|Volume 6 | Issue 10 | October 2012 ||
The Dream Team
MEGASTHENES talks cricket.
For aficionados of cricket, a most pleasurable pastime is the selection of all-time cricket teams -- national teams or a World XI. Eminent players have also engaged in such an exercise, which, to be sure, reflects the selector's opinions and perceptions, and can be informed by generational and national loyalties. In his book The Art of Cricket, Sir Donald Bradman suggests a combination of players that would make for an ideal cricket team. Bradman's blueprint is as follows: 1. a right and left handed pair of opening batsmen, 2. followed by three batsmen, of whom one is left handed, 3. a genuine all-rounder to bat at no.6, 4. a wicket-keeper batsman, 5. a fast bowler, 6. a fast or fast medium bowler, 7. a right-hand off-spinner, and 8. a left-handed orthodox finger spinner. In the last years of his life Bradman was persuaded by journalist and author, Roland Perry, to select an all-time team from a pool of players on which both were agreed. After Bradman's passing, Perry wrote a book on this World XI. The team is in batting order: BA Richards, AR Morris, DG Bradman, S Tendulkar, GS Sobers, D Tallon(wk), RR Lindwall, DK Lillee, AV Bedser, WJ O'Reilly and CV Grimmett. Seven Australians and one player each from England, South Africa, West Indies and India, constitute the team, which does not quite conform to Bradman's earlier prescription of an ideal eleven. Effective batting ends with Sobers at no.5; Tallon, an outstanding wicket-keeper, was limited as a batsman. The batting line-up is thus shorter than the norm. The bowling is exceptionally strong with five specialist bowlers and an all-rounder. Bradman preferred Bedser to Tate, as a fast-medium bowler, and unlike many others, included himself in his ideal eleven.
Walter Hammond was all too briefly -- from 1928 till the blooming of Bradman in 1930 -- the world's best batsman. He remained, though, England's premier batsman until the onset of World War II, and was also a more than useful fast medium bowler. In his book, Cricket My World, published in 1948, Hammond gives his all-time World XI. Hammond's team: WG Grace(Capt), VT Trumper, DG Bradman, WH Ponsford, KS Ranjitsinhji, CG Macartney, G Gunn, MW Tate, FR Spofforth, WAS Oldfield(wk) and C Blythe. There are five Englishmen, including Ranjitsinhji, and six Australians in the team. The bowling line-up is short, only three specialist bowlers, all-rounder, Macartney, plus the one and only WG Grace. The batting extends up to George Gunn at no.7. A notable omission is that of Hobbs.
Learie Constantine played for the West Indies between 1928 and 1939. RC Robertson-Glasgow ranked him “as one of the best all-round cricketers within memory”. His career statistics do not quite measure up to his playing skills or his impact on the game. The late Maharajkumar of Vizianagram, also known as Vizzy, would in his cricket commentary refer to him as the “very champagne of cricket”. Vizzy's cricketing skills were limited. He did captain India though in three Tests, virtually as a non-playing captain. As a commentator he would not compare with his colleagues in the commentary box, Pearson Sureta or Devrajpuri. In his love and enthusiasm for cricket, and as a patron of the game, however, he would not have had many equals. Constantine's ideal team, as given in his book, Cricket in the Sun -- published 1947 -- is as follows: JB Hobbs, H Sutcliffe, DG Bradman, GA Headley, L Hutton, FE Woolley, PGH Fender(Capt), W Rhodes, MW Tate, WAS Oldfield(wk), and WJ O'Reilly. Seven Englishmen, three Australians and one player from the West Indies constitute the team, which bats up to no.8. There are only two specialist bowlers, Tate and O'Reilly, supplemented by all-rounders Rhodes, Fender and Woolley. Fender played on and off for England during 1921-29. His playing skills were probably not of the highest class, but according to Robertson-Glasgow, he possessed “one of the acutest and quickest brains ever applied to cricket”. Robertson-Glasgow doubted whether “any modern cricketer (this was written in the 1940s) has surpassed PGH Fender” for “sheer entertainment”.
Constantine's accomplishments did not end with his cricketing days. He qualified for the bar in 1954. On his return to his country, Trinidad, he was elected to parliament in 1956, and appointed a cabinet minister. In 1961, he was named High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago to Britain. He was knighted in 1962, and elevated to the peerage in 1969.
Sir Leonard Hutton was the first professional cricketer to captain England. He was the most technically correct English batsman since Sir Jack Hobbs, and held the records for the highest individual score and the longest innings in Tests for close to twenty years. In the Pakistan-West Indies series of 1957-58, both records were surpassed, by Garfield Sobers and Hanif Mohammad respectively. In his book, Just My Story, written after he retired, Hutton selected a World XI from among players he had seen in action. Hutton's team: H Sutcliffe, C Washbrook, DG Bradman, WR Hammond, GA Headley, M Leyland, LEG Ames(wk), KR Miller, RR Lindwall, H Verity and WJ O'Reilly. The team has six Englishmen, four Australians and one West Indian. Ames is the only wicket-keeper batsman to have scored a hundred centuries in first-class cricket. Effective batting extends up to Miller at no.8. There are two quick bowlers, two spin bowlers, plus the fast-medium swing bowling of Hammond. Hutton preferred his long-time opening partner Washbrook over Australians Barnes or Morris, and fellow Yorkshireman Leyland to Denis Compton or Everton Weekes.
Peter May was perhaps the finest English batsman after World War II. He retired from the game very early. His all-time team, given in “Peter May's Book of Cricket”, (published 1956), is confined to players he played with or against. May's team: Len Hutton, AR Morris, Everton Weekes, Denis Compton, Clyde Walcott, Keith Miller, Bruce Dooland, Godfrey Evans(wk), Ray Lindwall, Alec Bedser and Brian Statham. Dooland bowled leg-spin and googly, and was also a useful batsman. He played only three Tests for Australia, during 1946-48, before moving to England to play for Nottinghamshire in county cricket. The bowling combination of four pacemen and a spinner, was a little unusual for the time when May played his cricket. There are five Englishmen, four Australians and two West Indians in the team.
Michael Manley served for more than a decade -- spread over two non-consecutive terms -- as Prime Minister of Jamaica. In between his two terms of office, Manley wrote a definitive -- and also very readable -- account of the evolution of cricket in the West Indies. His book, “A History of West Indies Cricket”, was published in 1988. Clive Lloyd, in his introduction to the book, describes Manley as “a keen student of the game and prominent in his support of sports in the West Indies”. Cricket is more than a game in the West Indies. As Lloyd points out, it is the “ethos around which West Indian society revolves”, and the “instrument of Caribbean cohesion”. Manley saw his first Test match at the age of ten; it was the fourth Test of the West Indies-England series of 1934-35. George Headley pulverised the English attack to score 270 not out, and England crumpled twice before the pace of Martindale and Constantine. West Indies won the match by an innings and 161 runs. In his book Manley selects a World XI and also an all-time West Indies team. Manley's World XI: Hobbs, Gavaskar, Bradman, Headley, Viv Richards, Sobers, Oldfield(wk), Holding, Lindwall, Lillee and O'Reilly. The team, he felt, “has a bit of a tail, but should be equal to most emergencies”. Five Australians, four West Indians, and one player each from England and India make up the team.
There is little to choose between the top Test-playing teams at the present time. Choosing a World XI from current players thus would not be easy. Selecting an all-time national team should be simpler. An all-time Indian team, for example, could be: VM Merchant, SM Gavaskar, M Azharuddin, S Tendulkar, GR Vishwanath, MH Mankad, Kapil Dev, MS Dhoni(wk), L Amar Singh, M Nissar and SP Gupte. Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Kapil Dev and Dhoni should find places in almost anyone's all-time Indian team.
Sir Neville Cardus and RC Robertson-Glasgow wrote felicitously and insightfully on cricket for many years. Both, it has been said, “helped to raise cricket reporting from journalism into an art”. Cardus was of the view that an ideal cricket team “is one which presents or sums-up all of the game's resources of skill and variety of style”. There is an anecdote I recall reading years back in this regard. In the 1930s, Cardus had selected an ideal XI. More than thirty years later he was asked if he wished to make changes in his team, to allow for any of the players who had emerged and excelled since his selection. Sir Neville pondered his list for a while, and then made the laconic comment, “I don't suppose Don (ie Bradman) would mind taking over the captaincy”. He then crossed out the name of the captain of the team, Stanley Jackson, and in his place wrote Garfield Sobers. The captaincy passed on to Bradman, who was in the original list.
Cardus always insisted that he was not one to “praise the past and neglect the joys of the present”. His writings though suggest a nostalgia for the Golden Age of cricket, (1890-1914), and for the “amateur influence and example”. Up to 1962, English cricketers were divided into amateurs, who played for the love of the game, and professionals, for whom it was the means of livelihood. An important fixture in first-class cricket was the annual Gentlemen versus Players match. The Gentlemen were the amateurs, and the Players, the professionals. Sir Stanley Jackson -- he received his first knighthood in 1927 -- was the younger son of a peer. He was a Cambridge Blue, and later played for Yorkshire and England as an amateur. In his last season he led England to a 2-0 victory over a strong Australian side in the Ashes series of 1905. Robertson-Glasgow considered him as “one of the greatest all-rounders that cricket has known”. After his cricketing days he was active in politics, and in 1927 was appointed Governor of Bengal. Those were turbulent times, and in 1932, he narrowly escaped assassination. At the convocation ceremony of Calcutta University, Bina Das -- a young lady of 21, associated with a revolutionary society -- fired five shots at the Governor. Jackson was unhurt; Bina's skill with firearms, fortunately for him, did not match her revolutionary fervour. The would-be assassin was quickly subdued by, among others, the Vice Chancellor, Dr. Hassan Suhrawardy, and in the British tradition of stiff upper lip, the convocation ceremony continued as scheduled. Suhrawardy would later receive a knighthood. Bina Das was sentenced to a term in prison. After independence she would be elected to the West Bengal Legislative Assembly, and also write her memoirs. During the Bangladesh liberation war, she extended staunch support to the freedom fighters.
Bangladesh has a link of sorts with the first Test Match ever to be played. In March, 1877, England and Australia played for the first time on level terms at Melbourne. The match was subsequently recognized as the first Test match in cricket history. The English team was not the strongest that could be selected; three of England's best batsmen, WG Grace, Richard Daft and Arthur Shrewsbury were not available for the tour. Australia, without “Demon Bowler”, FR Spofforth, won the match by 45 runs. 21 out of the 22 cricketers who played were born in Britain or Australia. The one exception, Bransby Beauchamp Cooper, according to Wisden, was born on March 15, 1844 in Dacca, India. He batted at no.5 for Australia, and scored 3 and 15 in the match. Bangladesh's link with the first Test match in cricket is admittedly tenuous. In sheer enthusiasm and love for the game, though, Bangladesh would be the equal of any country in the world.
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