Cricket in South Asia is practically a religion. Why a region has internalized love for what is a colonial legacy is an interesting and complex issue, and not the objective of this piece. This piece is a celebration of the fact that Cricket is a binder in our part of the world. Muslim or Hindu, Sikh or Parsi or anything else for that matter, these all fall into the background when the game is discussed. Cricket unites the region like nothing else; it is an instant ice breaker. We don’t bother to ask “do you like cricket?” it is a mute question. Rather the question is “who is your favourite player” or “are you watching the game?”
Indeed such is the association between Cricket and South Asia that it has become synonymous with it. It is the one sport linked to the region in people minds, and the one sport that unites the hearts of the region. With that in mind, I will put to paper that which is a regular point of discussion whenever two or more South Asian guys get together – what would be an all-time Asian XI?
I will start with ODIs and this form of the game finds greatest popularity amongst Asian cricket followers, with those who, like myself, much prefer the rigours of Test cricket a distinct (and shrinking!) minority. Anyway, for better or worse, I choose an X1. You will not agree, you may curse me, but I hope we can come together and celebrate that which we share – an undying love of leather on willow.
One day cricket makes unique demands on players. There is an emphasis on forcing the pace and attacking the bowling, luxuries of time are not inherent to the make-up of the format. Further, a team must have sufficient bowling reserves to be able to complete 50 quality overs. Allowing for an “off day” for a regular bowler, the team must have the safety valve of 1 or 2 sufficiently decent part time bowling options.
For my main line bowlers, I want wicket takers. Choking the runs is fine, but getting batsmen back in the shed is the best way to halt an innings. It’s an aggressive mind set and best suited to a team I am selecting. Of course, keeping a tight rein on runs and taking wickets is the ideal, but depleting the resources of the opposition is always a priority.
For the batting, I want a mix of lefties and righties to put opposing bowlers off their lines whenever possible, and to provide variation. This whilst meeting the criteria of a mix of classical constructors and flamboyant dashers to allow for perpetual momentum in the innings, yet with sufficient class to shepherd an innings to a competitive score – that is the remit when selecting a batting line-up. Further, my bowlers had better offer something with the bat; I can’t have a tail that starts at 8! Not when this team will be facing a hypothetical X1 from the “Rest of The World”.
Sachin Tendulkar. He needs no justification for his place. The best batsman Asia has ever produced and at worst the 2nd greatest ODI bat of all time (after Viv). In all conditions, against all attacks he has come up trumps. Technically he is unsurpassed and has an appetite and ability to score big. He is the rock atop the innings. Also offers useful mix of spin and medium pace.
Sanath Jayasuriya. A cricketing revolutionary, Jayasuriya rewrote the book on one day batting in 1996. He just pips Saeed Anwar to the 2nd opening slot. Brutally powerful southpaw, Jayasuriya is charged with providing the initial fireworks when the field is up. Add to that his more than useful spin bowling (over 300 wickets!) and you have a dynamic ODI cricketer.
Kumar Sangakkara – All class, Sangakkara is Sri Lanka’s greatest ever batsman. Confident in all conditions and technically sound, he is the ideal number three. At ease again pace or spin, an adept wicket keeper and a sharp mind, Kumar is an integral part of any Asian X1, test or ODIs.
Zaheer Abbass- In an era where one day cricket was in its infancy, Zaheer scored at a rate of 84 runs per 100 balls. A sublime technician and reliable scorer, his average of 47 (coupled with his strike rate) show he was ahead of his time in limited overs cricket. Can keep the score ticking smoothly and destroy any spinner or seam bowler who may come before him.
Yuvraj Singh – This may raise eyebrows, but Yuvraj has been picked specifically for this position. A devastating striker of the ball, he has the ability to score rapidly with a degree of reliability other fast scorers fail to offer. He would enter with a good platform provided by the technically correct and secure top order. A license to tee-off knowing if he fails, Dhoni and Imran (at 7) are there to arrest any slide. Brilliant fielder and useful spinner, Yuvraj has been instrumental in a superb era for Indian ODI cricket.
MS Dhoni (Wkt) – Utterly unshakeable. An ice cool customer, MS Dhoni is the finest finisher I have ever seen in coloured clothing. A moderate test player, he is lionized in colours and is an ideal number 6. Capable of floating up the order, no one is more suited to making sure run chases are seen to completion. Also, my 1st choice wicket keeper.
Imran Khan (Capt) – Needs no justification. Asia’s greatest ever cricketer. Outstanding fast bowler and a technically correct batsman capable of building an innings or blasting away. Inspirational captain who would get the best out of his players. Superior bowling and greater all round batting ability mean he is selected before Kapil Dev. The captain, the boss, can move up the order if need be. Indeed, usually batted in the top 6.
Wasim Akram – who would deny that Akram is both the greatest left arm quick ever and the greatest one day bowler of all time? 500 plus wickets at 23, mastery over new ball and old, to be given the new ball along with Imran. Capable batsman who can add a quick fire finish to an innings.
Waqar Younis – a pure wicket taker. In his pomp, Waqar combined extreme pace with late swing to destroy countless line ups. As his pace dropped, he added guile and control. As I seek wicket taking bowlers, he gets the nod before other all rounders who fail to offer his wicket taking ability. No one has more 5 wicket hauls in ODIs.
Saqlain Mushtaq – May surprise some, but Saqlain is arguably the best ODI bowler ever. A masterful ODI bowler, he invented the doosra and provides great economy and wicket taking ability. A superb bowler at the death of an innings, Saqlian’s record stand up to scrutiny.
Muttiah Muralitharan – A wizard. Murali is the greatest off spinner ever, and arguably the greatest bowler ever. Vicious turn coupled with unnerving control and presence. His guile coupled with Saqlian’s bag of tricks would undo many a fine batting line-up.
There it is, my all time Asian ODI eleven. Packed with quality batting and bowling, it was a hard task. One could easily pick a 2nd X1 of near equal quality, to leave out Javed Miandad, Saurav Ganguly, De Silva or Kapil Dev is never easy. But I feel the team chosen has all bases covered.
Imran is my captain with Sangakkara his deputy. Two thinking cricketers and a great brains trust to lead the side. It is composed of 5 Pakistanis, 3 Indians and 3 Sri Lankans. The selection is slightly skewed only by Pakistan’s historical near monopoly on world class pace bowlers amongst Asian teams, but conversely reflects India and Sri Lanka’s superior batting pedigree. This also reflects Pakistan’s superior head to head record against other Asian sides, suggesting it has been traditionally the strongest of the three proper Asian teams. Indeed with win percentages of 57.5 percent v India and 59.5 v Sri Lanka, the facts remain that Pakistan’s bowlers have forced selection.
So my fellow cricket aficionados tell me what you think.
In the coming weeks, I will pick an all time Asian Test X1 to stir more debate.