Recently, a prominent newspaper had picked an all-time great Indian Test XI. It would not have been an easy task to go through the list of players who had played Test matches from 1932 till date and bring down the choices to just eleven. They also took the precaution of naming one more playing XI, comprising players who were almost as good as the ones who figured in the first list. One felt that doing a similar exercise for One-day International (ODI) cricket would be equally interesting. Hence I took it upon myself to name an all-time Indian ODI XI.
However, while doing so, I restricted myself to selecting only from those players who actually played for India in ODIs. It's quite possible that giants of yesteryear such as C K Nayudu, Lala Amarnath and Vinoo Mankad might have adapted to the demands of ODI cricket successfully. But, in the absence of details of actual performance it appeared prudent to leave them out rather than base the selection on conjecture.
Similarly, It's almost impossible to compare players who played their cricket in the 1980s and 90s with the present lot as conditions have changed considerably. A score of 300 was considered a winning total in international cricket during the most part of 20th century but today even those exceeding 350 are chased with ease. The advent of T20 cricket has unleashed its own forces that changed the dynamics of the 50 overs-a-side game even further. Such factors have been kept aside while selecting this side, as one is required to go by the sheer weight of performances to complete this task.
Here goes my playing XI in the batting order:
1. Sachin Tendulkar: There would be no questions asked about the presence of the greatest batsman produced by India in limited overs cricket at the opening slot of an all-time great side.
Tendulkar’s performance, especially in pressure cooker situations, speaks for itself. With 18,426 runs, 49 centuries including a double hundred at a strike rate of 86.23, and 154 wickets Tendulkar would walk into any side in the world. He remained a brilliant fielder in the deep right through his career, besides possessing a sharp, accurate throw that would make batsmen wary of attempting an extra run when the ball was struck towards him.
2. Rohit Sharma: There are many contenders for this spot, including Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly and Krishnamachari Srikkanth but Rohit makes the side based on his current form, which has seen him emerge as the most destructive batsman in limited overs cricket at present. He holds the record for the highest score in ODIs (264) and has a penchant for scoring centuries once he gets his eye in. His unique ability to clear the ropes with his lofted shots, hook, pull or drives, makes him a dangerous customer. He has so far struck 244 sixes, while Tendulkar, who has scored more than twice the number of runs in ODIs, could hit only 195.
3. Virat Kohli: This is another automatic selection as Kohli is easily the most balanced strokeplayer in international cricket at present. In many ways, he is the true successor to Tendulkar, equally at ease in all formats of the game. He is ambitious, focussed and possesses an insatiable appetite to attain perfection. His strike rate of 93.25 places him above other Indian batsmen, while he is easily the fittest player in the present side and arguably among all times.
4. Mohammad Azharuddin: At his peak, Azhar was sheer magic with the bat in hand who could mesmerise the crowds with his brilliant strokeplay. Limited overs cricket brought out the best in him as there were restrictions on the number of overs that could be bowled by fast bowlers as well as on short-pitched bowling, that were his bugbear in the longer version of the game. He was an outstanding fielder who was at ease in any position on the field, both close to the wickets, in the slips, as well as in the deep. The only other serious contender for this spot would be Gundappa Viswanath but he did not play too many ODIs though his knock of 75 against the West Indies in the 1979 World Cup was hailed by Clive Lloyd as the best payed against the eventual winners.
5. Yuvraj Singh: Ever since he made his bow in international cricket at the turn of the 21st century till the day he retired from the game, all major Indian victories in ICC World Cup and other tournaments have borne the stamp of Yuvraj’s brilliance. He was the archetypal big stage player, who could elevate his performance by a notch or two when playing in important championships. He was a clean striker of the ball and could dispatch any bowler to the cleaners, when on song. An excellent middle order batsman, a useful left- arm spin bowler, and a phenomenal fielder within the 30 yard circle, he also fought and triumphed over cancer.
6. Ravi Shastri: The original 'Champion of Champions', he was a regular in the Indian limited overs side through the better part of 1980s. He would command a place in the all- time great side for his ability to play the anchor role in a crisis situation as well as for his ability for big hitting that he brought out when the situation demanded. His left-arm spin, which gave away only little while picking up the occasional wicket, was an advantage that gave more flexibility to the side. He was also a safe fielder without being spectacular. Mohinder Amaranth, the hero of the 1983 World Cup campaign who won the man-of-the-match award in the semifinals and final, would be a close contender for this slot, but Shastri gets the nod for being the better bowling option.
7. Kapil Dev: Another automatic selection. There cannot be any challenger for Kapil. Equally accomplished with both the ball and bat, he could deliver on any surface irrespective of the opposition. He remains one of the few Indian cricketers to turn a match on its head either with the bat or ball or even while plucking a catch out of thin air. His strike rate of 95.07 with the bat and economy rate of 3.71 stands as testimony to his effectiveness in limited overs cricket. He is unquestionably the greatest Indian all-rounder to grace the game.
8. Mahendra Singh Dhoni: The Ranchi man is the only Indian captain other than Kapil Dev to lift the ICC World Cup. For long, he was acknowledged as the best finisher in the game for his uncanny ability to take the game to the end and then turn it around with his big hitting. His wicketkeeping style is unorthodox but effective and he possesses an extraordinary game sense that has helped him effect unique dismissals behind the stumps.
9. Anil Kumble: For the lone spot of right-arm spinner, it's a tussle among Kumble, Ravichandran Ashwin, S Venkataraghavan and Harbhajan Singh. Here Kumble would get the nod for his superior career record in ODIs (337 wickets with economy rate 4.3 and strike rate 43) as against Harbhajan (269 wickets economy rate of 4.31 and strike rate of 46.3) and Ashwin (150 wickets, economy rate 4.91 and strike rate 40.1), while Venkat played too few games. All of them could wield the willow effectively for striking a few lusty blows and were good fielders as well. But Kumble edges the rest on figures alone.
10. Zaheer Khan: It was Suresh Raina who placed matters in the correct perspective by saying that Zaheer was for the side with the ball what Tendulkar was with the bat during 2011 World Cup campaign. The contribution of Zaheer to the victories achieved by the national side has not received the attention or been given its due yet. He could move the new ball prodigiously and reverse the old one menacingly, which made him a dangerous customer for the batsmen. The lone competitor for this spot could be Javagal Srinath but Zaheer gains the nod for the variety he brings to the attack as a left-arm pacer.
11. Jasprit Bumrah: Srinath would be a contender for this spot as well. But Bumrah’s current form and strike rate of one wicket off every 32 balls clinched the spot for him. He has been India’s spearhead since he emerged on the international arena in 2016. His unique action helps him to generate tremendous pace; he moves the ball both ways and has a toe-crushing yorker. It was for these reasons that his skipper Kohli called him a “complete fast bowler”.
12th man: The best fielder that India has produced, Eknath Solkar, would be the 12th man. Though he played only in seven ODIs, his ability to field brilliantly, both close to the wicket as well as in the deep, makes him the automatic choice for donning this role.
Note: Shastri can move up or down the order depending on the situation. If wickets fall early, he can go in sooner and in case batsmen are going great guns, Kapil and Dhoni can precede him.
Dhoni at the helm
Finally, who should be the captain of this side? As would be seen, eight of the stalwarts in the all-time XI have led the national side. My choice for leading this side would be Dhoni, not only on account of his credentials that saw India win three ICC Championships under his watch but also for his experience in leading sides that had as many as four former skippers at one point of time!
Selection of any cricket side is a contentious affair. When the selection involves picking from heroes who straddled the stage during different periods of time, there are bound to be differing opinions as well. I look forward to the views of the readers.
(The author is a former international umpire and a senior bureaucrat)