my all-time XI

Every time I go on Facebook there seems to be yet another Tom, Dick, Harry or Jane contributing their 'All Time XI'. How come nobody ever asks me?! Well, with it being 553 days since my last cricket-related post (maybe that is called 'growing in holiness') and with far, far too much work to do - I thought I'd treat myself to some fun.

Here is my All-Time Eleven (with accompanying video kept to a maximum of 5min).
The best cricketers that I have seen playing 'live'...

Opening the batting will be two Bombay-wallahs (or, Mumbaikars), the '-kar' ending to their names betrays their origins. Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar. I have to include Gavaskar because he was the first person to ignite my interest in the game. A tiny man, he is famous for the way he took on the might of the West Indian fast bowlers in their prime, without a helmet ('eat your hearts out, baseball fans'). As for Tendulkar, off the field I've always been impressed by his quiet grace - as emerged when I tried to exegete his retirement speech in 2013. But he could bat with loud force, as seen here, hitting some ridiculous sixes.



If you make it through those two, come and feast your eyes on this combustible combination of arrogance and skill. Brutal. Just brutal. The dude could strut sitting down - and I saw his first ever Test century with my own eyes. New Delhi. 1974. 192 not out. Isaac Vivian Alexander Richards. 'Viv', for short. I was also present on the day, in faraway Dunedin, when he was the first person in history to score a 100 and take five wickets in a One Day game. But let's get back to helmet-less strutting for which he was famous (oops - 6 minutes).


Coming at number four is the late great Martin Crowe. My all-time favourite player about whom I have written quite a bit (like here and here). He is the batting textbook in motion. Could watch him bat all day. He was started too young and he finished too early (with a knee injury) and so his career statistics do not do him justice at all. With my love of cricket's numbers, I always felt a sporting sadness about that reality! Here is my favourite 90 seconds - with Crowe facing a bowler mentioned further down this list, Wasim Akram.


The Sri Lankan, Kumar Sangakkara, is a big favourite as much for his articulate intelligence and grace, as for his batting skill. To finish a career with an average of 57.40, while at the same time being the wicket-keeper is scarcely believable. On my first visit to Sri Lanka this was the photo used to market a mobile phone company. Every team in the world would love to have four of these guys in their team.


It is time for an Australian. It was reading his biography, after his career finished, that gave me a fuller appreciation for Steve Waugh. His reflections on leadership. His commitment to the poor here in India. Lots of things. In his career, he started low in the batting order. He took years to get his first century. 'What do the selectors see in this guy?' But what a story of perseverance and grit.  I loved this moment in his career. Reaching his final century in Australia, on his home ground in Sydney, against the old enemy England - and off the last ball of the day, he smacks a boundary. Great theatre, as the crowd response demonstrates.


It has been difficult for English players to capture my imagination. Sorry, Ben. Plus, during my more avid years of cricket-following, they had a pretty poor side. But one guy stands out and he makes the cut. Andrew 'Freddie' Flintoff. While he has too much charm for his own good - boy, could he play the game when he applied himself. Some of the scenes from his battles with the Aussies are riveting, like this one:


Coming in at Number 8 is New Zealand's greatest ever player, Sir Richard Hadlee. Too many highlights to mention - but what could possibly surpass that November day in Brisbane when he dismantled the Aussies? We were visiting Queenstown. I remember watching it with our one year old first-born, Stephen. I am sure the experience impacted him for life...


I was a left-arm bowler in my imaginary hey-day. Actually, when I did have the opportunity finally to introduce my children to my childhood cricket coach on a visit to India, he described my bowling as 'unplayable'. I paid Mr Lal later! But you want an unplayable left-arm bowler?! Look no further than the Pakistani teenager who came to New Zealand and demolished us. Wasim Akram. Here he is on the biggest stage of all, the World Cup Final in front of (close to) 100, 000 fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The word 'unplayable' is even used in the commentary, as I remember it.


I enjoy baseball ('Go, Cubbies, Go'), but it can't match cricket when it comes to the skills that are required. Not only do batters hit throughout the full 360 degrees, rather than just 90 degrees - they also have to face bowlers/pitchers who move the ball in the air and at different speeds (like Wasim Akram, like baseball), as well as bowlers/pitchers who spin the ball off the ground (unlike baseball) - like the greatest of them all, Shane Warne. Has there ever been a bowler who could draw you to the screen, or to the edge of your seat, quite like this guy? I doubt it.


I gotta have one contemporary player in my XI. It is going to be Trent Boult. I love the manner in which he plays the game, always with a ready smile on his face and without a sledge. Like so many gifted players today, their skills are being ruined by too much chewing-gum T20 cricket ('enjoy it, chew it, spit it, forget it') and too little Test cricket. At his best and injury-free, I savour every ball he bowls. And let's not forget his athleticism and his portfolio of remarkable catches ('watch carefully, baseball fans - no gloves!'),


Do I get a 12th Man?! Of course, I do - it is my team :). OK - so here is my opportunity to squeeze in the focus of my cricket-watching joys over the next decade (as long as he is not ruined by chewing-gum cricket). Kane Williamson. How about some of that batting in Australia a couple of years ago?


nice chatting

Paul

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