We continue our new series of reflections from Dr V. V. Giri with his fascinating thoughts on India’s best post-1947 XI. Dr Giri’s piece will encourage our younger readers to look back beyond the modern era (yes, there was cricket before helmets and white balls…), while the parents of MCA members may well feel delicious nostalgia as they read some of the names below, and everyone will have an opinion, sometimes a very strong one, on Dr Giri’s selections. Click on a player’s name the first time he is mentioned to see his Cricinfo profile.
“Indian Dream Team”
Selecting a dream team is a task that cricket romantics love to take on despite the resultant odious comparisons justifying the final eleven. To pick the best Indian Test Cricket XI since independence is a challenging task for anyone and not least for a person who has to compare those he has seen in action with video clippings of other cricketers and those who have only been read about. It is only natural that one sets the parameters before getting about the difficult but enjoyable task.
For me, statistics are not as important as match-winning ability and thus the foremost criteria is the capability to perform in different conditions, in adverse circumstances and against the best of oppositions because I don’t expect such a hand-picked team to take on a Test outfit like Bangladesh belonging to the so-called competitive era of modern cricket. As this is a post-independence team, I have considered people who were in their prime after 1947 and thus avoided the likes of Vijay Merchant, Lala Amarnath and C.K. Nayudu.
When the riches are in abundance, all-rounders have a natural advantage over others, especially because in such an imagined situation where everyone is at his prime and close to his best, the weight in different facets tilts the scales quite easily. Since averages and number of centuries don’t fascinate me as much as the pure delight of seeing the bat in full flow against a testing bowling attack, even someone like Sachin Tendulkar is not an automatic choice in the team. But there is no doubt whatsoever in picking Sunil Gavaskar straightaway, for the sight of the confident little man walking in briskly in his spic attire is bound to rub off on others, not to mention his superb judgment of line, length and movement against the fiercest of pace bowlers and the wiliest of spinners that would be likely on show. One does not need to delve into his centuries against top-class sides but just remind readers of the ease with which he let go bouncers that would so easily have hit top modern-day batsmen on the helmet (which the Mumbai batsman never wore) and also the judicious way of handling spinners on wickets resembling minefields. But who would be his partner? Mushtaq Ali, who brought in crowds by the herd, Virender Sehwag, the antithesis of an opener but still embraced by success, or Pankaj Roy, who was involved in a world record opening partnership? None. I would pick Roy’s partner in that epic feet, Vinoo Mankad. A man who could play at any position would be best at the top and edge out Bishan Bedi as the left-arm spinner in the side.
I think it best to have a ‘wall’ at number three. Rahul Dravid has scored a century in every Test playing country and is as solid as they come, with the wristy Gundappa Viswanath, who never scored a century in a losing cause, to follow him. The two Karnataka batsmen of different generations would be a treat to watch together. Tendulkar’s weight of runs and tons edges out Polly Umrigar and Mohinder Amarnath for a place in my eleven, and the decision has nothing to do with the scathing and even personal attacks on a certain Trevor Chesterfield, who did not have the Mumbai batsman in his XI. Vijay Hazare, another middle order batsman comes to my mind ahead of Chandu Borde. If someone could hammer a century in each innings against the mighty Aussies in Adelaide in 1947-48, well, he is my man at number six who could also be useful with his leg-cutters. Hazare is one of those players who kept the game afloat in the country and the younger generation would have to read a lot more about him to know what he actually stood for. And who else at number seven to make the most of the situation then a certain Kapil Dev, who could play himself in with ease and blast the stuffing out of the ball. A celebrated new-ball bowler who got half his record wickets on unhelpful tracks, Kapil will be followed by the bowlers and the wicketkeeper in the line-up.
The ‘Haryana hurricane’ would have Ramakant ‘tiny’ Desai as the new-ball partner. Desai was supposed to be really quick off the wicket and rattled the best of batsmen with his disconcerting bounce and would get selected ahead of Javagal Srinath, Zaheer and others. Syed Kirmani is my man for the job behind the stumps despite Farokh Engineer’s better batting skills. Though Kiri was never comfortable in keeping Venkat, he was the best compared to others. You did not find Kirmani flying about, for he followed the ball so easily and his gloves swallowed the ball with ease and he had a definite edge over the flashy Engineer. Another name whom I considered was Budhi Kunderan, a real delight to watch.
Prasanna would be my pick of the spin bowlers, one who could turn the ball prodigiously, tease the batsmen in flight and also float it the other way. For all the ‘doosras’ being bowled nowadays, Prasanna would have been a handful in any era. To be called ‘the best offie in the world’, by a genius like Ian Chappel, certainly rates him better than others. I pick Anil Kumble ahead of leg-spinning stalwarts like Subhash Gupte and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar because he spins the ball less. Yes, with Erapalli Prasanna and Vinoo Mankad doing the slow stuff well enough, Kumble completes a trio capable of doing well in almost all conditions, yet adding variety to the attack with his probing stuff. And now he also has a century to show in Tests!
Eknath Solkar, a left-handed all-rounder who could bowl both pace and spin, would be a contender for the ideal 12th man because of his brilliant close-in fielding. But, Azharuddin (Better in close in & out field) would be my choice.
Mohinder Amarnath is a notable absentee despite my being a big admirer of his. In fact, I put him in my eleven at the expense of Desai, classifying him as an all-rounder but when we talk of all conditions, a nippy bowler was necessary. I also badly wanted to push in a left-hander, but Sourav Ganguly can’t be classified as solid. However, had he made the XI, he would be my captain. Other names that I thought were close to selection were, Vijay Manjrekar, Hanumant Singh, Venkatragavan, VVS Laxman, Salim Durani and Chandu Borde. Chandu Borde, Salim Durani, Bapu Nadkarni, Manoj Prabhakar and Rusi Surti were India’s great utility men. Yes, but it is very difficult to accommodate any of them in my XI.
My post 1947 Dream Team:
Sunil Gavaskar (Capt);
12th man: Azharuddin.