All-time visiting XIs - part two
In part one of this two-part feature, I had covered the all-time best XIs to visit Australia, England and South Africa. There was very lively reader response and nearly 150 comments were received. In this article I will cover the other five countries - India, New Zealand, West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. I will also summarise the selections at the end.
It is strongly recommended that those who missed reading the first part, read that article before perusing this one. The lengthy introduction and explanation of the processes will go a long way towards clarifying the complex selection process. I will not publish comments that indicate a lack of awareness of the selection methodology. Just as a recap, I have summarised the process below.
- Only batsmen who have scored 500 runs and bowlers who have captured 25 wickets (20 for Pakistan) are considered for selection.
- The players are judged on three criteria: Longevity (Runs/Wickets), Performance (RpAI/Bowling average) and Quality of opposition (Bowling/Batting quality).
- RpAI (Runs per Adjusted Innings) is used instead of the Batting Average and is explained in depth in Part 1.
- The top ten batsmen and bowlers are shortlisted for selection.
- To the extent possible (almost 95%), the final selection is made from these players.
- The normal team will be comprised of six batsmen, four bowlers and a wicketkeeper. In each team there has to be an allrounder who will provide additional bowling support.
- The keeper is judged more on keeping skills and less on batting skills.
- For each team, a captain is selected.
First, let me provide the tables listing the top ten batsmen and bowlers who toured India.
Alastair Cook is the first choice as opener. He has been very good, scoring nearly 100 runs per Test. To decide on his partner is a difficult task. None of the top ten, other than Cook, is a regular opener. I would not be confident at pushing any of the middle-order batsmen into opening. Possibly Everton Weekes could do it. However, when I go past the top ten in the table, two names stare at me. Gordon Greenidge and Matthew Hayden. They are both very close (Greenidge 1047 runs in 14 Tests at 42.31 and Hayden 1027 runs in 11 Tests at 49.07).
I decided on Hayden, who might have faced a lesser bowling attack than Greenidge but was probably the more attacking of the two. And who can ever forget what he did in India in 2001? This is the first selection outside the top ten.
The middle order is almost totally dominated by West Indies batsmen. Weekes, Garry Sobers and Clive Lloyd take their appointed places. All of them have terrific figures. India was one of the favourite countries for West Indies during the decades before 2000. The fourth place is filled by Andy Flower, who had two wonderful tours of India. He single-handedly defied India for over 40 hours. His scores in India are 115, 62*, 183*, 70, 55, 232*, 3, 8, 92 and 0 - seven substantial scores out of ten. An average of 117 and RpAI of 82 speak volumes about Flower's sojourns in India.
However, I am not going to burden Flower with wicketkeeping duties. Adam Gilchrist is the gloveman. He was not his usual batting self in India but kept magnificently. In seven Tests, he dismissed 29 batsmen and scored 342 runs at 28.33.
The top three bowlers select themselves. Richie Benaud is the leading spinner by a mile. He will be supported by Courtney Walsh and Alan Davidson. These three bowlers had averages well below 20 and captured more than five wickets per Test. When we come to the fourth bowling position, there is a serious selection issue. Andy Roberts and Derek Underwood are neck and neck in their index values. Roberts has been excellent and has similar numbers to the top three. Underwood, though not so effective, was a canny spinner. I have gone against the stream and pinned my hopes on Roberts. Glenn McGrath was another strong contender.
Sobers will be the dedicated allrounder, able to bowl left-arm spin quite effectively.
The final team to tour India is given below.
The captaincy is between Benaud and Lloyd. Having watched Benaud grow into the excellent captain that he became, I have no hesitation in handing him the responsibility.
5. New Zealand
Herschelle Gibbs is a surprising leader amongst the openers. His tally of over 100 runs per Test deserves recognition. The other opening position presents a dilemma. Should I co-opt Rahul Dravid, who is in the top ten, into opening the batting, or look at Greenidge, at No.11, the regular opener? Greenidge's numbers are quite good: 618 runs at 55 in six Tests. So I decided to go with the established opener. This is the second selection outside the top ten. In three innings, Wally Hammond scored 642 runs, albeit against quite weak New Zealand attacks. There is no way Hammond's numbers can be ignored. So he is at No. 3.
Javed Miandad is a shoo-in for the second middle-order position. He has excellent numbers to back him up. Then I have to say sorry to Daryll Cullinan and select Greg Chappell. Now comes the second conundrum: the No. 6. Do I select Seymour Nurse, with outstanding numbers, or Sachin Tendulkar, with experience but lower figures, or Dravid or Ian Botham? Botham has a batting average exceeding 40 and sub-30 bowling average. I came back to this after completing the bowling selection and felt that with a three-pronged pace attack, Botham would be superfluous. Therefore, I decided to recognise Dravid's 100-plus runs per Test and an excellent RpAI and go with him.
Adam Gilchrist is the wicketkeeper. He was at his best, both in keeping and batting. In six Tests, he dismissed 25 batsmen and scored 487 runs at 69.57.
The bowlers almost selected themselves. The top three bowlers are Wasim Akram, who was devastating in New Zealand, Shane Warne and McGrath. Then I had Sonny Ramadhin in fourth position. But I felt that two spinners in New Zealand was a luxury. So instead, I selected Joel Garner, who had a phenomenal average. He just about edged out Walsh. Hammond would be the designated allrounder. Even though Muttiah Muralitharan has done quite well, it is almost the England-like situation. Warne has done much better - more wickets, more wickets per Test, and a better quality of batsmen bowled to, against a slightly higher average.
The final team to tour New Zealand is given below.
Hammond is a strong candidate for the captaincy. However, since I had decided that there would be different captains for each team, Greg Chappell will lead the team across the Tasman Sea.
6. West Indies
While India was a middle-order batsman's delight, the opening batsmen held sway in the West Indies, despite the presence of a formidable set of pace bowlers to contend with. The top-ten table contains no fewer than five opening batsmen. This presents two problems. Which opening batsmen do I select? And how do I create an effective group of middle-order batsmen? I selected the top two openers in the table. Len Hutton and Sunil Gavaskar were terrific as individual batsmen and would form a formidable opening pair.
I encountered no problems in filling up the batting spots 3 to 5. Neil Harvey, Dravid and Colin Cowdrey had performed magnificently, with RpAI figures well over 50. It so happens that these batsmen make up five of the top six in the table. The No. 6 batting position presented a dilemma. The options in front of me were Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. Waugh is slightly ahead of Ponting but Ponting's 100-plus runs per Test clinched the position.
MS Dhoni's keeping excellence over seven Tests makes up for his rather lacklustre batting. He and Brad Haddin were almost identical in batting and keeping but Dhoni's performance was over a higher number of Tests. Hence I selected him to don the gloves. In seven Tests, he dismissed 29 batsmen and scored 265 runs at 22.08.
Angus Fraser, McGrath and Imran Khan were the top three bowlers and virtually selected themselves. This was a bonus, with Imran batting at No. 8. I went down the table and located Murali in the tenth position, so I added him to the attack, and I now have an excellent, balanced bowling attack. I looked at John Snow and Kapil Dev seriously but could not find a way to get them in. The only way I could get Kapil in was in place of Cowdrey. However, it would have been unfair to leave Cowdrey out.
The final XI to tour the West Indies is given below.
Imran Khan, who was a wonderful leader in the West Indies, is handed the reins of this great team.
It is clear that there is a problem when we come to Pakistan. The last Test in Pakistan was played in 2009 and only 27 Tests have been played there in this millennium. There is a shortage of qualifying players. I am also quite firm that the UAE will not be treated as home country for Pakistan.
Virender Sehwag is the leader of the batting table, by the proverbial mile, and walks in as the No. 1 batsman and No. 1 in batting order. He was totally devastating in Pakistan. Gavaskar is comfortably in the top five and becomes Sehwag's opening partner. As I had remarked about Jack Hobbs and David Warner, the two diametrically opposite Indian openers will learn from each other and get the visiting team to great starts.
Kumar Sangakkara at No. 3 is an automatic choice. However, he will play only as a batsman. What a talented and stylish top three we have! Now I have serious selection problems. There remain three positions and five batsmen if I do not consider the other opening batsmen - Sanjay Manjrekar, Thilan Samaraweera, Jacques Kallis, Sanath Jayasuriya and Mohinder Amarnath. First, I will select Kallis, both for his excellent batting figures and the bowling support he will provide. He will be very handy as the third pacer. Jayasuriya had very good visits to Pakistan. Let me also remind the readers that Jayasuriya's all-time classic of 253 ranks amongst the top ten innings ever played. If ever an innings selects a player, this is the one. So he gets the nod.
Now I have three batsmen and one position. Manjrekar's one series to Pakistan, against Imran, Wasim Akram, Abdul Qadir and Waqar Younis went 3, 113*, 76, 83, 213, 72 and 4. This is some series. Samaraweera scored two double-hundreds against some average bowling. Amarnath scored four hundreds in 11 Tests, that too against good bowling led by Imran, Sarfraz Nawaz and Qadir. On balance, I have to respect Amarnath's terrific performances during the days when India were quite average on the road. Hence, Amarnath gets the No. 6 spot. It is a pity that Manjrekar and Samaraweera have to sit out despite their terrific numbers.
Ian Healy is the comfortable leader in the wicketkeeper stakes and gets in ahead of Naren Tamhane and Mark Boucher. In eight Tests, he dismissed 25 batsmen and scored 343 runs at 32.42.
I see no reason not to select the first three bowlers in the bowlers' list - a spinner extraordinaire and a magnificent pair of fast bowlers. The fourth position presents the familiar dilemma. Do I go for Chaminda Vaas or the classical legspin of Subhash Gupte. Since Kallis already provides me with some additional pace coverage, I went with Gupte.
The team to tour Pakistan is given below. Astute readers will note that this team is the one for which I have gone right through the two lots of top-ten players. The reasons have been explained.
Gavaskar may not have had as much success as a captain in Pakistan as Jayasuriya. However, we are talking here about leading a collection of some of the best players who ever played. Hence I have nominated Gavaskar as the captain.
8. Sri Lanka
If you ask me which are the five all-time best away performances ever, I would go for Don Bradman in England, Shane Warne in England, Brian Lara in Sri Lanka, Richard Hadlee in Australia and Graeme Smith in England. With this type of recognition, Lara's name is the first to get on the team sheet. Where he bats is a question that will be answered at the end. Sehwag's 201* in Galle, another all-time top-ten best innings, earns him his spot in the side. It is also worth remembering that Sehwag scored nearly 700 runs in six Tests.
The next two batsmen have done outstandingly well in Sri Lanka and walk in: Tendulkar and Stephen Fleming. The middle order is in safe hands. I have Younis Khan and Ponting to go to. And I want Ponting to replicate his success in Sri Lanka. So he gets selected. I feel bad about leaving out Younis, but cannot help it. I have also decided that Fleming will open the batting with Sehwag. This is probably the only compromise I have made in the 16 opening positions selected. However, let me add that Fleming has opened the innings 11 times while the other candidate Lara has opened only twice. There is no other opening batsman in sight. Azhar Ali never opened in Sri Lanka. Also, how can I ever select Azhar Ali in place of Ponting?
However, let us not forget that the four batsmen at the top do not really bowl. Therefore, at No. 6, we have Daniel Vettori, who will provide the real bowling strength. As the bowling attack is a pace-dominated one, Vettori's presence will be invaluable. A batting average in excess of 30 helps.
The wicketkeeper's position throws out a surprise. Sarfraz Ahmed and Kamran Akmal each had 20 dismissals in five matches but Sarfraz was way ahead in batting (469 runs at 58.62). Boucher did better than Akmal in batting but was nowhere near that effective in keeping. Hence I have selected Sarfraz as the surprise, but well-deserved, keeper.
The top four bowlers form a perfect combination. There is world-class spin, lovely swing, searing pace and left-arm wizardry. Hence Warne, Hadlee, Waqar and Akram form the bowling attack. Let us not bother about the slowness of Sri Lankan wickets. Akram and Younis will be deadly wherever they bowl. And Sri Lanka was the only Asian country in which Warne succeeded. Vettori is always there to provide spinning support.
The final XI to tour Sri Lanka is given below.
Ricky Ponting is the player entrusted to lead the team to Sri Lanka. Let us remember that Australia whitewashed Sri Lanka 3-0 in 2004.
Summary of selection
Only two players have been selected four times. It is not a surprise that this honour belongs to two Australians who were part of one of the greatest of all teams. They are Gilchrist and Warne.
Both would have taken the flights to England, New Zealand and South Africa. In addition, Gilchrist would have come to India and Warne to Sri Lanka.
Four players were selected in three of the teams: McGrath, Dravid, Tendulkar and Hammond.
Fifteen players have been selected in two of the teams: Lara, Walsh, Greenidge, Sobers, Hobbs, Malcolm Marshall, Murali, Hadlee, Ponting, Neil Harvey, Gavaskar, Sydney Barnes, Sehwag, Viv Richards and Akram.
Thirty-eight other players, including Don Bradman, have secured single selections. Bradman, of course, visited only that single country.
My only regret is that I could not find a place for three of my favourite cricketers - Kapil, Anil Kumble and VVS Laxman - in any of the teams. Unfortunately they had no stand-out performances anywhere and sentiment could not play a part in my selections. The nearest I could consider any of this trio for selection was Laxman and Kumble in Australia and Kapil in West Indies and Pakistan.
I will do the follow-up piece on the best home XIs if many readers ask for it. In any case it may have to wait for a later date since three team-selection articles on the trot might be one too many. Also, it will give me a chance to change the basis: to include support available and pitch quality and do articles covering both visiting and home XIs in one article.
Anantha Narayanan has written for ESPNcricinfo and CastrolCricket and worked with a number of companies on their cricket performance ratings-related systems