1. Sunil Gavaskar, 2. Jack Hobbs, 3. Don Bradman, 4. Sachin Tendulkar, 5. Viv Richards, 6. Gary Sobers,  7. Rodney Marsh, 8. Wasim Akram, 9. Mutthiah Muralitharan, 10. Dennis Lillee, 11. Malcolm Marshall © Getty Images
1. Sunil Gavaskar, 2. Jack Hobbs, 3. Don Bradman, 4. Sachin Tendulkar, 5. Viv Richards, 6. Gary Sobers, 7. Rodney Marsh, 8. Wasim Akram, 9. Mutthiah Muralitharan, 10. Dennis Lillee, 11. Malcolm Marshall © Getty Images

 

By Sohini Mitter

 

The ICC‘s all-time best Test XI, determined by 2.5 lakh fans through an online poll, is a farce. It is a result of complete ignorance about the history of the game and its erstwhile glory, a result of hurried selection of ‘popular’ modern-day players and ridiculous biases towards cricketers from the subcontinent – the epicentre of world cricket today.

 

I’m in complete agreement with Geoffrey Boycott caustic condemnation of the polls. “The greatest team of all time? You must be joking. It is so biased that it has no credibility. It takes no account of the history of the game and the great players of the past. It insults their records and achievements,” Boycott wrote in Britain’s leading newspaper, The Telegraph.

 

The ICC should have taken a hard look at this before announcing the final XI, which has not only surprised most cricket fans across the globe but also angered many cricket puritans. It is foolish to ignore achievements of past players who have set benchmarks in world cricket. I’m no cricket expert, but I can vouch for the fact that I would have chosen a better XI and a more deserving one.

 

Here’s my take on the 11 players who made it to the famed Greatest Test XI and some who didn’t:

 

The openers

 

Sunil Gavaskar: He is an obvious choice for the spot. He is regarded as one of the greatest Test openers of all time. He was a prolific scorer, being the first batsman to reach the 10,000 run mark, a Herculean task in his days due to the relatively limited number of matches played then. He scored a then a Test record 34 hundreds.

 

But it is not just the figures that earn him a berth in the all-time XI. It is the impact of his batting that defined the course of a match. He combated the fearsome West Indies pace quartet at its pomp like no other batsman, triumphed on unfavourable batting tracks, scored heavily at the top of the order and was the granite foundation on which the rest of the Indian batting piled on. His copybook technique served as model of excellence for budding cricketers.

 

Before Sachin Tendulkar, Gavaskar was arguably the greatest cricketer India had produced. He features in my all-time Test XI too.

 

Virender Sehwag: He is, without doubt, the best Test opener in contemporary cricket. Alastair Cook comes second in my book. Sehwag has redefined the art of Test batting. Some say he is the modern-day Vivian Richards. We love to see him pound bowlers all around the park. He has a fabulous average of 54, is only the third player in history to score two triple hundreds, and is a phenomenon.

 

But I have a problem with his presence in the all-time XI, more so when he leap-frogs over names like Hanif Mohammed, Jack Hobbs, Gordon Greenidge and even Mathew Hayden. Sehwag is a failure in the second innings of a Test match, which more often than not, determines a player’s batting prowess. He surely can score double hundreds in two sessions, but Test cricket is much more than just power hitting. If I had to choose power and mayhem at the top of the order, I’d go with Hayden nine times out of 10, because he is a more complete batsman, has an overpowering presence at the crease and is at ease against all types of bowlers on all kinds of pitches.

 

But the man to partner Sunil Gavaskar in my All-Time Test XI, would be Englishman Jack Hobbs. The Englishman holds the world record for scoring more than 61,000 runs and nearly 200 centuries in first-class cricket. He played in the early 20th century and most people alive would be completely ignorant of his glorious batting. Whatever I know of him is through sepia-tinted match videos, cricket books, journals and essays by erstwhile cricketers who watched him play.

 

The middle-order

 

Sir Don Bradman: I doubt anyone will dispute his selection. He will find a deserved mention in the list of all-time great sportspersons, not just cricketers. He was THE greatest, until the advent of Sachin Tendulkar, who sowed seeds of doubts in that ‘Theory of Greatness’. Bradman was invincible, much like his Australian side of the 1940s-50s. He conquered everything. With a staggering average of 99.94, an incredible 14 double hundreds and two triples, he was the best batsman ever in the history of the game.

 

Sachin Tendulkar: The Bradman of the Modern Era? Maybe. The greatest our generation has seen? Most certainly. No disputes again on Tendulkar’s selection in the XI. He is pure magic. His records need not testify his greatness anymore. The No. 4 spot is quite firmly his. There is nothing in batting that he hasn’t achieved. Technically very sound, with a perfect blend of defence and aggression, equally at ease with pace and spin, has every shot in the book, has scored in every pitch of the world, scored with great conviction against all kinds of bowlers over two decades, Tendulkar is a MUST for a formidable Test XI.

 

Brian Lara: Many argue that he is the greatest batsman of contemporary times, better than Tendulkar. I beg to differ. Lara is a mad genius. When he gets going, he will be a bowler’s nightmare. But when he doesn’t, which is very often, he looks shamefully ordinary. He is one of the best left-handed batsman the world has seen, but he doesn’t feature in my All-Time XI. Lara is not a complete player. He doesn’t invoke the same fear in the bowlers’ mind as someone like Viv Richards does. He is painfully inconsistent. Consistency is one of the greatest yardsticks for a champion – a quality exemplified by Tendulkar for 22 years long years. The same cannot be said of Lara.

 

In my All-Time XI, it is Sir Vivian Richards occupies the No. 5 spot. He was the most destructive middle-order batsman of his times. His records speak volumes. His ability to tear apart bowling attacks of every variety made him a nightmare for oppositions. He had overbearing presence on the field, and smacked the ball to all parts of the ground, winning matches single-handedly. Opposition teams heaved a sigh of relief with his dismissal, as the 1983 World Cup winning Indian team would know well. No cricket XI is complete without Viv Richards.

 

The all-rounder

 

Kapil Dev: He might have been the best all-rounder that India has ever produced, but is not quite in the same league as Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Ian Botham, Sir Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan and even Jacques Kallis. Kapil was a maverick cricketer who competes with the likes of Gavaskar and Tendulkar in debates like ‘Who is India’s Greatest Cricketer?’ He was a sensation in those days, with both bat and ball. He was the highest wicket-taker in Test cricket (434 wickets) for more than a decade, until Courtney Walsh overtook him. But he surely cannot find a place ahead of Sir Gary Sobers.

 

I have no words to describe the genius of Sobers. He was once-in-a-lifetime player, excelling in all departments of the game. Middle-aged cricket enthusiasts often cherish his ability to bowl “six different deliveries in one single over”. As a batsman, he was a class apart, scoring 26 hundreds at an average of nearly 58 in only 93 matches. He was an elegant left-hander. Sobers selects himself in my All-Time XI. Ian Botham missed out narrowly.

 

The wicket-keeper

 

Adam Gilchrist: He has been the best wicket-keeper/batsman in the last one-and-half-decades. He could have found a berth in the Australian side as a batsman only. He was so brilliant and impeccable in his murderous approach towards bowlers, that he could finish games off in a flash with clean hitting and zero amount of slogging. He was a crucial member in Steve Waugh‘s invincible Australian side of the 2000s. Coming in at No.7, with five wickets down for a paltry score on the board, Gilchrist could chase down 370 in the fourth innings of a match on a bouncy Perth wicket. Besides his outstanding batting abilities, he has a superb record in wicket-keeping too, with more than 400 dismissals to his name. More importantly, he kept wickets to spin wizard Shane Warne, which was no mean task.

 

I don’t quite disagree with Gilchrist’s selection in the All-Time XI, but this berth could have gone to a fellow Aussie Rodney Marsh. By virtue of standing behind to the most lethal pace combo of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson, Rod Marsh is arguably one of the best wicket-keepers of all time. He effected more than 350 dismissals and was a competent lower-order batsman too. The bowler-wicketkeeper duo of Lillee-Marsh resulted in a record 95 dismissals, and is regarded as the best such pair. I prefer him to Gilchrist in my All-Time XI, because he was a better wicket-keeper and a prolific one at that.

 

The bowlers

 

Wasim Akram: He is the best bowler I have ever seen. Better than the McGraths of my time and may be, even the West Indian bowling attacks of the 1970s. Pace, swing, seam, guile, variations – he had them all and more. If any bowler could be termed ‘graceful’, then it has to be Akram. Even at the moment of ball delivery, when fast bowlers tend to look really haphazard and ugly, his poise was superb. He has troubled every batsman he has bowled at, including the great Tendulkar, who often fell prey to his lethal in-swingers and reverse-swinging yorkers. Akram’s bowling combination with Waqar Younis is a discourse in cricketing folklore. He was not just the ‘Sultan of Swing’, but the ‘Baadshah of Bowling’ too, with 916 international wickets to his name. Akram, selects himself, in my All-Time XI.

 

Shane Warne: He burst into the international arena with the ‘Ball of the Century’ to Mike Gatting. Warne was a ball-magician. Very often, the red cherry vanished from the batsman’s (and the viewer’s) sight, to be found dislodging the bails at the very next moment. He could take wickets at will. When he had started, Gary Sobers predicted 600 Test wickets for Warne. That seemed a ridiculous prophecy then, but he ended with 708 dismissals. Warne would have been an easy choice in the All-Time XI, but for his ineffectiveness on Indian soil. Indians are considered best players of spin bowling. Any spinner who fails to succeed against Indian batsmen cannot be termed the best.

 

I would prefer Warne’s contemporary Muttiah Muralitharan in this context, who not only has a better average and more wickets (800) to his name, but also has been a menace for all batsmen across the globe, including many Indians. Some critics attribute Murali’s success to his naturally slanted wrist that makes spinning the ball easy, but you cannot take 800 Test wickets by virtue of some disability. On the contrary, it is the ability that matters. Another bowler, who narrowly missed out, is Englishman Jim Laker who holds the world-record for taking an incredible 19 wickets in a match against Australia at Old Trafford in 1956. That Test is more famously known as ‘Laker’s Match’

 

Glenn McGrath: He was a miser, more than bowler, who thought runs were money and hated giving away any. His nagging line and length and ability to produce a wicket at every spell, made life difficult for batsmen. He was an integral part in the unbeatable Australian Test side of the 1990s-2000s. But McGrath, cannot pip fellow Aussie pacer Dennis Lillee to a place in the All-Time XI.

 

Lillee was as outstanding as it can be. His fiery pace, bullet-like deliveries and a never-say-die spirit ensured a tough time for batsmen. His lethal bowling partnership with Jeff Thomson is one of the most glorious chapters of Australian cricket. As an old maxim goes, “Ashes to Ashes, dust to dust, if Lillee doesn’t get you, Thommo must”, establishing the supremacy of the pace duo. No All-Time XI is ever complete without the brilliance of Dennis Lillee.

 

Curtly Ambrose: No doubt he was a great bowler with a towering presence on the field. He formed an able bowling partnership with Courtney Walsh, who was as good if not better. They picked up 940 Test wickets. But it is hard to accept that Ambrose and Walsh were better than the dreaded Windies Andy Roberts, Michael Holding, Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall.

 

In my All-Time XI, Ambrose gives way to the brilliant Malcolm Marshall. At 5”11, he was unlike his West Indian bowling mates who looked down the throat of batsmen with their tall and powerful frames. But Marshall was the fastest and most dreaded, arguably the best of the West Indian pack of modern paceman. He picked up 376 wickets at an incredible average of 20.94. His precision and pace made scoring impossible for batsman. He, again, selects himself in any list of great test teams.

 

So here’s my choice of All-Time Test XI:

1. Sunil Gavaskar

 

2. Jack Hobbs

 

3. Don Bradman

 

4. Sachin Tendulkar

 

5. Viv Richards

 

6. Gary Sobers

 

7. Rodney Marsh

 

8. Wasim Akram

 

9. Mutthiah Muralitharan

 

10. Dennis Lillee

 

11. Malcolm Marshall

 

(Sohini Mitter is a business journalist by profession and poet-photographer-blogger by passion. Pseudo-geek, cinephile, bookworm and a social media addict. She is a cricket fanatic for life and after and the biggest admirer of Saurav Ganguly to grace the earth!)