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August 15, 1997


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A team to dream of

Harsha Bhogle

I haven't been around for fifty years - but I do have a reasonable idea of Indian cricket as played over the last 25. And given that an anniversary is an occasion to reflect, to introspect, I have tried to look back at Indian cricket over this era and put together a set of individuals that, to my mind, had the best chance of going out there and stuffing the opposition.

It is a mixture of the cold-blooded and the joyous; of grafters and entertainers. I believe it is the best Indian team since 1971 which, 1983 apart, was the happiest year in Indian cricket.

My team of 14: Sunil Gavaskar, Ravi Shastri, Mohinder Amarnath, Gundappa Vishwanath, Sachin Tendulkar, Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi (captain), Syed Kirmani, Kapil Dev, Manoj Prabhakar, Javagal Srinath, Bishan Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, BS Chandrasekhar, Mohammad Azharuddin.

It was very tempting to put in Vengsarkar for Pataudi, but I was looking for a captain who could lead with flair and, when in form, he was an outstanding batsman anyway. I will bat Pataudi at number 6 between Tendulkar and Kapil Dev because personally, I believe that is a fantasitic batting number to be leading a side from.

As Gavaskar's opening partner, I considered Srikkanth and Sidhu, but Shastri's greater temperament was preferred. Also, the fact that he will add balance to the team as a spinner. The problem is that we might encounter slow starts with numbers 1,2 and 3 not exactly being strokeplayers. That is a limitation of this side.

Vishwanath will bat at number 4 followed by Tendulkar, Pataudi, Kapil Dev and Kirmani. That is good enough batting to be able to play your three best bowlers without considering their batting abilities. Of course, it helps that Srinath can bat and, in Indian conditions, he will be followed by Prasanna and Bedi with the captain exercising the right to play Chandrasekhar whenever he considers fit.

On a seaming track, or in away conditions, Manoj Prabhakar will replace one of the spinners. I would prefer Bedi, even if it means playing two left arm spinners. Prabhakar will bowl first change and I would expect 7-8 overs from Amarnath in two spells. For the extra seamer, there was a choice between Prabhakar, Ghavri, Abid Ali, Madan Lal and Venkatesh Prasad. Given that Prasad took 55 wickets in his first year compared to Prabhakar's 96 overall, it would seem that he walks in. But I have seen Prabhakar bowl a few completely unplayable spells, and that is what tilted the balance. It was the toughest choice of all.

I don't know if you can spot any weaknesses. There is one - but there is very little I can do about it. The first eleven doesn't have a single great close catcher. Azharuddin is by far the best - but to accomodate him, you would have to leave out Vishwanath. Or play someone else at number three, which means you are compromising just to fit people in. And one of the objectives behind picking this side was that there should be no short cuts; no compromises just because they aren't actually going to play)

Any suggestions on your top 14? If you can go back 50 years, either you are much older than me, or you are picking images.

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