From left © Getty Images Column 1 (from top): Saeed Anwar, Hanif Mohammad Column 2 (from top): Javed Miandad (c), Younis Khan, Rashid Latif (wk) Column 3 (from top): Inzamam-ul-Haq, Fazal Mahmood Column 4 (from top): Imran Khan, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram Column 5: Saeed Ajmal
From left: Column 1 (from top): Saeed Anwar, Hanif Mohammad; Column 2 (from top): Javed Miandad (c), Younis Khan, Rashid Latif (wk); Column 3 (from top): Inzamam-ul-Haq, Fazal Mahmood; Column 4 (from top): Imran Khan, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram; Column 5: Saeed Ajmal © Getty Images

Pakistan are all set to take on Australia for yet another home series contest in UAE. Arunabha Sengupta and Abhishek Mukherjee get into a long-drawn banter to come up with an all-time Pakistan Test XI.

The English shaped the sport; Australians are ruthless; West Indians, full of feral machismo; Indians, full of individual brilliances; South Africans, clinically efficient; Sri Lankans, exotic; New Zealanders, a tough egalitarian outfit. However, if you want a bunch of controversial mavericks who can fluctuate between astronomic highs and abysmal lows in the span of hours, look no further than Pakistan.

The seventh team to be inducted at the highest level, Pakistan won their second ever Test; within the first decade they won against every Test-playing nation (barring South Africa, whom they never got to play before the 1990s). A history full of tussles between every possible combination (board and player, selector and player, board and selector, umpire and player, player and player, and so on) mercurial batsmen, innumerable captains, and a fast bowling legacy to match any, allegations of match-fixing and ball-tampering, Pakistan cricket has been one of its kind.

Arunabha Sengupta and Abhishek Mukherjee get together to create an all-time XI for the most volatile Test side — one that would have crashed seismographs if one was used to measure ups and downs.

Arunabha Sengupta (AS): Pakistan played their first Test match in 1952…

Abhishek Mukherjee (AM): … and they ended up winning their second Test ever. Beat that.

AS: Only England and Australia have matched that, and they do not count because they played some cricket in a prehistoric age and decided to call some of the matches Tests way after they were played.

AM: It took less than two years for them to win a Test in England.

AS: and it was not that England fielded a weak side: Len Hutton, Reg Simpson, Peter May, Denis Compton, Tom Graveney, Godfrey Evans, Johnny Wardle, Frank Tyson, Brian Statham, Peter Loader, and Jim McConnon. All were quality players except for McConnon, each one a celebrated player, and McConnon averaged 19.88 in First-Class cricket.

AM: By the turn of the decade Pakistan had won against all Test nations. Ian Johnson’s Australia was a strong team: Neil Harvey, Keith Miller, Richie Benaud, Ray Lindwall, Alan Davidson; or West Indies, starring Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott, Garry Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, Lance Gibbs, Roy Gilchrist, Conrad Hunte.

AS: But to come back to Pakistan, let us see whom we can fit into the all-time XI, and I am sure the beginning will be controversial.

AM: Absolutely. You cannot think of a Pakistan XI without controversies.

AS: For I am going to plunge for Saeed Anwar and Majid Khan as openers and argue that Hanif Mohammad would be a fabulous batsman down the order.

AM: The middle-order will be packed, remember. Majid averaged less than 40.

AS: Indeed, but as an opener, he scored at 42.23 including 47.64 against West Indies of 1970s.

AM: Hanif averaged 44. Overall. With 50 against Australia.

AS: Hanif averaged 41.87 as an opener; as a middle-order batsman averaged 51.58.

AM: Two of Hanif’s epic innings came in the middle-order: the unbeaten 101 out of 194 against Australia at Karachi and the unbeaten 187 out of 354 against England at Lord’s.

AS: Quiz time: who is the best middle-order batsman (3-6) for Pakistan given a 1,000 run-cut off?

AM: My bet will be on Mohammad Yousuf.

AS: Imran Khan: 1,123 at 62.38.

AM: That is news, but we will return to him later.

AS: What if we go for the English strategy of 1970-71 that won them the Ashes? They had played three openers, remember? Anwar and Majid, the dashers, at the top, and Hanif to step in at No. 3 if one of them go early?

AM: Makes sense. Hanif at No. 3 to bat out 900 or so minutes if they are 6 for 2.

AM: He will also have Javed Miandad for company, to work the scoreboard around.

AM: If we put Imran in the top six then we need two more batsmen at Nos. 4 and 5, one of which has to be Miandad. That leaves us with one position. One.

AS: Hmm, and the options are Inzamam-ul-Haq, Younis Khan, Yousuf, Zaheer Abbas, and Saleem Malik.

AM: And Misbah-ul-Haq. Do not rule Misbah out.

AS: The safer approach, of course, is obviously to play Hanif and Anwar as openers, and add three middle order batsmen, one of whom is Javed.

AM: Let us check the numbers. Zaheer, despite his elegance and a hundred First-Class hundreds, averages a mere 37 overseas, which is still marginally more than Majid’s 36.

AS: Overseas, the field is led by Younis Khan. Even Hanif’s centuries in all five countries, including the 337, gives him an average of 42.62.

AM: Yes. Especially with 43 in Australia, 77 in India, 65 in NZ, 52 in England, Younis is peerless. An overseas average of 51 is outstanding.

AS: Majid’s numbers took a beating after 1979.

AM: Inzamam’s average was 46, but he had mediocre numbers in both Australia and South Africa. Younis has ordinary numbers in South Africa as well, but he averaged 43 in Australia. We can rule out Yousuf here: he averages less than 30 against each of Australia, South Africa, and Sri Lanka.

AM: This brings us to Saleem Malik and, well, Wasim Raja, who had this queer attitude of failing against weaker oppositions. Averages of 57 against West Indies and 28 against New Zealand, 16 against Sri Lanka beat logic.

AS: He also had an average of 33 at home and 57.44 in West Indies.

AM: He seemed to have a special liking for West Indies bowlers, home and away.

AS: And against the top notch WI at that

AM: What does one do with such a man? Our job would have been easy had he not been there.

AS: We leave him out, of course, citing his numbers in England and New Zealand. But then, Inzamam had ordinary numbers in Australia and South Africa.

AM: Just for the sake of information, Malik had ordinary overseas numbers; he did miserably in India and West Indies.

AS: Miandad did not do too well in West Indies and Australia either, although he has a couple of centuries in both these lands.

AM: He was also a pressure batsman who rose to occasions. He batted brilliantly in that iconic 1987-88 series.

AS: Misbah is a clear case of preference for some conditions with poor overseas numbers. So, we go with Hanif, Anwar, Younis, Miandad, Inzamam?

AM: I think so, in that batting order. The only other alternative is Wasim Raja, whom we leave out because we also need to play weak oppositions (I know this sounds funny).

AS: And anyone who thinks Imran at No. 6 is too high in the order should remember that he is the best ever Pakistan middle-order batsman.

AM: Correct. This leaves us with five men: four bowlers and a wicket-keeper.

OPENERS:
SAEED ANWAR AND HANIF MOHAMMAD.

MIDDLE-ORDER BATSMEN (INCLUDING ALL-ROUNDER):
YOUNIS KHAN, JAVED MIANDAD, INZAMAM-UL-HAQ, AND IMRAN KHAN.

AS: Wasim Raja did not bowl his leg-spinners frequently enough to qualify as a leg-spinning all rounder, else he would have been an asset at No. 7 against WI.

AM: We do not seem to get over him, but then, let us start with the specialists. I doubt whether Wasim Akram or Waqar Younis can be left out.

AS: Of course not. Shoaib Akhtar and Fazal Mahmood have to miss out.

AM: Why Fazal?

AS: We can pick Fazal if we opt for a four-pronged pace attack. Will we do that, or go for two spinners?

AM: Wasim flopped in South Africa, Waqar in Australia, but they did alright if we swap countries. Let us check Fazal. He seems to have had an outstanding career.

AS: Except in West Indies, where he came up against that partnership between Hunte (260) and Sobers (365 not out); but he still ended up bowling Pakistan to a win in the final Test with six for 83.

AM: In that Test where Sobers and Hunte scored all those runs, two Pakistani bowlers — Mahmood Hussain and Nasim-ul-Ghani — had broken down. Fazal had to send down 85 overs.

AS: Fazal did not play in Australia but had 24 wickets at 13.62 against them.

AM: Yes. I am even willing to replace one of Wasim and Waqar with him.

AS: Wasim and Waqar had longevity in their favour. Why don’t we go with four fast bowlers?

AM: We can do that.

AS: Who are the spinners we should consider? Abdul Qadir, Iqbal Qasim, Saqlain Mushtaq, Saeed Ajmal, Mushtaq Ahmed.

AM: One of my dark horses will be the unheralded Pervez Sajjad, but eventually it will be Qadir, Qasim, Saqlain, Ajmal, Mushtaq, and my favourite — Mushtaq Mohammad.

AS: Mushtaq Mohammad could qualify as a superb all rounder but Imran has already taken that place and we have Wasim as well to add some beef to lower order. As a pure bowler, he could not qualify in the team. As for Sajjad, he did not complete the 20 Test cut-off, and failed in England; 45 of his 59 wickets came against New Zealand!

AM: Also, Danish Kaneria has the most wickets among Pakistani spinners. Just saying.

AS: Perhaps he could have had a much better average as well, if only Kamran Akmal…

AM: The biggest thing about Ajmal is he has never played at home. He has bowled quite well in South Africa and England, and even in Sri Lanka.

AS: Ajmal is a shoo-in in my opinion: 28.10 and a strike rate in the mid-60s against the modern bats and shorter boundaries without ever bowling at home. However, we have Iqbal Qasim, who had an average and strike rate better than the other celebrated left-arm spinner, Bishan Bedi.

AM: Qadir’s reputation was bloated by British journalists. About a third of his wickets had come against them. Having said that, his contribution towards leg-spin cannot be ignored. He was the one who made leg-breaks fashionable in the 1980s — a decade dominated by fast bowlers — especially in ODIs. But let us get back to performances

AS: About Qasim, he was often the third chosen spinner, and Qasim’s best performances were mostly at home. Third spinners are often chosen when the wicket is a spinner’s heaven. That may have boosted his average. In Pakistan he took 111 wickets at 25.15. He was a steady bowler everywhere else, though, even in Australia.

AM: Indians had figured him out all right.

AS: Indians figured out Qadir even better. Qasim averaged 39 against Indians, Qadir 51.

AM: By the way, we have missed Sarfraz Nawaz, but his numbers do not read anything close to Wasim’s or Waqar’s.

AS: We ignored him. We did not really miss him. So Ajmal is our first choice spinner. Saqlain would be close, but we cannot have two off spinners in the side; and if you ask me, Imran, Akram, Waqar and Fazal are far more likely to win a game than Qasim, unless it is Bangalore 1987.

AM: Which was, of course, a one-off track.

AS: I would opt for Imran, Akram, Waqar, Fazal, and Ajmal. In India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Wasim has 211 wickets at 22.67, Imran 205 at 20.28, Waqar 191 at 21.07, and Fazal 94 at 20.53. No spinner comes close.

AM: Absolutely. I guess it is a no-brainer. However, we have not closed on the solitary spinner. Saqlain is a serious contender. He had excellent numbers in England and India, and quite impressive numbers in Australia and New Zealand, and a very good home-away break-up (29 vs 30).

AS: Saqlain was obviously a great bowler, but I guess Ajmal has an edge because he has better numbers without ever enjoying home advantage.

AM: South Africa has been his bogey. I guess we should do a Saqlain vs Ajmal study.

AS: Against Australia Ajmal had one Test, a horrid one. Saqlain had four Tests: a superb one at Hobart (he took six for 46 on a pitch that did not assist him), but the others ordinary. Ajmal played just three Tests in England and had a fairly good time. Saqlain played three and did not have a bad time either.

AM: Saqlain had an excellent record in India. Ajmal did not play in India.

AS: Ajmal had one bad Test in New Zealand. Saqlain had a decent time there as well. Saqlain has a bad record in South Africa, while Ajmal has a decent one. The Sri Lankan records are similar.

AM: It is a very difficult choice.

AS: In West Indies and Zimbabwe Ajmal just simply routed the oppositions. However, Saqlain bowled to stronger outfits in both the lands. Ajmal also has a better record in UAE than Saqlain has in Pakistan.

AM: Ajmal has a marginal overall record. Marginal. But if it is a toss-up…

AS: If we take away the minnows Saqlain’s average becomes 31 and Ajmal’s remains 29. Unfortunately, Ajmal never bowled against India in a Test match anywhere. I think we can go for either, but since Ajmal’s record is just marginally better, and due to that home advantage factor, we can give him the nod.

AM: Yes, I guess.

BOWLERS:
WASIM AKRAM, WAQAR YOUNIS, SAEED AJMAL, AND FAZAL MAHMOOD.

AS: Who are the choices for the wicketkeeper? Wasim Bari should be one of the major contenders.

AM: Other than Bari we have Imtiaz Ahmed, Saleem Yousuf, Rashid Latif, and Moin Khan. I would leave Moin out straightway since he was significantly inferior to Yousuf or Latif in terms of glove-work.

AS: So would I. However, I would choose Kamran in the mix, just to leave him out.

AM: True. No discussion on Pakistan wicketkeepers can be complete without the Akmal family.

AS: Although, strangely, Kamran has the highest dismissals/innings ratio among these men. Imagine, if he had held all that came to him…

AS: Bari was brilliant and a handy lower order batsman…

AM: … but so was Latif.

AS: Yousuf kept to Qadir, Tauseef Ahmed, and Qasim with a lot of aplomb and was a gutsy batsman.

AM: Yousuf was an underrated performer with the bat under pressure.

AS: Latif was perhaps the best batsman of them all, but Imtiaz had three hundreds as well. If we decide wicketkeeping, in my opinion Rashid Latif was most fluid and the most natural ’keeper of them all. I would go with Latif.

AM: Latif was fluid, Yousuf was acrobatic, and Bari was safe. Let us choose. Yousuf was also the best batsman under pressure and against quality oppositions.

AS: Latif was the most natural of them and the most stylish. Yousuf was more workmanlike. Bari was a safe ’keeper, but not anywhere close in terms of batting. Remember, this is the Pakistan side, so we do need a cushion for collapses.

AM: True. I know we are picking specialists, but if the wicketkeeping is more or less equal, we need to look at batting as the distinguishing factor. However, the best batsman was probably Imtiaz.

AS: Imtiaz even played as a batsman. In the first three Tests Pakistan played, Hanif kept wickets while Imtiaz played as a batsman, which seems ridiculous in retrospect.

AM: Imtiaz actually batted in the top five but we never saw him keep wickets. Her did not a lot of dismissals to his name, but then, the Wasims and Waqars had not arrived.

AS: Imtiaz hit a double-century from No. 8 and used to hook Wes Hall successfully.

AM: That double-hundred was the second-highest No. 8 score in history till Wasim scored 257 not out. Interestingly, the third-highest for a No. 8 batsman is by Kamran.

AS: Pakistanis specialise in this lower order revivals.

AM: We are leaving Yousuf out, then.

AM: The fact that Hanif kept wickets despite Imtiaz’s presence was, well, not a great certificate.

AS: According to reports Hanif was a dreadful wicketkeeper at Test level. He dropped several catches and missed a stumping in the first Indian innings in the first Test. Ghulam Ahmed, No. 11, was let off. He scored 50 and put up a century stand with Hemu Adhikari.

AM: It is Latif vs Bari, then. Bari, well, was apparently good.

AS: Yes, although I tend to take the verdict of that era with large bucketfuls of salt. I would say Latif was more tested against pace and spin of diverse kinds. He also had experience of keeping to the doosra.

AM: True. I guess Bari never had to contend with Wasim and Waqar at both ends with new and old ball; and the doosra; with Mushtaq Ahmed thrown in.

AS: So our team is made.

WICKET-KEEPER:
RASHID LATIF.

AM: As for captain, it is a question of team performance vs individual performance. Contrary to popular belief, Miandad had (a) better records, both in match and series, and (b) Imran took over a good team from him before he succeeded Imran.

AS: Yes. The usual argument that Miandad was leading a team built by Imran is not valid.

AM: But somehow Imran’s colleagues swear by him. Also, though it was another format, he has a World Cup under his belt as well, where he led Pakistan to a near-miraculous turnaround. What was more, as a leader Imran’s numbers assumed gigantic proportions.

AS: Yes: 52.34 with the bat and 20.26 with the ball.

AM: These numbers are good enough to make Imran equivalent to having two outstanding players in the side.

AS: True, but that had partly to do with the fact that he became captain when he was at his best, and mostly remained one as he got better with age.

AM: That is true, but he hung around till he was in his high 30s, and even 40s.

AS: His early years are omitted from his captaincy days. Remember, Imran had taken time to blossom. He hardly bowled after 1989.

AM: Remember, Imran averaged 25 with bat and 30 with ball under Miandad while Miandad averaged 52 with bat under Imran.

AM: I think Imran leading gives a better overall performance from the Imran-Miandad combination. As much as I would have loved to have Miandad as captain, these the numbers point to Imran.

AS: The individual performances do. The team performances do not. Akram performed a bit better under Miandad than Imran. So does Waqar, a lot in fact: 60 wickets in 9 Tests at 15.88 under Miandad as opposed to 42 in 11 at 24.66 under Imran. Fazal and Ajmal did not play under either.

AM: But then, 42 in 11 at 25 is still impressive.

AS: Oh, 60 in 9 is a huge improvement on 42 in 11!

AM: True, that.

AS: strangely Anwar has never played under Miandad and got a pair the only time he played under Imran. Inzamam never played a Test under but had a mediocre five Tests under Miandad.

AM: Latif played two Tests under Miandad and none under Imran.

AS: The only major difference seems to be Imran’s own record. In my opinion it would be unfair to select someone as captain because his own performance is not so good under someone with a better record. But then, captaincy is a very sensitive issue everywhere, especially in Pakistan.

AM: True. We can start with Miandad. I can guarantee Imran will be made captain in three years. Miandad will get the mantle back after two more years. Then maybe with a dash or two of Wasim, Waqar, Inzamam, Younis, and Latif thrown in, they can all lead…

AS: Yes, that will be re-enacting history very accurately. In between we can ease the tussle among the younger lot by handing it to Hanif. He led in 11 Tests, winning two and losing two.

AM: Hang on! Do we have 11 captains in the side? No, Ajmal never led Pakistan.

AS: Too bad. For that single reason we perhaps needed Intikhab Alam as spinner; or Shahid Afridi, of course.

AM: Fazal, of course, led in 10 Tests.

AS: Saeed Anwar in seven and Younis Khan in nine.

AM: We have 10 captains in the side. I am almost in the mood of making Ajmal captain.

AS: Perhaps that would be the perfect Pakistan team selection made by an all-time Pakistan selection panel, picked from Pakistan team selectors over the ages. I have a mind to select Mudassar Nazar now: he must have been really special, playing 76 Tests while managing to avoid captaincy all through. No one has come close in Pakistan.

AM: Shall we draw lots? No, let us do something simple: Miandad, with his 2.33 win-loss ratio, breaks through I think.

AS: I will go for him.

AM: Let us finalise. on him. As for 12th man, we have three candidates. Two of them are Mushtaq Mohammad and Wasim Raja: the street-fighter and the prince, both tough competitors. The third, of course, is an outstanding fielder, an aggressive bowler, and a more aggressive batsman. He was never a success in Test cricket, but he could probably have been one.

AS: Okay, we will go with the third. After all, outstanding fielders in Pakistan cricket are rare.

AM: True. It is a pity that Afridi never got the chances in Test cricket he deserved so richly. On another note, that would give us another captain.

AS: Yes, the 12th man is the 11th captain of the side.

AM: for coach I will go for the no-nonsense Mushtaq Mohammad; and for manager, I guess Abdul Hafeez Kardar, that great ambassador of Pakistan cricket, is the obvious choice. As long as they do not ask us to select the Board President we are fine. Oh, did we just select two more captains?

AS: We did, we did, with 42 Tests captained between them.

FINAL TEAM:

Saeed Anwar
Hanif Mohammad
Younis Khan
Javed Miandad (c)
Inzamam-ul-Haq
Imran Khan
Rashid Latif (wk)
Wasim Akram
Fazal Mahmood
Saeed Ajmal
Waqar Younis
12th man: Shahid Afridi
Coach: Mushtaq Mohammad
Manager: Abdul Hafeez Kardar

(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 here.)

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)