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How to make a Pakistani captain three Indians

by Gaurav Sethi

The first step in coming up with a successful all-time playing XI is to make sure you don’t really care if it’s successful. You just care that it is read, ridiculed, re-read, ridiculed some more – to do this, there is a sure-shot way, you do what Greg Chappell was dying to do as India’s coach, you do not include Sachin Tendulkar in the playing XI.
Headlines like Tendulkar not in "so and so playing XI" will follow. They cause so much debate and hate, it could quite possibly spawn another movie – Sachin: A Billion Nightmares.
Why then does someone not include Tendulkar in his playing XI? It’s bad enough not including him in your all-time Test XI, but to exclude him from an all-time ODI XI, defies all logic. But then, maybe that’s what they are meant to do.
Also, whether you choose to like or not like Tendulkar is up to you, there are enough people who neutralise your dislike, and they too can be equally incorrigible.
All-time playing XIs are best made with the heart, and the bit of logic that is there without sifting through stat pages – they should be a reflection of your inner-most cricketing desires, they are a shot at playing cricketing god, and if that means excluding a cricketing god, so be it.
As for me, Tendulkar’s one-day batting average and strike rate, sublime as they are, are etched deep. But it's something more than his high average and strike rate (great for his era, great for that era, great for every era) that make him into my playing XI.
Beyond winning or not winning enough games, is the massive emotional connect with all sorts – and just having him in the team will ensure this is a much loved team. Not having him might just ensure nobody cares or watches this team.
It may be both unsuccessful, on the field, and commercially too. So with all kinds of sponsors, my all-time XI starts counting. I would’ve called it Sachin’s all-time XI, but if I remember correctly, even Sachin didn’t pick Sachin in that. Because he’s Sachin, people chose to forgive him.
While Sehwag remains one of my favourite cricketers of all time, and he’d walk into my Test XI, I’m set on a bunch of Australians - Hayden or Gilchrist?
Without checking on stats to muddle my thinking, I’d say, Sehwag’s batting average in the mid-30s is greatly compensated by his strike rate - that’s 100, isn’t it? Or nearly? Or in excess? In my mind, it’s run-a-ball. And as I write this, I think of the Sachin-Sehwag opening, what it did for each other and us. And the Gilchrist-Hayden opening, and what it did to us.
Also, picking Sachin on top and not picking Sehwag would be a disservice to Sachin – how he’d combine with either Hayden or Gilchrist I really wonder?
But this is not a Sachin Benefit XI, or is it? Sehwag’s scarcely used, much under-rated off-spin though, (and perhaps my blind-spot for him) tilts it in his favour.
At three, I’d have two number threes – Ricky Ponting at three if the team bats first, Virat Kohli at three if the team chases. Either way, we just sealed two positions in barely one-and-a-half sentences.
Ponting and Kohli both have ruthless domination in their cricketing DNA. After a Sachin-Sehwag start, these two will show no mercy. As a cricket fan, you will sing, as a non-fan, so will Bob Dylan.
At five, Viv Richards. Or still better, at three or four or five, Viv Richards. He should bat where he wants. He should bat and play, because every team aspires to greatness, with Richards, it attains it with a mere swagger, a simple chew. What follows with a stare, a pull, a move, a simple cricketing groove, is cricket of the gods. Also, he is god’s god.
And if the broadcasters want a player wired up to chat to, Richards should be asked to laugh that incredible laugh. With BB King on guitar. Richards is the king, cricket is his kingdom, and we, if nothing else, his subjects.
Five spots and no left-handed batsman in yet?
Bring in Adam Gilchrist for heaven’s sake – this man is the limited overs game, the domination, and a frenzy that destroys opposition’s minds. He finishes teams with the bat like few have, and still fewer will. Gilchrist, because he’s the closest to nature’s fury with a bat in hand.
Six gone, and no Dhoni or bowler yet? This team is getting a little lopsided. Correction: Gilchrist moves up, opens with Tendulkar, sorry, Sehwag. Dhoni at six. And between Gilchrist and Dhoni, they can toss who keeps wickets. When Dhoni doesn’t keep, he bowls a few overs of seam up.
At seven, the captain, Imran Khan. If a player can lead the Pakistani team to a World Cup win, then he’s good to lead any team, real or unreal. Imran, like others in this team, is beyond numbers – his is the aura of greatness, of control, of both cool and intensity.
His is the rare gift of cutting across borders and egos, he is the thought that will bind greatness, that will make great cricketers perform to their potential. Someone should ask him to speak to Rohit Sharma.
How can you not have a playing XI that’s hardwired to cool and not have Shahid Afridi in it – under Imran, he might lose some of his impetuosity but none of his Afridi. Under Imran, he will become a carbon copy of Shahid Afridi, just as young and Mad Max but almost 87 per cent more effective.
How this will be achieved, not even Afridi will know; because Afridi just does. Afridi will also be ideal for post-match chats where he will babble and even leave Shastri speechless; “something will give…”
Even if they don’t hunt in pairs, he is Sachin’s buddy – bring in Shane Warne. He will be Imran’s co-commander, and in-charge when Imran is unavailable, out campaigning.
Warne will bring theatre and venom with his leg spin, he will also go on to bowl another ball of another century for this all-time eleven. Imran and he will get on like a house on fire, they will keep both their boys and girls happy. They will keep themselves happy.
Glenn McGrath will be happy to open the bowling. He will nick a few early on (but not Sachin this time) and kill the game. He will do it match after match, and be unpopular with his batting mates as they will have tiny targets to chase down in their sleep.
Curtly Ambrose’s steep bounce will nick a few off the batsman’s mind, it will leave them mindless. Ambrose will smile that knowing smile. And all will be wonderful with the world and my all-time playing XI.
They would’ve won on paper, won off paper, won in my mind, won in my heart. It wouldn’t be about a single statistic. It wouldn’t even be about winning. It would be about making me very happy. And what else are all-time playing XIs anyway? Oh right, making Sachin unhappy.
All-time ODI playing XI:
Sachin Tendulkar
Adam Gilchrist
Virat Kohli
Ricky Ponting
Viv Richards
MS Dhoni
Imran Khan
Shahid Afridi
Shane Warne
Glenn McGrath
Curtly Ambrose
12th Man: Stuart Binny (nobody does the drinks like he does).

First published here

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