It’s too difficult a task to select one’s own ‘best-ever’ India Test side. You tend to have your own favourite players — call it personal bias, or what you may. Besides, the fact remains that any selection, at the individualistic level, is wrought with ‘ideological’ problems. It adds to a dilemma too — of a team not being truly representative of the land, its players, and ethos.
So much, for the preamble. It explains all: for more reasons than one. Because, notwithstanding the pitfalls, allow me to truly saunter through the realms of a cricketing ‘Time Machine,’ and delve into the fascinating — a truly all-time great, or ‘best-ever,’ India Test team of my own dreams, a team for all seasons and reasons.
Here goes —
1. Sunil Gavaskar (Captain)
2. Farokh Engineer
3. Rahul Dravid
4. Gundappa Viswanath
5. Sachin Tendulkar
6. Vijay Hazare (Vice-Captain)
7. Kapil Dev
8. Dattu Phadkar
9. Erapalli Prasanna
10. Bishen Singh Bedi
11. Bhagwat Chandrasekhar
12th Man: Mohinder Amarnath
Reserves: Srinivas Venkataraghavan, Syed Kirmani, and Anil Kumble
Sunil Gavaskar had everything in him, in abundance — as abundant a talent anyone could dream of, but not always achieve. The results speak for themselves. From his magical presence on the playing arena, and his glorious string of records, Gavaskar continues to be a walking advertisement hoarding for just about anything — cricket, or otherwise.
When Gavaskar launched his Test career with a bang in the West Indies in 1971, it was god-sent — for the good of Indian cricket. With every passing year, his abilities only improved. So much so, he became an ornament, in Sir Don Bradman’s words, to the game. His stupendous achievement, with the bat, stands tall — a testimony to his character and strength.
What was the secret behind Gavaskar’s success? First of all, his famous temperament. His commitment, and firm nonchalance. His footwork was just right, for he was rugged without being heavy. He had a sharp eye, exquisitely fleet-footed reflexes and wrists that had the power of steel. His sense of timing and control was brilliant. He was practically setting high standards for himself without over-estimating his own self-importance vis-à-vis his batting mechanics — a factor that was evident to a great extent in the fruition of his goals.
His stunning record is proof of his prowess. It celebrates his enterprise, capability, and dynamism in getting things done. It underscores his sense of mysticism too — one that pervades every known form of understanding. His place is permanent in the game’s greatest portals: for all time to come. Just the right man to open the batting, and lead the side on all fronts.
Farokh Engineer gets my vote for the simple reason that he combined the swashbuckling, dashing flavour of a buccaneer and the electrical power of a go-getter with the willow. Engineer was adventure personified. He had a classy elegant style and subtle dynamism as well — he could find the gaps with effortless ease. He could also strut a few paces down the wicket and dispatch the quicks with style and power.
He was, quite truly, the Virender Sehwag of his age — one who packed a new method, all his own, into his cricketing dynamics. A debonair cavalier, Engineer had a regal manner. His walk to the wicket and his waltzing enterprise behind the stumps were a treat to watch.
His wicket-keeping skills were, of course, legendary, standing up as he did, for most part, to the perplexing puzzles of Prasanna, Chandrasekhar, and Bedi. He was, as an opener, the most ideal foil to Gavaskar’s solid presence at the other end.
Rahul Dravid was, quite simply, a Goliath of a batsman, and one of the finest ever of his type.
Dravid wielded the willow like a seasoned guitarist on the stringed instrument. Also, there’s more to his peerless capabilities than what meets the description of aptitude. He had a stately sense of melody in his batting mechanics and he emerged as a worthy torchbearer of Gundappa Vishwanath’s ‘Vishy-arty’ enterprise, with his aesthetic pattern and dignity, that touched the sublime.
There are other parallels too. Vishy, in his prime, and Dravid, in his age, never exhibited that potential for the ‘kill,’ or the so-called killer-instinct, and the top-of-the-draw cult element in modern sport. All they did demonstrated that cricket is a mental game — what with that ‘got-to-keep-a-cool-head’ form of medley — a game that is played between two ears.
Dravid’s game was a revelation by itself — something that may not only be used with special reference, but also between the common equation of flair and the divine. Like his glorious drives or pulls, for instance — an indispensable part of either spectrum. Also, take into account his concentration — not to speak of relaxation, or better still, the magical power and grace of the swing of the willow — and control over his mind and bat while executing a great shot.
You can’t have a better player to manage the pivotal one-down position. A cerebral cricketer — who’s suave, intelligent, and intensely focused.
A supreme stylist, Gundappa Viswanath combined aesthetic judgment with truth and justice: a theory of knowledge of what is truly artistic is also simply articulate. Not only that. He exemplified, in the process, his own spectrum of consciousness, a moment of truth — from empiricism to constructivism, from relativism to aestheticism — all without incongruity. In so doing, he elevated cricket, a sport like no other, into a genuine rainbow coalition, or synthesis.
Vishy was a painter, whatever the type of lithograph: in his case, varied batsmen-friendly, or hostile wickets and laser-beam pace bowling or wily spin. In so doing, he turned the old single-chord tool into a manifold instrument.
Vishy had all the requisites of a top-class batsman. He batted with a velvety feel: from a wrist as powerful as a coil of steel that snapped at every scoring opportunity. He gave a new dimension to cricketing shots with his own sense of sublime delicacy, economy of movement, and action. A born stylist, Vishy’s game was beyond simulation: far beyond the realms of imitation or emulation.
Vishy made 14 Test hundreds for India, most of them under testing conditions. What’s more, India never lost a Test when Vishy scored a hundred. A selfless batsman who always played for his team, not himself, Vishy often came to bat with one motto in mind, whatever the level of cricket: entertainment. He made batting look so easy — the easiest of all professions, which it certainly isn’t.
While Vishy was disposed to taking risks outside the off-stump, he was a majestic run-getter with an easy method. He treated the ball like a child; never gave it harsh treatment. His timing and placement were truly astounding. For one who was once rejected by the Indian schools’ cricket selectors, on the basis of his short stature, Vishy was, indeed, India’s finest batsman of his type. His batsmanship, tall in its fulsome stature, represented a noble tradition, first fostered by Ranji and Duleep, and worshipped and practised by the likes of Dilip Vengsarkar, and others.
You can’t have a better batsman than this gentle stylist in any team.
What made Sachin Tendulkar Tendulkar was he seemed to play his best cricket against the best teams. When the challenge was enormous, he rose to the occasion just as much. Maybe he did not ‘canter’ India to many more Test victories away from home, as his talent would have warranted him to. But this is beside the point.
All the same — that he scored a century in his every sixth or seventh outing, on an average, was legendary, although it is a different thing that it did not translate the team’s performance into triumphs in like manner. Blame it on the basic ‘swing’ of the team, as one unit, or collective failure — you have a pattern that is unique to Indian cricket. We are up and up, when we are up there; and, we are down and down, when we slide down the ladder of achievement.
For a genius with the bat, Tendulkar did not emerge a great captain, though. However, he more than compensated for it with his kingly flair, style, aggression and stunning luminosity. And, what earned him a more than phenomenal degree of respect and adulation was his down-to-earth simplicity — this despite being an icon like no other.
No disputing his sublime genius — he could just walk into any Test side, in any age.
Vijay Hazare was a complete batsman. He was a man with a mission, too: to revel in any aspect of the game. Blessed as he was with a fervent temper, consistency of approach, and wholesome reliance in his own talent, Hazare was a go-getter with a golden touch. His defence was stable, a bedrock of purpose; his stroke play was original and fulsome. They combined to endow both substance and vigour to his blossoming as one of the most prolific run-getters in Indian cricket.
India’s maiden tour of Australia, in 1947-48, was Hazare’s watershed. His tryst with destiny was complete when he scored 116 and 145 in the Adelaide Test — the first Indian ever to attain the signal distinction. His run-aggregate in the five-Test series was a grand 429 — a vindication of his superior ability against the likes of Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller, Ernie Toshack et al.
His prowess did not go unnoticed. As the Aussie captain, Sir Don Bradman, once observed: “India has produced many attractive batsmen who can hold their heads high in any company, and of those I have seen none gave me more joy than Hazare.” They’re not mere words, but equivalent to winning the Nobel Prize in cricket.
Hazare was a gentle player — a gentler human being. His batting was all dignity. He was a fine, elegant player of the drive, and the pull, which is otherwise a rasping shot. He often executed the most blazing of shots with the cool precision of a surgeon. He also played the cut, the flick off his legs, and the delicate leg-glance with splendour. He could dissect any field set for him with computerised congruity.
A great batsman in the classical mould — there can’t be two opinions about his choice.
One of India’s greatest all-rounders ever, Kapil Dev had a love affair. With timber, his family’s way of life, vocation, and business. The inevitability was distinct. Instead of opting for a career in the yard, Dev was, quite simply, born to play cricket... knocking the timber out of the ground, with the red cherry — his own simple, but exhilarating tool.
Dev’s cricket was always an evolution of mind, from the basics to the compound, from the compound to the complex, from the reflex to tropism, and from tropism to the instinct. A cricketing natural, Dev was more than a sporting revelation: an epitome of the game’s conscious evolution, a new paradigm of competition, human enterprise, and excellence.
From a ‘tearaway’ rookie, he graduated to become one of cricket’s leading wicket-takers in Test history… among fast bowlers. His transition was smooth: he was conscious of his value to the side. So, he wisely compromised his speed for accuracy and change of pace — and he served India with distinction and honour for a long time.
Dev also never put his ‘weight,’ on his follow-through, on his ankles: the made-to-order shock-absorbers. This was, indeed, the secret of his longevity. He gave no respite to batsmen. The ball or bat, to Dev, was a bracelet, not just a weapon of destruction. He carried an elephant’s load on his strong shoulders, ipso facto, following the eclipse of India’s famous spin quartet. Not for nothing was he called ‘Haryana Hurricane:’ a veritable match-winner. A legend in the fast lane.
Dattu Phadkar combined pace and grace. He was a true workhorse — a never-say-die paceman. He had the ability to swing the ball late, either way, and he pumped into his piercing deliveries ‘that’ extra zip to wobble the best. He would have been the ideal foil to Kapil Dev, if only the two had played together. A fine all-rounder, Phadkar complemented his bowling role as a courageous, dependable bat in crises — much better, perhaps, than most of his ilk.
An all-rounder, with the right mix and the right spirit.
Prasanna, Bedi & Chandrasekhar
That the fabulous threesome held centre-stage, and shaped some of India’s most famous triumphs ever, was a class act — much more than hundreds of words put together. They are the high notes of cricket in all its glory — one that was proficiently moulded to work in unison and whir into profound activity by automatic orchestration.
Not that they were alike. Their styles were different; their objective to unsettling the ‘nerves’ of opposing batsmen ranged from one extreme to the other, or something in-between. While the crafty Prasanna, the Chopin of spin, would often go on a shopping-spree buying wickets, the prodigal Chandra loved to make his way through unqualified generosity, produce that unplayable ball from nowhere, and take his reward, as if it was his by right.
Bedi was, on the other hand, a wily ‘trickster,’ what with his subtle nuances. His deliveries bordered on accuracy: one that often forced the batsman to make judgmental errors, thanks to the volatile, colourful Sardar’s jugglery. But, there was something more: razor-sharp close-in fielding with the likes of Eknath Solkar, Syed Abid Ali, Ajit Wadekar, and Srinivas Venkataraghavan, that also contributed to the overall effectiveness of India’s spin bowling. This gave the trio the stunning edge just as well. A definitive framework; also difference.
Bedi was the only left-arm spinner in the side; and, as such, indispensable. He remained undisturbed throughout, notwithstanding his ‘brushes’ with the selectors, till the disastrous tour of Pakistan, in 1978-79, when his mastery and his colleagues’ magic suddenly went dry.
Chandra was, of course, spin bowling’s genius of a freak... till the day he hung his boots. He was the indisputable supremo of his art — all his own. Not a classical leggie in the fine sense of the term, Chandra was his own personal cursor and scanner. He made his own rules, and decisions. His art will remain his own — unsurpassed. A virtual match-winner, Chandra’s art began when imagination no longer existed... a scourge to batsmen — big, and small.
Whenever Chandra took the red cherry in his gifted hands, and walked up briskly to the top of his short bowling mark, and broke into his short, languid stride, and gave the final touches to his rhythm — a jerk... and completed his delivery, there would be an air of expectancy, a sense of deja vu in the batsman’s psyche and the spectators’ mind…
There won’t be another of their kind again to ‘power’ India’s winning edge.
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