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Top, from left: Virender Sehwag, Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Dravid (c), Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman (all © Getty Images)
Bottom, from left: MS Dhoni (wk), Kapil Dev, Amar Singh (courtesy: Wikimedia Commons), Mohammad Nissar, Subhash Gupte (barring Amar Singh all © Getty Images)

India are on the verge of playing their 500th Test, against New Zealand at Kanpur. To celebrate the occasion, Arunabha Sengupta and Abhishek Mukherjee create an all-time XI based on the 84 years and 499 Tests of Indian cricket.

One of the curiosities of cricket is the level of diversity it offers. The case of Indian cricket is in stark contrast with the rest of the world. India made her Test debut before Independence, not winning a Test during this period. Unlike Australia, New Zealand, or West Indies, however, the Indian cricket team consisted of men of Indian origin, which was something new in the history of the sport. While England played her role in the formation of Indian cricket, the Indian royalty were financially equipped to build their own teams and support a complete ecosystem thriving only on local cricketers.

India have always been different. The Indian domestic tournament, Quadrangular and Pentangular, with teams based on religion was different from what the world was used to. India played her first Test before the Ranji Trophy was initiated. India lost a substantial amount of talent during the Partition of 1947. In a world where champion teams have always boasted of at least two quality fast bowlers, India have almost never had two of them operating at the same time.

While Australia, England, South Africa, Pakistan, and West Indies all have an overseas win-loss ratio above 0.65, India languish at 0.396, just above Sri Lanka and New Zealand. And yet, India have two representatives in the top four run-scorers, two in the top seven wicket-takers, the man with the fifth-most wicketkeeping dismissals, and the fielder with most catches.

We get together to create an all-time XI from some excellent batsmen, a small pool of fast bowlers, and a long string of spinners of varying pedigree.

Arunabha Sengupta (AS): So the dreaded moment has arrived: we need to form an all-time Indian XI.

Abhishek Mukherjee (AM): Indeed. In other words, today is brickbat eve.

AS: Yes, there will be plenty of them.

AM: Irrespective of whom you choose, that is.

AS: It is India after all, and cricket on top of that. There is a higher probability of Bhagwat Chandrasekhar scoring a triple-hundred than making everyone happy. However, we will follow the same principles that we followed while choosing the other XIs: let data speak and keep romanticism and rose-tinted glasses to a minimum.

AM: As always, yes.

AS: Now, the first thing that we notice while trying to pick an All Time Indian XI is we have a truckload of batting greats and equally empty bowling coffers. Forget Australia, England, South Africa, West Indies, even New Zealand have multiple bowlers with averages in the low 20s, and the one Indian bowler who averages less than 25 with a decent haul of wickets is, er… Ravindra Jadeja.

AM: Indeed. Of all Indian bowlers with a hundred Test wickets Ravichandran Ashwin is the only one who averages less than 28. One must remember that 28 is Heath Streak’s average.

AS: The pace department makes for sorry reading. Kapil Dev averages 29, just about, Javagal Srinath 30, Zaheer Khan 33. Now think of the pace units of other All Time sides — Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Joel Garner, Curtly Ambrose … or Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis.

AM: I suppose we have to do something special to come up with a team to match them, especially going with the rather thin bowling riches India have had over the years.

AS: Should we start with the combination of the side?

AM: Yes, I suppose. We have to go in with five bowlers, given the ordinary records. This also has a flip side: it will also make the batting line-up weaker.

AS: Is it going to be three spinners and two pacers in order to capitalise on our supposed spinning depth?

AM: What do you suggest?

AS: Let us think of it this way. Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards are batting on a green, faster than lightning Durban wicket on the first day of the Test, an early wicket lost. One hour into the play, do they face a double-spin attack? Or perhaps Sachin Tendulkar trying desperately to create some impact as the third pacer? Or maybe Don Bradman and Matthew Hayden or whoever it is, facing two spinners one hour into the Perth Test?

AM: There is a point there. No, we need three seamers.

AS: Otherwise it will be something like the Port Elizabeth Test of 2001-02, where India put South Africa into bat on a juicy wicket and within an hour Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh were bowling in tandem. One cannot win against all-time great XIs like that.

AM: No, one definitely cannot.

AS: And to be honest, none of the Indian spinners, regardless of the hype, have ever run through great sides overseas on unhelpful tracks.

AM: No they have not. Perhaps Chandra against England in 1971. Kumble and Harbhajan once in a while.

AS: Take the Edgbaston Test of 1967 here to give an example of what I was talking about. India played the spinning quartet on a helpful track, and were bested by Robin Hobbs, Ray Illingworth and Brian Close.

AM: I agree. It is a myth that Indian spinners can win Tests on their own abroad. Let us come to fast bowlers now. The first choice is the easiest, for India’s greatest new-ball bowler was also India’s best batsman among fast bowlers, which makes Kapil an automatic selection.

AS: This choice at least needs no discussion.

ALL-ROUNDER: KAPIL DEV.

AS: But apart from Kapil, the obvious choice, where do we get two pace bowlers to run through the opposition? Srinath has done it from time to time, Zaheer also on occasion, but to make something out of it to measure up to the phenomenal pace attacks of other sides, we need some special thinking

AM: In fact, there is a curious hype that India have traditionally been a land of spin. They have not. They have been (generally) a land of ordinary fast bowlers, which have forced them to stick to spin. India have produced spinners because their pace attack has been weak. There is no reason to presume that the spinners, barring a handful, were world-class.

AS: Indeed. Spinners, the best of them, have stupendous records.

AM: I agree, and I am not even discussing Shane Warne or Muttiah Muralitharan.

AS: Jim Laker, Hugh Tayfield, Bill O’Reilly, Warne — they all average in the early 20s. India’s best is Ashwin, who is still to completely prove himself overseas; and the others all come down to late 20s or early 30s.

AM: We are digressing. I suppose we have decided on Kapil along with two other pacers and two spinners.

AS: The positive is that two of the best Indian spinners can always win India the Tests at home on helpful tracks, which means two spinners seem a decent way to go about it. So, let us turn our attention to batting. The obvious choices at the top are Vijay Merchant, Sunil Gavaskar and Virender Sehwag.

AM: Indeed. There are three, and exactly three options. Of them Merchant played a mere 10 Tests.

AS: Gavaskar and Sehwag have 10,000 and 8,500 runs respectively at averages of around 50. Merchant averaged 56.75 as opener, but as you mentioned, he played just 10 Tests. He had an amazing domestic record with a First-Class average in the 70s.

AM: Let me add more credibility to the First-Class numbers. Apart from 2 matches in Ceylon, Merchant has played First-Class cricket in only India and England. On his two tours of England (separated by a decade) he amassed 4,130 runs at 63 with 10 hundreds.

AS: But as far as Tests are concerned, he played 10. As we discussed, we have plenty of depth in batting to do away with the problems of small sample.

AM: That will be cruel, very cruel on Merchant.

AS: True.

AM: It is worse, given that we had accommodated Barry Richards in the South African XI based on 4 Tests.

AS: True. I cannot agree more, but we do have alternatives who have been tested at the highest level. More than that, both Gavaskar and Sehwag have played over 100 Tests each. Gavaskar had 10,122 runs at 51, Sehwag 8,503 runs at 49 with a strike rate in excess of 82. In short, Sehwag revolutionised the way people conceptualised Test openers. Besides, it would be quite a sight to watch Gavaskar and Sehwag bat together.

AM: Indeed. One would give the first hour to the bowler. The other will charge bowlers from the first minute.

OPENERS: VIRENDER SEHWAG AND SUNIL GAVASKAR

AS: True. Now for the middle-order, the most sensitive spots for the Indian cricket fan.

AM: Nos. 3 to 5 also as good as pick themselves, but let us not hurry ourselves.

AS: True: Rahul Dravid at 3, Sachin Tendulkar at 4. Can one suggest any alternative?

AM: I do not think so. Vijay Hazare averages 54 at No. 4 but his overseas average reads 36, and that includes those Adelaide epics. Virat Kohli is getting there but he will take time.

AS: Ajinkya Rahane also needs a few more years before we can consider him. Yet, I do have slight reservation about the top order. I will come to that. But let us look at the remaining spot first. My personal choice will be VVS Laxman.

AM: Does Laxman have a competitor? Gundappa Viswanath is the only name that comes to mind. Similarly, Mohinder Amarnath for Dravid…

AS: Mohinder would walk into the side if we restricted all-time matches to the season 1982-83. But shift the focus from that season — and especially if we shift the venues to India, his record reads quite ordinary, and that is a rather mild word.

AM: Agree.

AS: What about Dilip Vengsarkar, the best Indian batsman of the 1980s and the top-ranked batsman in the world in the mid-1980s?

AM: His overseas record outside England is rather ordinary, and there were steep drops on either side of that peak. A poor overseas record will also leave Mohammad Azharuddin out.

AS: As for Viswanath…

AM: I have never come to terms with the hype around Viswanath. An entire generation has portrayed him as someone who thrived under pressure.

AS: That is the common base rate error fallacy: one sees only his successes in crisis situations. If one looks at the number of crisis situations he faced and the number of times he failed, that perception will be negated — if one agrees to look at the data, that is.

AM: Let me list what I remember: 139 and 97* against West Indies in 1974-75, 112 during the 406-run chase at Port-of-Spain in 1975-76 (against a very weak bowling attack), 113 at Lord’s in 1979, and 114 at MCG in 1980-81. Take these 5 innings out, and there has rarely been anything under pressure against a strong outfit.

AS: He had a very high variance. He succeeded sometimes, and also failed very often, never so poorly as in Pakistan in 1982-83. As for being a pressure player, data indicates he is not a patch on VVS.

AM: His average comes down to 37.64 if we leave out the Packer era.

AS: Yes. That is another major point.

AM: I could never fathom why Viswanath is rated as highly as he is. Of course, he must have been an attractive stroke-player, but that should never be a criterion. Even if that was the case, he would have had to be exceptional if he had to outdo VVS on sheer aesthetic value.

AS: Sentiments cannot be defined with numbers. But then, sentiments will not win Test matches. They will not save matches either. Think of it this way: if one saw Viswanath at 16, he will have seen VVS at 40, and by then he is convinced that Viswanath is the prettiest batsman ever to play the game. It always works that way when one talks aesthetics in cricket. The heroes we see in our youth are the greatest and all that.

AM: I agree. It has often happened to me as well.

AS: Besides, I do have another reason for opting for VVS. Now look. Consider a green wicket on foreign soil, with the best all-time pace bowlers of Australia or West Indies charging in on the first morning. We are talking Fred Spofforth, Dennis Lillee, Glenn McGrath, Ray Lindwall or Marshall, Holding, Garner and Ambrose. We must understand that in such a situation, the top three of India is not as outstanding as one might think.

AM: I agree. The names of Gavaskar and Dravid may give many the impression that straight bat and infinite patience will work wonders. But the data paints a different picture.

AS: Gavaskar, as we all know, got a lot of runs against the West Indians, but most of them came in 1971 and 1979, against weak bowling sides. The fact remains that when the best West Indian bowlers (the four-pronged attack) bowled at him in West Indies, Gavaskar scored 308 runs at 31. When Lillee and Len Pascoe bowled at him in Australia he averages 18, and 30 when Hadlee bowled at him across the Tasman Sea. On unresponsive wickets, he could tackle one or two very good bowlers and score against the rest, but against best attacks in helpful conditions, I am sorry — Gavaskar was not the batsman he is made out to be.

AM: I cannot agree more. Dravid averaged 29.71 in South Africa, and just pushed beyond 40 in Australia, the two best attacks of his era. And in Australia most of his runs were scored in 2003-04 when McGrath and Warne were absent, and Brett Lee was off in the Test where he got 233 and 72*. Against McGrath he averages 16 in Australia and 31. He got a lot of runs against later-day weaker Pakistan attacks, but when Wasim bowled he averaged 27.

AS: Indeed. One cannot survive the good balls and wait for the bad ball against the all-time best attacks of the world, which negates the Gavaskar and Dravid style of play — as much as we may refuse to believe it. India may be 2 down for a low score with a lot of admiration for shunning the helmet and wearing a skull-cap under a floppy hat. That does not really win matches.

AM: Unfortunately, we do not have better replacements for Gavaskar and Dravid.

AS: Besides, Sehwag has always had a mixed record on foreign soil: he averages 46 in Australia but has never faced McGrath there. In South Africa he scored his century on debut but averages 25 overall. All of them are very good in home tracks, or overseas tracks with less pace, but on foreign soil against great attacks we are down to Tendulkar (averages 53 in Australia, 46 when he faced McGrath there; and 46 in South Africa, facing Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Dale Steyn, etc.). We have to have a No. 5 who has a very good record in difficult conditions against top bowlers. We have to have Laxman (44 in Australia and 40 in South Africa).

AM: That is the reason we need Laxman, or rather, we better get Laxman. There can also be the argument that Laxman bats at No. 3 in Australia and South Africa, perhaps moving Dravid to No. 5. That is also the reason that we must have at least a couple of all-rounders who are very good with the bat. We already have Kapil, and we will obviously come to the discussion on the wicketkeeper.

AS: We need someone who can bat as a competent No. 6. Kapil batted best at Nos. 7 or 8. He played just 15 innings at 6 and averaged 24.

AM: At 7 and 8 he has far better numbers, not to speak of that astounding strike rate (ball-by-ball details are unfortunately not available for all his matches).

AS: Yes, he averages in the 30s at Nos. 7 and 8.So, when we come to the wicketkeeper, I think we need to go with the only one who had a very respectable batting record. MS Dhoni played 25 times at No. 6 and averaged 55. Even in England he averaged 36 from No. 6.

AM: Dhoni also averages more overseas at No. 6 than at home despite not having scored a hundred.

AS: We do have Syed Kirmani and Farokh Engineer as potential candidates.

AM: Let us list all candidates: Dattaram Hindlekar, Probir Sen, Madhav Mantri, Naren Tamhane, Budhi Kunderan, Engineer, Kirmani, Kiran More, Nayan Mongia, Dhoni and Wriddhiman Saha.

AS: Kirmani, More and Mongia were outstanding ’keepers, but if any of them come in at No. 7 the tail would begin too soon. Mantri, Kunderan and Engineer, of course, do have their additional worth as makeshift openers.

AM: We do not need more openers; 787 of Kunderan’s 981 runs have come at the top.

AS: Yes. He scored 2 hundreds and 2 fifties as opener, but other than that had a solitary fifty in 13 innings. His overall average is 32, with 16 abroad.

AM: Similarly, for Engineer, 1,577 out of 2,611 came from the top. Add to that 143 he has scored at Nos. 3 to 5.

AS: Engineer had a very decent batting record, but he averages 31 overall. Besides, we need a solid bat at No. 6. Dhoni is a clear winner.

AM: Agreed. Mantri was a very good batsman, wicketkeeper and captain at domestic level, but there was nothing significant in Test cricket. Do we reject the older men, Hindlekar, Sen, and Tamhane?

AS: None of them can meet the demands of a handy middle-order batsman.

AM: I know batting was not a prerequisite of the era for wicketkeepers, but here we have to put up someone to counter Jeff Dujon and Mark Boucher, or maybe even Adam Gilchrist and Les Ames — though we are yet to make those XIs.

AS: Yes, and as I said, someone has to bat at No. 6. We cannot expect Hindlekar, Tamhane, or Sen to do that; and Dhoni was quite brilliant while keeping to spin and decent to pace, so it is not that we are compromising on wicketkeeping totally.

AM: That leaves us with two fast bowlers and two spinners.

AS: If you ask me, Kumble is the automatic pick for one spot for the spinner. No one won more matches for India.

AM: I will agree on that. However, we should leave nothing to chance.

AS: Fine. If we are picking two spinners, we must be sure that they can do the job in India on turning wickets. Kumble has nothing to prove on that front. He won matches single-handedly on the Indian wickets through his career.

AM: Kumble does not have an outstanding overseas record per se, but he did well when he did not have to come on first-change to defend low scores.

AS: On the other hand, none of the Indian spinners have a decent overseas record barring Ghulam Ahmed and Subhash Gupte.

AM: I agree. Kumble went through a low point in 1996, but he did brilliantly in 2003-04 in Australia and Pakistan.

AS: In the 2000s he did improve a lot.

AM: There were some excellent spells before that. For example, in 1991-92 there was that 44-22-53-6 at Johannesburg in 1991-92. And at MCG in 2007-08 he took 5 for 84 on Day One. He also took 7 wickets at Headingley in 2002, 8 at Sabina Park in 1997-98, and 6 for 78 in the historic win at Sabina Park in 2006. There were more. He could also bowl long spells, and was a rather economic bowler when it came to that.

AS: True. He was one leg-spinner who did not go for runs.

AM: Humanly economic, that is. Not Nadkarni-ish.

AS: Yes. I do not think we have any doubt over his credentials. Now, who will be the other spinner?

AM: I just named a candidate: Nadkarni.

AS: Let us see. We have to choose from Ghulam Ahmed, Vinoo Mankad, Subhash Gupte, Nadkarni, EAS Prasanna, Chandra, Bishan Singh Bedi, Dilip Doshi, Harbhajan Singh and Ashwin — even if we do not consider Palwankar Baloo the way we did not consider DB Deodhar or CK Nayudu.

AM: Yes. Even though CK was perhaps India’s first world-class batsman, but Test cricket came too late in the day for him.

AS: Ghulam has an excellent record, and strangely was brilliant in England.

AM: Which is unusual for an Indian spinner.

AS: Yes.

AM: Just like Gupte, Ghulam he had a better overseas record than home.

AS: Gupte, if you ask me, is a serious candidate.

AM: The thing that marvels me most about Gupte is his 12 five-fors in 36 Tests: one in every 3.

AS: Gupte averaged 29 while bowling with the 1950s close-in catchers where rumour had it that people from other states dropped chances deliberately. While those rumours may or may not be true, he did bowl before the fielding revolution in the 1960s; and he was forced to call it a day before his best days were over, because of the stupidest of reasons. Stupid even for Indian cricket.

AM: Gupte also averaged 28 overseas without touring New Zealand. As for fielding, Hemu Adhikari did try his best, but while he managed to shape the Services team in the mid-1950s, the fielding of the Indian team did not live up to his standards.

AS: Let us consider the other candidates. Nadkarni was a miser when it came to giving runs away and thereby had an excellent average. He was also a handy batsman and a very good fielder, but the problem is that his strike rate is 104. He was more of a containing bowler than wicket-taker; 88 wickets in 41 Tests bear testimony to that.

AM: On the other hand, he bowled 665 maidens in 41 Tests. Nadkarni was outstanding in the 1960s when India had to fight for draws, but I suppose an all-time XI should play to win.

AS: Come to think of it, the Indian all-time XI might have to fight for draws in the all-time XI Tests with the bowling ’riches’, but let us try for a winning combination. As for Mankad, he ended his career with a rather high average for a bowler of his ability.

AM: Mankad stretched his career, if you ask me.

AS: Yes. He would have been very handy as an opener and left-arm spinner. He averaged 40 as opening batsman (though both his double-hundreds came against New Zealand at home). But down the order he was not really a very consistent batsman. And as a left-arm spinner, I think he loses out to Bedi, who was perhaps the most consistent among all the spinners.

AM: I have always thought there was more to Bedi than it met the eye. Unlike Prasanna and Chandra, Bedi rarely demolished oppositions in Test cricket, but let me give you a statistic: only once in his career has he bowled 20 overs without taking a wicket.

AS: Apart from the series in Australia 1967-68 and Pakistan in 1977-78, Bedi seldom had a poor series.

AM: Basically he has been chipping away at wickets throughout his career.

AS: Of course, he had a poetic action and all that with the ball on a string, incredible loop, but seldom ran through sides…

AM: This was in stark contrast with Chandra, who was more of an inconsistent destroyer, unplayable on days and ordinary on others.

AS: Bedi’s overseas highs came against the New Zealand side of the 1967-68, who were rather ordinary, and the Packer-afflicted Australians of 1977-78, who were third-rate with all their top stars playing World Series. It is curious that Bedi, Chandra and Srinivas Venkataraghavan together could not defend 340 on the fifth day at Perth against a third-string Australian side. I still believe that had Karsan Ghavri played that match, India would have won at Perth, which underlines why we need three pacers.

AM: Agree completely, but Venkat was an ordinary bowler anyway. Meanwhile, here is a Chandra stat: in the 5 overseas Tests he played in and India won, Chandra took 42 wickets at 17. So we are coming back to the impact vs consistency issue.

AS: As for Venkat, we are not considering him, else we have to consider Shivlal Yadav and Arshad Ayub as well. What about Prasanna? Can we say he had both impact and consistency? What do the records day?

AM: Prasanna had an outstanding start, till 1967-68. He also missed a chunk of his career due to his engineering examinations, but we cannot make considerations for that.

AS: Ian Chappell, perhaps his biggest fan, saw him from 1967 to 69 and made his conclusion that he was the best off-spinner ever. That was a bit premature, because by the end of his career his record was much inferior to the likes of Laker and Tayfield.

AM: After the last time he played against Chappell, Prasanna’s numbers read 113 wickets from 22 Tests at 27. Then things went wrong horribly. The last 27 Tests got him a mere 76 wickets at 35. Take that Auckland Test of 1975-76 away, and it comes down to 65 wickets from 26 Tests.

AS: Now, Harbhajan. He ran through more sides than Prasanna, and more regularly.

AM: Harbhajan was like Chandra at times. On his day he ran through. When he did not find the rhythm (especially in his initial overs) he tended to bowl flat and lost the plot.

AS: Yes, and towards the end, he could be quite pedestrian.

AM: Had Doshi had an early start he could have been a contender, but his overseas numbers are too ordinary.

AS: True. So on one side we have Kumble, the most consistently brilliant spinner Indians can hope for, and on the other side, do we need an inconsistent match winner like Chandra or a consistent but not diabolically difficult Bedi? If we opt for another leggie, it will make it two leg-spinners.

AM: There have been precedents of teams going in with two leg-spinners: Clarrie Grimmett and O’Reilly; Warne and Stuart MacGill; even Grimmett also had an overlap with Arthur Mailey.

AS: True. Moreover, if we have one spinner who is Kumble, who hardly ever turned a ball, we can indeed go in with two leg-spinners. Grimmett and O’Reilly was one of the most successful spin combinations. And then, we had the South Africans with four googly bowlers, so it is not unusual.

AM: Ashwin is an option. But if we are open to two leg-spinners, I believe Gupte was the finest, and I am not even mentioning Garry Sobers’ praises here.

AS: Ashwin will need another couple of years to prove himself as an all-weather bowler.

AM: Gupte has not really bowled India to a Test win, but that was hardly a fault of his.

AS: True, though he did combine with Mankad in India’s win against Pakistan at Bombay.

AM: In overseas Tests he had 65 wickets from 15 Tests at 29. He had six five-wicket hauls from those 15 Tests.

AS: He also bowled brilliantly in Pakistan.

AM: Even in West Indies. It cannot be his fault that he rarely found support.

AS: The only problem with his record is that he tailed off towards the end.

AM: His worst performance came in England 1959. He had 17 wickets at 35 there, but still had most wickets among Indians despite the conditions not favouring him one bit.

AS: He was the best of his time and he was not allowed to play post 32, when spinners mature. Maybe, he would have another peak.

AM: I am scanning through Gupte’s career again. I can barely spot a serious chink.

AS: I guess I would go with him. Chandra had a very similar overall record, but was more inconsistent, and had the best close-in fielders to support him. I think Kumble and Gupte will be a good combination. So do we fix on Kumble and Gupte?

AM: Yes, I presume.

AS: Now for the pace bowlers. If we look at men to assist Kapil, the obvious choices are Srinath and Zaheer. But look at their averages and strike rates: 30 and 33 for Srinath and Zaheer. Think. Spofforth, McGrath, Lillee and Lindwall on a pacer’s wicket; or Garner, Ambrose, Marshall, Holding: do we want to go with Kapil Dev, Srinath and Zaheer? Do we really want to pit pea-shooters against AK-47s?

AM: Do we really have options other than going back to Mohammad Nissar and Amar Singh?

AS: For batting, India has plenty of options. We need not gamble on small sample. But bowling is a different story.

AM: I agree. Given the drastic situation we perhaps need to think out of the box.

AS: In the 1930s, there were foreign teams visiting India. But whether the matches would get Test status or not was much of a lottery. For example, two English teams toured New Zealand and West Indies at the same time in 1929-30. Both tours were considered Tests. However, Lionel Tennyson’s XI played in India. Jack Ryder’s Australians played in India and Ceylon even as Vic Richardson’s team were playing Tests in South Africa. They were not deemed official.

AM: Indeed. Let us add those numbers to the career records of Nissar and Amar Singh. If we look at the Indian XI unofficial Tests against these two sides we get a completely different picture of India’s bowling riches.

AS: We all know Nissar and Amar Singh really put the cat among the pigeons against England in the first ever Test, and later.

AM: Here is what they did apart from their impressive Test records. Against the Australians, Nissar captured 32 wickets with 4 five-wicket hauls and a ten-for. Amar Singh took 10 wickets in 2 ‘Tests’. They bowled India to a 33-run win at Madras, Nissar taking 11 wickets, Amar Singh 7. Against Tennyson’s Englishmen, Amar Singh took 36 wickets, Nissar 11. It included a 93-run win at Calcutta against a batting line up including Bill Edrich, Joe Hardstaff, Stan Worthington, Paul Gibb, James Langridge and Norman Yardley. The bowling was Arthur Wellard, George Pope and Alf Gover. Nissar did not play at Madras. Amar Singh took 11 wickets to clinch an innings win.

If we include these two series, Nissar has 68 wickets at 21 and Amar Singh 74 at 22. There is no reason why we should not include these matches

AS: Besides, it is scarcely known that Amar Singh bowled for England once. It was in 1938 against the touring Australians in Blackpool. Recruited to play from his Lancashire league commitments, he captured 6 for 84 to dismiss them for 174. Don Bradman did not play, but he got of Bill Brown, Lindsay Hassett and Stan McCabe. He was a fantastic bowler.

AM: Moreover, as Hammond said, he came off the wicket like the crack of doom (whatever that means).

AS: At long last, through scrupulous search, we have uncovered two Indian fast bowlers with averages good enough to be taken seriously. Besides, And Nissar lost out the rest of his years to the War. Amar Singh passed away at 29. Look at what Zaheer achieved after he became 29. Who knows how much more Amar Singh could have done?

AM: Amar Singh also scored the first half-century for India in Tests. He was good enough to hit 5 First-Class hundreds.

AS: I would include the two of them. We would not want Australia batting on an incredibly quick Perth wicket, and Bradman walking out in the first hour to face the combined attack of Kumble and Gupte.

AM: Let me add their numbers in England as well. Nissar had 137 wickets and Amar Singh 147 in England, both at 21. Additionally, Amar Singh also scored 1,051 runs at 25.

AS: Do we put down Amar Singh and Nissar in that case?

AM: Yes.

BOWLERS: AMAR SINGH, ANIL KUMBLE, MOHAMMAD NISSAR, SUBHASH GUPTE

AS: Now, the question that all Indians will be waiting for: who will be the captain?

AM: Let us count the captains in the side: Gavaskar, Sehwag, Dravid, Tendulkar, Dhoni, Kapil, and Kumble. Wow. Seven captains, four others: I already sense trouble.

AS: If we look at the captaincy records…

AM: Gavaskar drew a series in Australia. Tendulkar beat an excellent South Africa at home. Kapil won a series in England. Dravid won series in England and West Indies and Tests in Pakistan and South Africa.

AS: Dhoni won in New Zealand and West Indies and drew in South Africa.

AM: Some may argue that Dravid’s case was one of small sample. It was not. In fact, Dravid led India in more Tests than Bradman.

AS: If we look at the win-loss ratios, Dhoni is at 1.5, Dravid 1.33, Gavaskar 1.125. Kapil, Tendulkar, and Kumble are below breakeven point. Sehwag led just 4 Tests, won 2 and lost 1. So, Dhoni has the best record. He also took India to No. 1 ranking. But Dravid led India to more overseas wins. Dhoni’s script is blotted by the massive defeats.

AM: Letus check the overseas ratios. Dravid stands head and shoulders above others, at 1.25. Take out Zimbabwe and Bangladesh, and Dhoni has 0.33 overseas. In fact, Dravid is the only one with a win-loss ratio of 1.

AS: Not only has Dravid won overseas, he has also won crucial Tests overseas.

AM: Let us also list the achievements: Dravid was the first Indian captain to win a series in England in 21 years; the first Asian captain to do the same in WI in 35 years; and the first Indian captain to win Tests in Pakistan and South Africa. Need I go on?

AS: True. He had a short span as captain but did pile up a number of firsts. So, in spite of the amount of brickbats we may be subjected to, the captain should be Dravid. Agreed?

AM: I guess so.

AS: It is almost a no-brainer.

AM: Indeed it is.

AS: Perhaps Ajit Wadekar, the other underrated and successful captain, should be the coach.

AM: Indeed. Wadekar started a couple of trends, as both captain and coach. The invincibility at home started with him.

AS: I would suggest Azhar as 12th man. He was the best all-round fielder India has ever produced. Eknath Solkar was exceptional close-in, but Azhar could field anywhere.

AM: Like Solkar, Ravindra Jadeja, the best of the current crop, is also not a versatile fielder. He is yet to be tested in close-catching positions.

AS: Of course, Nayudu has to be the manager.

AM: Agreed. If anyone errs in any possible aspect, he will be subjected to 25 rounds.

FINAL TEAM:
Virender Sehwag
Sunil Gavaskar
Rahul Dravid (c)
Sachin Tendulkar
VVS Laxman
MS Dhoni (wk)
Kapil Dev
Amar Singh
Anil Kumble
Mohammad Nissar
Subhash Gupte
12th man: Mohammad Azharuddin
Coach: Ajit Wadekar
Manager: CK Nayudu

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history of cricket, with occasional statistical pieces and reflections on the modern game. He is also the author of four novels, the most recent being Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets here.)

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