January 4, 2017

The best of the Bombay boys

Which players would make it to an all-time XI of the powerhouse Indian domestic side?
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Fine middle-order batsman, useful bowler, versatile fielder, shrewd captain: Polly Umrigar had many strings to his bow William Vanderson / © Getty Images

ESPNcricinfo recently featured a piece on an all-time Barbados XI. It was a collection of the most incredible talent, capable of holding its own against any all-time World XI. Barbados is a tiny island, measuring about 21 miles by 14 miles and with a total population of less than 300,000, which makes this abundance of cricketing talent truly astonishing.

That got me thinking: what might an all-time Bombay XI look like? Mumbai is home to about 20 million people today and one of the world's largest metropolises. Quite a world removed from tiny Barbados. How might their best XIs stack up against each other? What follows is the result of my ruminations. I hope you enjoy it, though I suspect (as is always the case with such compilations) there will be much to disagree with as well.

The two opening slots were the easiest to write in: Vijay Merchant and Sunil Gavaskar. Merchant ended with a Test average of 47.72 and a first-class average of 71.64, and was regarded as one of the finest players of fast bowling in his time. Gavaskar's record as opener is peerless, and he accumulated the vast majority of his runs without a helmet against some of the fiercest fast bowling the world has ever seen. At 5'7" (Merchant) and 5'6" (Gavaskar) they may well be the shortest opening pair ever, but they made up in guts and hunger what they lacked in height.

Gavaskar built an unrivalled record as opener - much of it without a helmet against some of the fiercest fast bowlers going Mark Leech / © Getty Images

At the crucial first-drop position enters Dilip Vengsarkar. With a classical technique, equally effective against pace and spin, an average of 42.13 over 116 Tests, and enough truly gutsy innings against top fast bowlers around the world, the "Colonel" outstripped his rivals (including left-hander Ajit Wadekar) by a fair margin.

Following him, at No. 4, is Sachin Tendulkar. Enough said on that.

There was, to put it mildly, a surfeit of talent competing for No. 5*: Vijay Manjrekar, Dilip Sardesai, Sandeep Patil, Vinod Kambli, and Ajinkya Rahane, among others, made strong cases for themselves, but ultimately I had to go with Polly Umrigar. Not only was he India's finest middle-order batsman for the longest time, Umrigar was a useful bowler (35 Test wickets at 42.08 apiece) and an excellent fielder in both the slips and the outfield.

Ideally you want an allrounder at No. 6 and, really, who better than Vinoo Mankad? A batting average of 31.47 and 162 wickets at 32.32 apiece over 44 Tests puts daylight between him and someone like Ravi Shastri, whose batting average of 35.79 shades Mankad's but who conceded nearly 41 for each of his 151 wickets over 80 Tests.

Mankad, one of India's greatest allrounders © PA Photos

There was no question about who would fill the wicketkeeper's slot: the flamboyant Farokh Engineer, which is hardly surprising since Engineer actually did walk into World XIs of his time, let alone that of his state team.

That leaves us with four bowlers to pick - two fast bowlers and two spinners. At No. 8 is Karsan Ghavri. He could be a nippy proposition on his day, and 109 wickets in 39 Tests at 33.54 apiece is not bad at all for an Indian medium-pacer. In addition, Ghavri could also wield the long handle quite effectively. At No. 9 is Zaheer Khan. With over 300 Test wickets, an enviable ability to prise out an opener or two with the new ball and a couple of batters later on down the order with his reverse-swing, he easily makes the XI.

Following him is someone who may well have had a prolific Test career had he been born in a different time or place: Padmakar Shivalkar, the original metronome, who, in a first class career of 124 matches, took 589 wickets at an average of just 19.69. A left-arm spinner with flight, loop, variation and incredible control, Shivalkar failed to budge Bishan Bedi out of India's Test XI. I have often wondered how good Shivalkar might have been in comparison to Bedi at the highest level, especially as the latter aged and seemed to give up on his fitness as time wore on. That we never found out is the real tragedy of Shivalkar's career.

Subhash Gupte (don't mention the drink!) © The Cricketer International

And completing the XI is someone whose superlative Test career was cut short by a bizarre combination of Indian middle-class morality and the callousness of the country's cricket establishment: Subhash Gupte.

Gupte's legspin earned him 149 wickets in just 36 Tests, at an average of 29.55 (figures that rival those of India's famed spin quartet). When playing the Test series against the visiting MCC in 1961-62, during the third Test, in Delhi, it appears his room-mate in the hotel, AG Kripal Singh, made a phone call to the receptionist asking her if she would like to have a drink. The lady thought the invitation highly improper and complained to the Indian team manager. Both players were dropped on "disciplinary grounds", but the promised inquiry was never held and Gupte never got the chance to present his side of the story. He quit India in disgust, settling in the West Indies, and never played another Test match.

Two matters remain. For 12th man, I would go with Eknath Solkar, perhaps India's greatest fielder ever. And for the captain, the best men - Ashok Mankad and Ajit Wadekar - unfortunately do not make the team on talent. Of the others, Gavaskar was too defensive and Tendulkar never seemed to get it all together when it came to commanding his men. I would go with Umrigar (who captained India in eight Tests, winning two and losing two) who was reputed to have a shrewd cricketing brain.

As I scan the team, the absence of any left-hand batsmen in the top order and the surfeit of left-arm bowlers (Gupte is the lone exception) is a bit worrying. Indeed, given the overlap in bowling skills between Vinoo Mankad and Shivalkar, I feared I might have to drop one of them for a right-arm medium-fast bowler. Unfortunately, contenders like Ajit Agarkar, Ramakant Desai, or Dattu Phadkar, just weren't good enough in terms of their Test records. In the end, I could not bring myself to leave out either Mankad or Shivalkar. Fortunately, since I was the one compiling the XI, I did not need to!

So, does this island team stand a chance against the best of Barbados? Most certainly not. But still, that's not a shabby XI by any means.

Sankaran Krishna is a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, in Honolulu. @SankaranKrishn

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Nampally on January 12, 2017, 14:34 GMT

    Without a doubt Bombay ruled supreme from 1950's to mid 70's. It was like a production factory of Top Cricketers. So it is always difficult to Select an all time best XI. To start with the opening bats & #4 & 5 select themselves, as shown by the Author. However the 2 best opening bowlers without a doubt are Phadkar & Desai. Mankad & Gupte are the 2 best spin twins. These 8 spots are uncontested. As for the WK's, both Engineer & Kunderan were brilliant. Engineer wins narrowly because Pataudi gave him more chances in Tests. The last 2 spots are highly contested. Sardesai deserves a #3 spot & the last spot is open for a medium pacer- Solkar or Zaheer Khan. There was no great off spinner from Bombay- Diwadkar was the nearest. So My choice of XI is: Merchant, Gavaskar, Sardesai, Tendulkar, Umrigar, Mankad, Phadkar,Engineer, Desai, Zaheer/Solkar, Subash Gupte. Umrigar's choice of Captaincy is a good one. Gavaskar, Mankad & Gupte already made an all time World XI recently.

  • caught_knott_bowled_old on January 9, 2017, 3:49 GMT

    I'd composed a Karnataka All-time XI which would dominate the Bombay XI based on a much stronger bowling dept. KL Rahul, Karun Nair, Rahul Dravid, GR Viswanath, Brijesh Patel, Roger Binny, Syed Kirmani, Anil Kumble, J. Srinath, EAS Prasanna and B. Chandrasekhar. 12th Man Venkatesh Prasad

  • Sid on January 8, 2017, 4:37 GMT

    Here is a similar best ever 11 from Delhi : Sehwag, Chetan Chauhan, Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Mohinder Amarnath, M Prabhakar Surinder Khanna, Maninder Singh, Madan Lal, Ashish Nehra, Bishen Bedi,

  • rmarathe on January 7, 2017, 16:30 GMT

    Also, worth considering; Zaheer, Ghavri, and Mankad were not Mumbai-bred players. They were imported to strengthen the sides.

  • rmarathe on January 7, 2017, 15:46 GMT

    Kambi should be picked over Umrigar and Ramakant Desai over Ghavri. Engineer's at WC is good but Naren Tamhane deserves a consideration. And Abdul Ismail derserves a mention for the other fast bowler slot.

  • rmarathe on January 7, 2017, 15:37 GMT

    @7SHAAN7 , in addition to Zaheer Khan, Ghavri played for Saurashtra for many seasons before playing for Mumbai and Vinoo Mankad played for Navanagar (now Saurashtra) and a few other teams before moving to and playing for Mumbai.

  • CricMystique on January 7, 2017, 3:17 GMT

    @ VINOD_KAMBLI ON JANUARY 5, 2017, 11:04 GM - i'm guessing testcricrox's posted more on the premise that this blog makes mumbai/bombay out as some form of world beaters or possessing players that could walk into any xi, well 2 or 3 might (eg sunny, SRT) , but with the non-existent pop gun bowling attack they'd struggle to take 20 wickets against any of yorkshire, barbados, NSW et all...end of the day, mumbai/bombay have 2/3 world class batsmen that could fit into the other all time xi's but would struggle to compete leave alone beat....no malice meant, just a reality check at such posts typical of indian media which beats up the hype making us feel better than what we actally are.....cricinfo plz publish

  • Vatsaitis on January 6, 2017, 20:20 GMT

    Gupta ji I did not name 11 players, the point I am making has to do with how lists such as these totally ignore the young and present. of course it is a no brainer that sachin and sunny and company will be here.. but what's a best team is only a matter that can be decided in hindsight ..

  • Sid on January 6, 2017, 16:23 GMT

    The team selects itself mostly but not sure how fair it is for a player like Shivalkar who could never make it to the national team to be in it. I believe it should be Ajit Agarkar in there as when you have Gupte and Mankad and Sachin who was a classic bowler you dont need another spinner. Also instead of Umrigar i would go in with Vinod Kambli for his sheer class.

  • ks.shriram on January 6, 2017, 13:49 GMT

    An all time Karnataka XI to take this team on: KL Rahul, Roger Binny, Rahul Dravid, G R Vishwanath, Brijesh Patel, S M H Kirmani, Anil Kumble, J Srinath, E A S Prasanna, Venkatesh Prasad and B S Chandrashekhar. 12th man - Sunil Joshi.

    (Binny used to open for Karnataka in Ranji and provides another useful bowling option)