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The MCC Bicentennial Match at Lord’s is to be contested by teams conjured up in the heavens of cricketing fantasies.Yet, Arunabha Sengupta looks at the sides in detail and wonders if it would have been prudent to include some active youthful star as well.
It is as if the gods of cricket have suddenly breathed life into the tapestry formed by the many fantasies of fans around the world.
The combination of Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara in one team, and Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan in the other has been jotted down in thousands of lists of Dream XIs and Ideal Showdowns. Virender Sehwag and Adam Gilchrist starting off the innings together, Rahul Dravid and Shivnarine Chanderpaul standing shoulder to shoulder as double layered fortification for one line up or the triple barrelled middle-order machine-gunnery in the form of Kevin Pietersen, Yuvraj Singh and Shahid Afridi – the attractions are manifold and magnificent.
The Bicentennial match at Lord’s has assembled teams to set fire to any piece of paper that lists the names with the sheer flame of expectations. The amount of international runs that splash about in the two sides, and the number of wickets added to the mix, are enough to make the cup of any cricket devotee spill over in a heady concoction of delight.
Yet, therein lies the small niggling sense of apprehension. With such a huge load of accomplishments behind them, do the magnificent men have enough vim and vigour in their reserves to light up the ground with their deeds all over again? With a majority of these extraordinary gentlemen brought back to cricketing life from the pages of recent history, will they be able to live up to their past and have the legs to carry them through the day?
If we look closely at the names once again, of the huge draws only Chanderpaul trudges along as a regular in the national side, runs accumulating relentlessly alongside age and wisdom with each passing year. Similarly, Saeed Ajmal’s saga of match winning performances has not really shown signs of abating even as he nears 37. Of course, if the course of cricket had not meandered off the field of play and trickled unceremoniously into the domains of the dressing room, Pietersen would have also remained one of the top batsmen of the world.
However, the rest of the gigantic names have either left the scene or have carried on as pale shadows of their once luminous selves. Tendulkar, Lara, Dravid, Gilchrist, Brett Lee, Murali and Warne have all moved away to other walks of life, the monumental numbers with their eloquent stories have ended their tireless journeys and have become etched in permanence.
Yuvraj is no longer a certainty in the Indian side, Sehwag has been struggling even in the domestic scene, Afridi has passed through more retirements than one cares to remember and has played his last Test four years ago, and Daniel Vettori has not represented New Zealand in any form of cricket for over a year.
The infusion of youth has been provided, rather ironically, by two fast bowlers tottering on either side of the defining thirty-threshold – Umar Gul and Peter Siddle – both not quite in the same league as the rest of the august names discussed so far. Shaun Tait and Aaron Finch have three and zero Tests to their names respectively. Tamim Iqbal and Tino Best, on the other hand, have many more matches and mostly mediocrity to speak for themselves. Finding a mean among all this is Paul Collingwood, not short on experience but quite some furlongs short of greatness.
The problem with such a line-up stems from the glaring absence of major active players. If we take a look at the previous encounter between Marylebone Cricket Club and Rest of the World, held at Lord’s 16 summers ago, we come across some spectacular batting and memorable competitive cricket. There had been no ex-cricketer in the fray, with only Ian Bishop among the 22 never representing his country again after the match – and that too because of injuries rather than age.
Incidentally two of the best performers of that game are the major attractions this time around as well. Shivnarine Chanderpaul scored 127 against a bowling attack comprising of Wasim Akram, Ian Bishop, Chris Cairns and Mushtaq Ahmed to carry MCC to 261. In response, Sachin Tendulkar hit 125 off 114 balls against Glenn McGrath, Javagal Srinath, Allan Donald and Anil Kumble to win the match for the The Rest by six wickets.
It is somewhat unreasonable to ask the same sterling stalwarts to do the star turn 16 years down the line. Masters that they are, their names in the line-up indicate the euphemistic use of the term as employed in Tennis Tournaments for the has-beens.
In these circumstances, one wonders if it would not have been prudent to get hold of some active modern maestro readily available in the country – be it an MS Dhoni or a Virat Kohli, an Alastair Cook or an Ian Bell. They could have been added to the mix as an insurance – against periods of play when age and rust may cause the standards and competitiveness to just about dip from the potential peaks that the great names conjure up.
(Arunabha Senguptais 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)
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