraj Singh, and he had a far wider range of strokes, among them the leg glide and the late cut. While principally a batsman, Nayudu took many wickets with his off-cutters, and, in the field, was not known ever to let down other bowlers. At six would come the peerless Vinoo Mankad. In his pomp, Mankad was the finest spin bowler in international cricket, and also good enough with the bat to score two Test double hundreds and share, with Pankaj Roy, the world record for an opening partnership.
Four, five and six are all variously gifted, and so too the three who shall follow them. At seven we have Lala Amarnath, an attacking batsman, restrictive medium-pace bowler, and, also, a Test-quality wicket-keeper (a skill that may come in handy if Kunderan has an off day, as he sometimes did). At eight is the tall left-handed all-rounder R. G. (Bapu) Nadkarni, a Test centurion like six of the seven batsmen who preceded him, and, more importantly, the most miserly of bowlers, who once sent down twenty-seven (yes, twenty-seven) successive maiden overs against an England side. At nine would come L. Amar Singh, who was, so to say, the Kapil Dev of his day as a hitter of fours and sixes, a decent fielder, and, above all, a magnificent swing bowler.
Ten and jack are bowlers pure and simple. These are the superb legbreak-and-googly bowler Subhas Gupte, and the speedster Mohammed Nissar, who probably bowled faster than any other Indian and was known for an especially deadly yorker.
This eleven, like the more contemporary team which we chose before it, would also be open to (some) criticism. The all-rounders Salim Durrani and Dattu Phadkar would have their supporters, as also the batsman Vijay Hazare. Mumbaikars might argue for the inclusion of N. S. Tamhane, perhaps the finest wicket-keeper India has produced, and whose case here is made stronger by the fact that he knew the wares of Gupte and Mankad especially well.
If the eleven outlined at the beginning of this column was a Dream Team, in so far as they actually never played together in real time, this one might be considered a Fantasy Eleven, since none of its members in fact played formal or official one-day cricket. Who would captain this side? The eleven picked by Rajdeep Sardesai and myself had six former captains. We eliminated Tendulkar and Azhar on the grounds that they were poor tacticians, and the other three because they had the burdens of being the side’s wicket-keeper (Dhoni), leading pace bowler (Kapil), and main spinner (Kumble) respectively. So we picked Ganguly as captain, a choice which, we thought, would please the cricket-loving people of Bengal while embarrassing the cricket-illiterate promoters of the Kolkata Knight Riders.
The choice here is easier to make. Mankad, Umrigar, Amarnath, and Pataudi, former India captains all, would voluntarily waive their claims in favour of C. K. Nayudu, India’s first captain, who shall lead this team with character and with authority.
We now have two elevens, and hence, a match. Here is how they line up:
ONE-DAY INDIAN DREAM TEAM ONE-DAY INDIAN FANTASY ELEVEN
1. Saurav Ganguly 1. S. Mushtaq Ali
2. Sachin Tendulkar 2. Budhi Kunderan
3. Virendra Sehwag 3. M. A. K. Pataudi
4. Mohammed Azharuddin 4. Polly Umrigar
5. Yuvraj Singh 5. C. K. Nayudu
6. Mahendra Singh Dhoni 6. Vinoo Mankad
7. Kapil Dev 7. Lala Amarnath
8. Harbhajan Singh 8. R. G. Nadkarni
9. Anil Kumble 9. L. Amar Singh
10. Javagal Srinath 10. Subhas Gupte
11. Zaheer Khan 11. Mohammed Nissar
Were I a betting man, I would place my money on the latter eleven, speaking not as a historian prone to nostalgia but as a hard-headed student of cricket. The fielding is much better—contrast the lumbering legs of Dada, Sachin, Viru, Bhajji, Jumbo, Sri and Zak with the lithe athleticism of Mushtaq, Polly, C. K., Tiger, Amar Singh and company. The bowling is also immeasurably superior—if the new ball pairs are evenly matched, give me Gupte, Mankad and Nadkarni over Kumble and Harbhajan any day. Our oldies also have the edge in change or relief bowlers, for Nayudu, Polly and Mushtaq were real, wicket-taking bowlers, not hopeful trundlers of the Yuvraj or Saurav kind.
As for the batting, the first three of the moderns are clearly superior, but the middle order of the oldies seems more solid and convincing. At any rate, if Nissar yorks Ganguly (as well he might) and Gupte does Sehwag in the flight (as he so easily could) the moderns would be on the back foot in the first power play itself. Sachin would bravely carry on, but, frustrated by the superb fielding of Tiger and co., and the tardy progress of his partners, hole out in the middle orders to Mankad or Nadkarni. The tail might crawl their way to 200, a target comfortably within reach of a side where Umrigar bats at four, Mankad at six, and Amar Singh at nine.
(published in The Telegraph, 25/2/2011)
by Ramachandra Guha