There is hardly anything as enjoyable for a cricket addict as making up an all-time XI. In this series, Arunabha Sengupta and Abhishek Mukherjee select sides of various kinds – based on players linked to each other through letters of the alphabet, physical features, habits, reputations, or characteristics. In this episode they start with the first of their alphabetical XI, players with last names starting with A.
This particular group of players have always been the first to be chosen – in roll calls, telephone books, team lists and in our series of XIs.
It does pay to have last names starting with A. However, when one looks at an all-time XI comprising of just such players, getting in is not that easy any more. Every place is keenly contested.
There may be better elevens with other letters of the alphabet, but the A’s are a balanced side with perhaps the most aesthetic batting line up, good all-round strength, a fearsome fast bowling unit and support from the spin department as well.
1. Dennis Amiss – A solid opening batsman with two double hundreds against the all-conquering West Indies, Amiss scored his runs at 46.30, and as an opener at 53.70. In the Oval match in which Michael Holding decimated England by picking up 14 wickets, he hit 203. Although Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson gave him a torrid time, he played 50 Tests and was good enough to get 11 hundreds.
2. Saeed Anwar – Is there a better man to provide the left-right combination at the top. Anwar’s majestic drives and flicks made him one of the most feared openers of his day. He pulverised attacks and did it with ample grace. The 188 not out at Eden Gardens against a rampaging Javagal Srinath is his very best Test innings, and who can possibly forget his exploits in the One-Day game?
3. Hashim Amla – He may not end his career in the stratospheric level that he is soaring now, but he has achieved enough so far to amble into the side. He can bat at any pace and there is not one ugly swat of the bat when he is at the wicket. Nearly 5000 runs at nearly 50 runs per innings is phenomenal and the indication is that he will keep getting better.
4. Zaheer Abbas – If Amla departs early, the next man to walk in is the very one whose memory the South African batsman so often rekindles. The eternal stylist, Zaheer had aeons of time to play the ball, and his strokes through the cover linked him with the likes of Wally Hammond. Once dubbed the “Asian Don Bradman”, he could bat on and on when in full flow and, apart from the bowlers, no one would ever want him to stop.
5. Mohammad Azharuddin – The last sublime name to make up a magical middle-order. Azharuddin could hit the same ball to extra-cover or square leg – such were his rubbery wrists. Unstoppable when in full flow, a prototype based on which VVS Laxman was perhaps perfected, he was also probably the best all-round fielder ever produced by India.
6. Warwick Armstrong – For this team, the all-rounder is almost literal. The “Big Ship” was tall and voluminous, and sailed full mast all his career. The best choice as the captain of this side, Armstrong led Australia to eight wins and two draws in his 10 Tests as skipper, once famously standing at point and reading a newspaper. He scored at 38.68 – phenomenal considering he made his debut in 1902 – and took 87 wickets at 33.59 with his medium-to-slow pace from around the wicket.
7. Les Ames –The first choice wicket keeper of the English side of the 30s, he was good enough to play as a pure batsman. Before the modern day rise of Andy Flower, Adam Gilchrist and Kumar Sangakkara, Ames had the best batting record amongst all wicketkeepers in history, averaging over 40 for his close to two and a half thousand Test runs. A correct batsman with magnificent drives and belligerent lofted strokes, he was a stumper who could keep to Harold Larwood and Hedley Verity with equal ease.
8. Wasim Akram – The best left-arm fast bowler ever. Period. Someone who could swing the ball at will – conventionally when it was new and reverse as it got older. And if he felt like it, he could york the best of them. A hard-hitting batsman to boot, who was good enough to score 257 in a Test match.
9. Curtly Ambrose – No one better to open the bowling for a side alongside Akram. Thundering in and sending down lightning-quick deliveries from his towering height, he was either at the batsman’s toe or his chin. One of the last of the great West Indian pace bowlers, he ended with one of the lowest averages and measliest of economy rates for someone with that many wickets.
10. Neil Adcock – The first South African quick bowler to get to 100 wickets, Adcock shouldered most of the burden of bowling alone and still managed an average of 21. He captured most of his wickets with deliveries that rose sharply from short of good length.
11. Paul Adams – The left arm Chinaman bowler with his eccentric action and even more peculiar celebration of wickets is the spinning option for the eleven. The final exciting splash in a colourful eleven of artists, characters and entertainers. From time-to–time, Zaheer Abbas can turn his leg breaks, but when the wicket is turning or the tailender needs to be bamboozled, Adams is the man to go to.
Reserves: Mohinder Amarnath, Marvan Atapattu, Gubby Allen, Bob Appleyard.
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix
A hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobiac by his own admission, Abhishek Mukherjee is a statistical analyst based in Kolkata, India. He typically looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – not necessarily as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the game with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a rather steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers the sport has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks and googlies in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in)