Sourav Ganguly should have named VVS Laxman instead of himself in his all-time best Test XI

VVS Laxman (right) could take on any bowler on any surface, whereas Sourav Ganguly struggled against the short-ball and only rectified it late in his career © AFP

After Kapil Dev, Sourav Ganguly named his all-time best Indian One-Day International and Test XIs. What stumped many was that Ganguly named himself in the all-time best India Test eleven ahead of VVS Laxman. Nishad Pai Vaidya joins the debate.

When Sir Donald Bradman named his dream team, it was hardly surprising that he included himself in his galaxy of greats. No one could argue against an average of 99.94 and an all-time Test XI without The Don is unimaginable. Kapil Dev, however, omitted himself from his all-time best Indian one-day XI — though such an Indian XI without Kapil is unthinkable.

Modesty generally prohibits players from naming themselves in such line-ups. However, Sourav Ganguly has no such qualms and picked himself in his all-time Indian One-Day International (ODI) and Test XIs. But that’s the man he has always been. It’s always been a take it or leave it situation as far as he was concerned. His decisions never gave weightage to what people would think. He said what he wanted to and people could like it or lump it. Whether it was making Steve Waugh wait at the toss or taking his shirt off at the Mecca of Cricket, Ganguly has been a maverick.

Ganguly’s choice of naming himself in the ODI XI cannot be questioned; he has been one of India’s greatest in the format. With over 11,363 runs and 22 hundreds, he is an automatic choice in a format he dominated for a major part of his career. But, to say that he can be a part of the all-time Indian Test XI is far-fetched. Ganguly was a good player in Test cricket, but not great. There are other certainly others who have better credentials to take the spot he allotted for himself.

Here is Ganguly’s all-time Test XI:

1. Sunil Gavaskar
2. Virender Sehwag
3. Rahul Dravid
4. Sachin Tendulkar
5. Sourav Ganguly/Gundappa Viswanath
6. MS Dhoni
7. Kapil Dev
8. Harbhajan Singh
9. Anil Kumble
10. Javagal Srinath
11. Zaheer Khan

12th man: VVS Laxman
How could Ganguly include himself in the Test line-up:

Ganguly chose Gundappa Viswanath as his alternative and VVS Laxman as the 12th man. It was a bit surprising as the other two have shaped the fortunes for India in numerous Test matches during their respective careers. Also, both Viswanath and Laxman were batsmen who could produce masterpieces in the most testing situations — especially when others were all at sea. Laxman in particular has scripted gems which remain etched in memory. At times when it looked like India were down and out, he would rise like a phoenix and lift the others with him. How can you keep him out of the XI?

Let us compare the records of Ganguly and Laxman:

M R Ave 100s 50s HS
VVS Laxman 134 8781 45.97 17 56 281
Sourav Ganguly 113 7212 42.17 16 35 239

 

Laxman played 21 Tests more than Ganguly and recorded only one more hundred. He also managed 21 more fifties. Even if one compares their skills, Laxman has the advantage as he could take on any bowler on any surface. Ganguly struggled against the short-ball and only rectified it late in his career. With Laxman at the crease, there was always an assurance that India would sail past the tough phase and emerge on top. Thus, if one has to pick someone to rescue the line-up and provide a cushion in the middle, it has to be Laxman and not Ganguly.

In many ways, Ganguly’s line-up reflects how Laxman was treated throughout his career. Although he was dependable, he was not made to look indispensable the way some of the other middle-order greats in the Indian line-up of his era were made to feel. If he had a few poor performances, there would be talk of dropping him.

The forgotten players

A look at Ganguly’s Test XI makes a few things obvious. It is a team he fielded as a captain for a major part of his career. The only spots that have gone to the greats from yesteryear are those India struggled to fill during Ganguly’s tenure. In the early 2000s, India failed to find a stable opening partner for Virender Sehwag and an all-rounder who provided balance to the side. As a result, Sunil Gavaskar came in and Kapil also made it. Although, the two greats are fixtures in anyone’s all-time side, the whole selection only shows the team Ganguly would have hoped for as captain. He did not have those two vital components during his tenure, so why not name them in a dream team along with his trusted campaigners. Mahendra Singh Dhoni made his Test debut after Ganguly was finished as captain, but he did play many games with the southpaw.

Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble are the two spinners in the team. Kumble has been India’s most prolific match-winner with the ball and his spot is secure. However, the famous spin quartet could have challenged Harbhajan. Bishan Singh Bedi and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar shouldered the burden of India’s bowling in an era where they didn’t have a fast-bowler denting the opposition upfront. Moreover, in foreign conditions, India would need a third fast-bowler instead of a spinner. However, Bedi and Chandrasekhar bowled in those settings even when India only played the seamer as a formality. Which is why, it would have been a better bet to include either of them instead of Harbhajan.

In the modern era, we seem to have forgotten the likes of Colonel CK Nayudu, Lala Amarnath, Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare, Vinoo Mankad Vijay Manjrekar. During India’s early years in Test cricket, they were the torchbearers and played when the other teams would overpower the Indians. The era they played in and the degree of difficulty was very different when compared to the task their successors faced. Thus, to pick an all-time Test XI can be unfair to players from certain eras as they wouldn’t make it in because their numbers wouldn’t be persuasive enough. In contrast, it is easier to pick a one-day XI as that format has had a much shorter history when compared to Test cricket.

Conclusion

As discussed by H Natarajan, the Executive Editor of CricketCountry, team selections often cause heartburn in India, but Kapil’s line-up would satisfy most. However, Ganguly has always divided opinions and it doesn’t change now. One must remember that picking all-time XIs are based on individual opinions and choices. It is very difficult to pick the best XI across different eras and it generally boils down to likes and preferences. But, Ganguly may have erred in picking himself in the Test line-up as there are other contenders.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)