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Top, from left: Budhi Kunderan (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons), Mushtaq Ali, Don Bradman, CK Nayudu, Lala Amarnath
Bottom, from left: Gilbert Jessop, Trevor Goddard, Alan Davidson, Amar Singh (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons), Bapu Nadkarni, Subhash Gupte © Getty Images

What better pastime can there be than picking all-time XIs? Picking an all-time IPL XI is easy — but what if the pool consists of cricketers who have never played limited-overs cricket? And when I say limited-overs cricket I mean even List A matches and T20 cricket (domestic versions of ODIs and T20s), thereby as good as ruling out almost anyone who had taken field in the past fifty years. Let that be my first condition.

But ruling out limited-overs cricketers will not be enough. Since this is IPL, there cannot be more than four overseas cricketers in the XI, to add to the difficulty. Let us get cracking, then.

The four overseas cricketers: Don Bradman, Gilbert Jessop, Alan Davidson, Trevor Goddard

This is the trickiest bit. Whom do we pick? Two fast bowlers? Three? A spinner maybe? The all-rounder? Three batsmen?

Let us first explore India’s weakest link over years. Till Kapil Dev’s debut, no Indian pacer had taken more than 74 wickets. When Kapil retired, Karsan Ghavri was the only other Indian pacer to have made it to the 100-wicket mark. No, it is a no-brainer.

There is little to ponder here. Put a 100-wicket cut-off; include pacers since World War II; and only two bowlers have an economy rate under two — Goddard (a ridiculous 1.64) and Davidson (1.97). Goddard played till 1969-70 but thankfully didn’t play List A cricket.

This is also the place to heap some praise on Goddard, arguably the most underrated of cricket’s greatest all-rounders. Goddard scored 2,516 Test runs at 34.46 and took 123 wickets at 26.22 with left-arm swing. That economy rate bears testimony to his accuracy. At First-Class cricket those numbers read 41 and 22. He was also an outstanding fielder (like every other South African), and led South Africa 13 times.

Davidson doesn’t need an introduction. That bowling average of 20.53 is the best in the world for a post-World-War-I-100-wicket cut-off for pacers. He could also bat, as his batting average of 24.59 will tell you. However, just like Goddard, Davidson was also a left-arm all-rounder.

I had briefly toyed with the idea of picking Wes Hall. He doesn’t have a career as wonderful as the other two, but he knows a thing or two about bowling last overs — a skill that may come handy. Then I found out that he had played a List A match on each of the 1963 and 1966 tours of England.

To justify Jessop, I will go back to the magnificent research of Charles Davis, named Statistician of the Year by Association of Cricket Historians and Statisticians this year. Davis has compiled the ball-by-ball scoring of every single Test (till 1962, as I write this); as per him, Jessop’s strike rate for his 569 Test runs was about 112.

Small sample? Jessop scored 53 First-Class hundreds, and while ball-by-ball data is not available for these matches, he scored at 82.7 runs an hour. If one assumes that they bowled about 21-22 overs an hour and Jessop faced half the balls when he was at the crease during these hundreds, his strike rate exceeds 128.

When he scored double-hundreds this went up to 86.7 an hour, and he contributed 72.5% of the team score. Oh, and in his prime Jessop bowled genuinely quick, and his 873 wickets came at 23. He was also a brilliant fielder.

That brings us to Bradman. In longer formats this would not have required elaboration, but would he have been a fit in T20 cricket? Bradman scored at a strike rate of 61-62, the second-fastest before limited-overs cricket showed up (my reference is obviously Davis). The only one above him with a 2,000-run cut-off is Victor Trumper (67-68), though Stan McCabe also scored at 61.5.

Why Bradman over Trumper, then? Both men were revolutionary improvisers. Trumper played all around the ground and was a master of the wet wicket. Bradman’s adjustment, on the other hand, was on a different plane: he counterattacked during the Bodyline series, unleashing an array of shots through the vacant off side, and finished the series with a strike rate of 75. Yes, his average dipped — but to 56.57, a couple of notches higher than Sachin Tendulkar’s career average.

Oh, and if there is still any doubt left over Bradman’s inclusion, I will play my trump card: 99.94. Leaving out WG Grace does break my heart, but there is little I can do.

The Indians — batsmen, batting all-rounder, and wicketkeeper: Budhi Kunderan, CK Nayudu, Lala Amarnath, Mushtaq Ali

How good a batsman are you if you are picked in the India squad before playing First-Class cricket? Kunderan was eventually tested twice, for CCI and Board President’s XI against touring sides, before he was thrown to the big stage. Then came Ranji Trophy debut, where he scored 205. We don’t know how many balls he faced, but a fair estimate can be formed from Railways’ score — 557 in 84 overs.

Against England in 1963-64 at Madras, Kunderan scored 170 in 259 balls on Day One and finished with 192 in 320. What was the pitch like? Later in the day, Bapu Nadkarni had 32-27-5-0…

Against Arthur Gilligan’s Englishmen at Bombay Gymkhana in 1926-27, Nayudu smashed 153 in 116 minutes. The onslaught included 14 fours and 11 sixes, and as good as catapulted India into Test status.

But Nayudu was not merely a six-hitter. He top-scored for India on the 1932 tour of England (no Indian came remotely close to his average of 40 either), and only Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh had more wickets. He was almost 37 when the tour ended. In 1936 only Vijay Merchant scored more than him, and only Nissar got more wickets. One can only imagine what he might have been like in his twenties.

Nayudu will also lead the side. Bradman was the other choice, but obviously Nayudu will be the one for verbal flogging. His off-breaks will probably not be needed.

Long before Matthew Hayden, Mushtaq used to step out to fast bowlers to take them on. He defied conventional wisdom to take on the new ball in England as well. That was how he scored his 160-ball 117 at Old Trafford in 1936 — the first overseas Test hundred by an Indian. Twelve seasons later he opened batting after India were set 431; he scored 106, and India scored only 154 during his stay.

Amarnath scored the first Test hundred by an Indian. India were 21 for 2 after a 219-run deficit. Most would have stayed put, but Amarnath took the English bowlers on for a 203-ball 118, outscoring Nayudu in their 186-run stand. Another oft-forgotten innings is his 47-ball 46 at Adelaide against Bradman’s men that set the platform for Vijay Hazare and Dattu Phadkar to score their hundreds.

It is difficult to go innings by innings, but there is little doubt that he invariably tried to attack. Oh, and of all Indian seamers before the limited-overs era, Amarnath enjoyed the best economy rate (2.09) with a 1,000-ball cut-off.

The Indians — spinners: Subhash Gupte, Bapu Nadkarni

Nadkarni’s selection was the easiest. An economy rate of 1.67 should suffice. Mind you, he averaged 25.70 with bat in Test cricket — and that went up to above 40 at First-Class level. The batting line-up indeed seems bottomless.

Similarly, given the immense success stories of wrist-spinners in T20 cricket, Gupte becomes an obvious pick. Gupte averaged 29.55, and below 35 in each of the four countries he played in. He also took a five-wicket haul every 3 Tests. Of Indians, only Ravichandran Ashwin (2.19) has a better rate.

The eleventh member: Amar Singh

Before we go for our eleventh man, let us do some stock-taking. The side bats very, very deep. While Mushtaq and Kunderan do not exactly have excellent Test averages, Bradman will more than make up for that. Once Nayudu and Jessop are through with the bowlers, Amarnath will take over, and even if there is a collapse, Goddard, Davidson, and Nadkarni will make sure the run rate doesn’t drop. Gupte is the only real tail-ender.

What about the bowling? In Davidson and Goddard we have two fine seam bowlers, backed by the pace of Jessop. There are two world-class spinners. Amarnath will chip in with his seam, Nayudu with his off-breaks and Mushtaq with his left-arm spin.

No, we do not need batsman who can bowl part-time. We don’t need a spinner. What we do need is a bowler of pace. Neither Davidson nor Goddard was express, and though Jessop has excellent numbers, he took only 1.77 wickets a match.

We need a proper fast bowler. It is difficult to choose between Nissar and Amar Singh. Nissar (28.28 in Tests, 17.70 in First-Class) has slightly better numbers than Amar Singh (30.64 and 18.35). He was quicker but Amar Singh probably more versatile. They also averaged 21 each on English soil (Nissar 137 wickets and Amar Singh 147).

The matches against Jack Ryder’s Australians in 1935-36 were not given Test status. Nissar played in 4 of these matches and claimed 32 wickets at 12.47. Amar Singh played twice too, and got 10 wickets at 19.80 apiece.

They had other moments of glory as well. Douglas Jardine’s Englishmen lost only once on the 1933-34 tour of India, to Vizzy’s XI by 14 runs. Nissar routed them with 6 for 60 and 3 for 57. On the other hand, picked to play for an England XI against Bradman’s Australians in 1938, Amar Singh claimed 6 for 84 at Blackpool.

In the end Amar Singh wins on two grounds. First, he was a better batsman — and a hard-hitting one, to boot. And secondly, he had reasonable stints with Burnley and Colne in Lancashire League, where he played a lot of one-day single-innings matches — something Nissar missed out on.

As for 12th man, Lall Singh, picked in India’s first ever Test purely based on fielding, will be an ideal choice. Aubrey Faulkner will be head coach, while Frank Worrell will manage the side. It is unfair to leave WG Grace out of all the drama: as a formal mentor and informal supremo, Grace will ensure no toe — of our side or the opposition — crosses the line.

Who will own the team? Certainly not Vizzy — we don’t want favouritism in the side. The Maharaja of Patiala could have arranged for extravagant post-match parties, but he was too involved in the battle of one-upmanship with Vizzy. We will go for Yuvraj of Patiala instead: not many Test cricketers went on to become kings, you see.

The team: Budhi Kunderan (wk), Mushtaq Ali, Don Bradman, CK Nayudu (c), Lala Amarnath, Gilbert Jessop, Trevor Goddard, Alan Davidson, Amar Singh, Bapu Nadkarni, Subhash Gupte, Lall Singh (12th), Aubrey Faulkner (coach), Frank Worrell (manager), Yuvraj of Patiala (owner).

The team jersey will obviously have a tinge of sepia. As for the name, well, what do you suggest?