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April 24, 1999

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The game of the century

Manoj Aravindakshan

Selection of a cricket team is not exactly rocket science, but it certainly is an unenviable task. For one simple reason: it's a thankless job, almost always except for the occasional consolatory pat on the back from a certain Harsha Bhogle or a Prem Panicker.

Yet, almost subconsciously, every ardent follower of the game slips into the shoes of a selector and picks his player. Of course, more often than not, it ends up being a process of rejection: why a certain player shouldn't be in the team, which player should be dropped for what game, and why somebody is terrible as a captain.

Watching last Sunday's noble tamaasha (I suppose the terms are self-explanatory by now) at the Wankhede and the interchange of roles (cricketers and umpires becoming commentators, industrialists and film stars applying tilak to the gallant soldiers out to conquer the world, etc), I fancied myself as a joker. Now that's what a selector is, isn't it... if one remembers the quote of the decade. By the time a little over half the tamashaa was over (it was well past midnight here in Manila), I had already selected two world teams. I went to sleep, satisfied with my dream teams.

My first pick is a Jack of all traits, a team of all rounders (essentially a one-day side, but that could do reasonably well in the longer version as well). It is a selection of great utility players, batsmen who can bowl their entire quota of overs, and bowlers who can do much more with the willow than the ritual of asking for a middle stump guard. Almost all of them have excellent throwing arms and are certainly not butter-fingered. It's a bunch of extremely competitive and impulsive cricketers, who perhaps wouldn't score high when it comes to their temperament. But leaving out the mental aspect for the moment, here I proclaim my team of 14.

Saurav Ganguly, Sanath Jayasuriya, Jacques Kallis, Nathan Astle, Carl Hooper, Michael Bevan, Azhar Mehmood, Shaun Pollock, Mark Boucher, Chris Cairns, Paul Strang, Chris Harris, Ajit Agarkar and Shahid Afridi.

Obviously, there would be a couple of question marks, presumably on the inclusion of Paul Strang and perhaps Ajit Agarkar in this 'elite' list. My decision to include the former was based, apart from the quota factor (I did want this world team to be as representative of world cricket as possible), on the need to have a genuine leg-spinner in the side.

Depending on the circumstances of course, one could choose between Strang and Afridi. Agarkar finds a place because of his knack, visible at least until recently, of picking up wickets; and a couple of his recent outings to the crease have indicated underlying dexterity with the bat. This team is intended to be more than a collection of bits and pieces players, and that is why no English man finds a place in this side. Now comes the more contentious issue of the choice of skipper. My vote goes to Jacques Kallis, for at this point he displays the greatest potential to lead his national side in the near future.

A selector obviously has to be prepared to place his head under the guillotine, and thus the second team was born, to be pitted against my own first selection. This is a side of specialists, indisputably among the best with their chosen tools. It is a side whose batsmen are capable of collectively scoring 400+ against any attack in the world in a Test match (at least 260-275 in a one-dayer) and whose bowlers can shoot out a side in both innings. Almost all of this bunch of players is a single-handed match-winner; and the team is a perfect amalgamation of immense talent and proven class. Match this selection with yours....

Alec Stewart, Sachin Tendulkar, Mark Waugh, Brian Lara, Aravinda De Silva, Steve Waugh, Anil Kumble, Shane Warne, Curtley Ambrose, Allan Donald, Wasim Akram, Saqlain Mushtaq, Shoaib Akhtar and Hansie Cronje.

I must admit this team faces the same problem that has been plaguing the Indian side for quite some time, that of the opening pair. One is definitely tempted to include Saeed Anwar in this list, who with Stewart should form a reasonably good combination. But this selection is finally made with the dicey assumption that either of Mark Waugh or Sachin Tendulkar will be able to effortlessly move into the opener's slot. Selectors have to take some chances, shouldn't they, especially when they know that there are no bouquets for the taking? The captain? Hansie Cronje, he has proven himself as a leader over the past few years.

There are bound to be innumerable disagreements on these lists (hardly anyone agrees with Wisden's annual list, so who am I?), but if they have tickled the 'selection instincts' in you, the job is partially done. Take your time off during some of the other tamashaas lined up in the next two weeks, or when it comes pouring down in England during the World Cup. Let your imagination run wild and fancy a grand finale between these two sides at Lords... the battle between the specialists and the all-rounders.

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