Monday, February 26, 2007

Selecting an All-time Twenty20 World XI

Mathew Varghese

The enchanting beauty of Test cricket cannot be denied; but it is the shorter version of the game that needs a rethink. The initial opposition to the Twenty20 format was reminiscent of the ‘traditional thinkers’ viewpoint when one-day cricket was introduced in the 1970s. India too has only recently woken up considering that the Twenty20 World Championship to be held next year in South Africa.

The modern-day game has produced many a great player; and the opponents of One-Day Internationals (ODIs) criticise the instant superstardom that is bestowed on seemingly average players. Keeping these ‘stars’ in mind, I would like to undertake the task of selecting an All-time Twenty20 World XI. For ease of comparison and recall, only those who have played ODIs have been considered. In addition, the lay reader may also find that I may be a bit biased towards players of recent time; partly due to the fact that I have only watched live cricket for a decade and a half.

Lets begin with the selection process. Even a Twenty20 game cannot do without a wicket-keeper. Adam Gilchrist is the easiest pick in this team; the Australian glovesman may have made it to this side only for his batting prowess. However, one should not undermine his ‘keeping abilities as he has stood behind the stumps to Brett Lee and Shane Warne with equal ease. Next up would be another southpaw and the only pick from Sri Lanka, Sanath Jayasuriya. His aggressive batting -some accused him of using steel in his bats- and economical bowling helped Sri Lanka win the 1996 World Cup. An ODI batting strike rate of 89.92 and an economy rate of 4.76 - exceptional considering he bowls at the death - makes the man from Matara the choice any Indian fan would vouch for; India bowlers having suffered when he made his highest score in both ODIs and Tests.

Although in Twenty20, scoring at a fast pace is vital; ones needs class performers to do the job. There cannot be talk of a World ODI batting line-up without the likes of Sir Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar. Sir Viv was by far the perhaps most feared batsman in the history of the game, an astounding ODI average of 47 per innings at a strike rate of 90.20. Tendulkar might be a choice some might be sceptical of; considering his current form. Also one can question if Sachin needs to be put into a game that thrives on big hits. My defence is that Tendulkar is one of the most adaptive players in the game; and anyone not convinced enough could watch old tapes of Warne and Shoaib Akhtar being toyed around with at Sharjah in 1998 and at Centurion during the 2003 World Cup respectively. These two batsmen are also handy bowlers; both even having picked five-fors twice in their career. Richards was no mean soul on the field too; one can instantly recall his three run-outs in the World Cup final of 1975.

The following two players on the team are current generation superstars. Michael Hussey and Kevin Pietersen top the all-time ODI career batting averages chart; Hussey’s phenomenal batting average of 77.41 coming at a strike rate of 94.22, while Pietersen’s more mortal average of 55.55 made a touch faster at a strike rate of 95.17. Pietersen is one of the cleanest hitters of the ball in the game today; while Hussey’s strike rate may come as a surprise as he is often compared to a fellow Australian left-hander Bevan, with whom he also shares his first name. Bevan was more of a nudge and run player, but Huseey can play the big shots as well.

Coming to all-rounders, after a lot of deliberation I zoned in on Andrew Flintoff and Lance Klusener. ‘Freddie’ Flintoff, a big-hearted Englishman, takes the advantage of his height to bowl in the yorkers or to cramp up the batsman with the short-pitched stuff. The big man can blast a few out of the park as well; his 2703 ODI runs coming in at an average of 33.37 and a strike rate of 88.65. Klusener, on the other hand, is more of a batsman; but when at full fitness he did bowl in his full quota for the Proteas. The ‘Player of the Series’ of the 1999 World Cup is maybe the most successful player when chasing under pressure, though he may have failed to help South Africa win that semi-final against Australia in what definitely was the most exciting match in World Cup folklore.

Since we have enough bowling resources from the players selected above, it might seem futile to choose bowlers for the remaining three slots. However, picking up wickets and not just containing runs will prove crucial in the Twenty20 game as well. My three bowlers for the job are Allan Donald, Wasim Akram and a risky choice perhaps, Saqlain Mushtaq. Donald, ‘the White Lightning’ from South Africa, has a career bowling strike rate of a wicket every 31.4 balls at an economy rate of 4.15. Donald was South Africa’s top bowler till the likes of Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini came in and has performed exceptionally well even on the flat pitches of the sub-continent. Wasim Akram adds variety being a left-armer; but is also maybe the best ever ODI bowler. Akram could bowl almost every delivery possible and was even more effective with his shorter run-up, bowl swinging yorkers at some pace. Akram could chip in with the bat as well; while Donald is your typical No.11.

Saqlain Mushtaq is the lone specialist spinner in the side, and has been picked ahead of formidable counterparts such as Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan due to the his ability to bowl at the death and a better career bowling average and strike rate. For 12th man, we could pick a great fielder like Jonty Rhodes or Ricky Ponting, but I will rather choose Andrew Symonds as he is powerful striker of the ball and regularly rolls his arm over apart from his brilliance in the outfield.

The captain’s post is unquestionable. Sir Viv ruled on the cricketing field; and he is the surely leads by example on the field. Half the match would be won by the sheer fear created by Richards walking in to the crease. Also he could be handy if the fielding captain has to interact with the television commentators. The coach would be Bob Woolmer; who would have fun toying around with these phenomenal cricketers; though I am sure he would get a earful if he even dare try the famous ‘earpiece experiment’ with Richards a la Cronje in the 1999 World Cup.

The side: IVA Richards (captain), A Gilchrist (wk), S Jayasuriya, S Tendulkar, M Hussey, K Pietersen, L Klusener, A Flintoff, W Akram, S Mushtaq, A Donald.
12th man: A Symonds.
Coach: Bob Woolmer.
Any suggestions or want to submit your team? Please feel free to put in a comment.

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