The Dream Team: Here’s What Can Easily Be India’s All-Time Test XI
As Team India completes its 500th Test match with a spectacular win, there is no better time than this to look at India’s all-time Test XI.
India made its Test cricket debut in the year 1932, when it was still under colonial rule, under the leadership of C K Nayudu. Over the next 84 years, the Indian cricket team transformed itself from being one of the game’s minnows into its current status of being a powerhouse of the modern cricketing world – winning two one-day international (ODI) World Cups, a T20 World Cup and being ranked the top Test team in the world in the recent past.
Apart from being one of the world’s best teams on the cricketing field, India is also the major economic driver of the modern game. This has allowed it to become the de facto leader of the International Cricket Council (ICC), with almost every key decision made by the game’s governing body requiring a nod of approval from the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
The first of the Tests that India played recently against New Zealand in the ongoing bilateral series was also India’s 500th – a milestone in India’s glittering cricketing history. This is the perfect occasion to look at the very best who have donned the India whites in the Test arena. Here is the team, in the batting order.
1. Sunil Gavaskar
As any child of the 1970s and 1980s would tell you, Sunny, the original Great Wall of India, was the first Indian batsman to be counted as among the world’s best. On his Test debut – playing against what was probably the greatest team of all time, in their backyard – Gavaskar became the first Indian batsman to score over 700 runs in a series, knocking off 774 runs at an average of 154.80, setting a debut series record which no Indian has managed to cross till today.
But Sunny’s conquests did not end there. Over a glittering career of 16 years, Gavaskar scored 34 Test centuries and 10,122 Test runs – both world records at the time of his retirement. Strong in technique and blessed with spectacular mental strength, Gavaskar was the standard bearer of Indian batting for around two decades, inspiring countless Tendulkars and Dravids in their youth.
As Trinidad’s legendary Calypso singer ‘Lord Relator’ sung about him in the ‘Gavaskar Calypso’:
It was Gavaskar
The real master
Just like a wall
We couldn’t out Gavaskar at all
Not at all
You know the West Indies couldn’t out Gavaskar at all.
2. Virender Sehwag
There are those who will argue that Virender Sehwag was the greatest entertainer Indian cricket has ever seen – and they would mostly be right. No Indian batsman, not even Sachin Tendulkar, has been able to amass runs at the breathtaking pace that Sehwag did throughout his career.
Originally brought to the opening slot as a makeshift opener (one of Sourav Ganguly’s many genius moves as Captain), Sehwag’s freakish ability to destroy even the most daunting of bowling attacks with his uncomplicated stroke play, often within the first session of batting in Test matches, brought a certain fear factor into the Indian top order – a quality which it had lacked even during the heydays of Gavaskar.
And for the doubters, Sehwag’s aggression was no flash in the pan either. Sehwag owns four of the six top scores by an Indian in a Test match (the top three are entirely his). He is only one of four batsmen in the history of the game to cross 300 in a single innings twice. Averaging 49.34 in Test matches, he just misses the 50-average benchmark – the gold standard for Test batsmen.
Then again, the cricket of the Nawab of Najafgarh had never been as much about the numbers as it was about the unbridled joy he was able to spread across the world with his batting.
3. Rahul Dravid
Rahul ‘The Wall’ Dravid is, without a doubt, the greatest number three batsman India has ever produced. Had it not been for a certain Brian Charles Lara, Dravid could have even claimed the mantle of the greatest of the modern era in that position.
Technically perfect and blessed with unmatched levels of concentration, Dravid operated for over a decade as the ideal number three – holding the fort during tough sessions of play while using his elegant strokes to push the team’s cause when the challenges were blighted. A consummate team man and famously cerebral, Dravid was the ideal foil to Sachin Tendulkar, providing the Mumbai maestro with a solid foundation for his strokeplay.
A formidable match-winner in his own right, Dravid also served Sourav Ganguly – India’s greatest ever captain – as his redoubtable deputy before assuming leadership himself during the tumultuous Greg Chappell years.
4. Sachin Tendulkar
Not only is Tendulkar India’s greatest ever batsman, but he is also one of the nation’s most beloved sporting legends.
Making his debut as a 16-year-old against Pakistan, Tendulkar showed his potential early on with solid displays against a bowling attack which had Imran Khan, Abdul Qadir and a young Wasim Akram. Over the next 24 years, he broke almost every batting record there was, scoring over 34,000 international runs glittered with a hundred hundreds – records which may never be broken.
Solid in defence and explosive on the attack, Tendulkar had every shot in the book – yet what set him apart from his contemporaries was his unmatched shot selection coupled with his insatiable hunger for runs.
A World Cup winner in 2011, Tendulkar defined Indian cricket for the two decades that he played and will, along with his great rival Brian Lara, be remembered as one of two batsmen from the modern era who are also all-time greats of the game.
5. VVS Laxman
This was the toughest call of all to make. Viswanath, Ganguly, Hazare and Vengsarkar all have legitimate claims to this spot. Yet, one has to go with the wizard who played the greatest Innings in the history of Indian cricket.
Laxman was one of the most elegant stroke-makers India has ever produced – with an amazing ability to dismantle the fastest bowlers and the wiliest spinners with a flash of his wrists. He was never one of those assured of his spot in the Indian lineup – often sacrificed for the fifth bowler or the ‘flavour of the week’ promising youngster. Early on in his career, he was pushed to open the batting – a failure which scarred his records forever.
Yet, post his spectacular innings at Eden Gardens, Laxman transformed into one of India’s best crunch performers, repeatedly orchestrating close second innings victories for his team with an air of elegant ease – Laxman’s second innings average surpasses even that of Tendulkar’s and Dravid’s. It is for precisely this reason that Laxman beats other stalwarts to make a Very Very Special entry into the list.
6. Kapil Dev
As expected, India’s greatest ever all-rounder and best fast bowler walks into this team – the only man who could have conceivably beaten Sachin Tendulkar to be voted India’s Cricketer of the 20th Century (Fact).
His remarkable accuracy and ability to control the swing of the red ball allowed him to become India’s first genuine fast bowling match-winner, taking him to 434 international wickets in Tests – a world record at the time. An attacking lower order batsman, he struck the ball clean and with power, creating a captivating atmosphere whenever he was at the crease.
A charismatic leader on and off the pitch, Kapil will forever be remembered as the man who galvanised Indian cricket by leading his team to its first ever World Cup and setting the stage for the nation to become the cricketing behemoth it is today.
7. Mahendra Singh Dhoni (Wicket-Keeper)
This was not as easy a choice as one would have imagined. Both Farokh Engineer and Syed Kirmani provide MSD with considerable competition for the keeper’s slot. However, Dhoni’s superior batting average allows him to just edge out the charismatic Engineer.
Despite not being able to achieve his one-day levels of success in Tests, Dhoni has nevertheless been a solid presence behind the stumps for India. As a lower order batsman, Dhoni has played some spectacular innings in the Test arena, including classics against Pakistan in Pakistan and Australia in Chennai.
His explosive batting style, spectacular running between the wickets and calmness under pressure are just what the Indian lower order would need. Also, no Indian fan can resist the chance to see MSD and Kapil Dev tee-off together at 400/5 after this top order sets the stage.
8. Anil Kumble
The current Team India coach is also the nation’s greatest match-winning bowler ever. The Indian record holder with 619 Test wickets to his name, Kumble is also one of only two bowlers in the history of the game (other being Jim Laker) to have taken 10 wickets in an innings.
An untraditional legspinner, Kumble used his unerring accuracy and bounce rather than swerve and spin to become one of the most feared fourth-innings bowlers in modern history. During the nineties and noughties, it became run of the mill for Indian captains, while playing at home, to choose to bat first so that they could unleash a Kumble-led pressure cooker on visiting batsmen on the last day.
More often than not, Kumble came through for his skippers. All Indian captains since Azharuddin owe at least half of their Test wins to this soft-spoken giant.
9. Javagal Srinath
An ideal foil to the swing-centred Kapil Dev, Srinath is arguably India’s fastest ever bowler. On his day, Srinath was quick and deadly – hitting the deck hard and moving the ball in through a host of in-swingers and cutters.
After an average start to his career, he came into his own after the 1996 World Cup. Until his Test retirement in 2002, Srinath operated as India’s pace spearhead and combined with Venkatesh Prasad to form a formidable opening combination.
10. Zaheer Khan/B Chandrasekhar
Leave it to the captain to choose between these two depending on the conditions and the opposition.
Zaheer makes it to the list on the strength of his performances as India’s pace leader, espeically overseas, ever since Javagal Srinath left the international scene. Blessed with the ability to swing both the old and the new ball, Zaheer’s sheer drive to exploit any weakness in a batsman’s technique combined with his combative attitude made him one of the key players in India’s rise to the world’s number one ranking for Tests matches. In a career which could have been even better had it not been for injuries, he still managed to scalp 311 Test wickets – second only to Kapil Dev among India’s fast bowlers.
Bhagwath Chandrasekhar was one of the most intriguing and successful spinners India has ever produced. An unquestioned match-winner, especially abroad, Chandra bowled with his right hand – which bore the aftereffects of a childhood polio attack. The childhood tragedy didn’t seem to hamper him much as he used the arm to deliver a vast array of speedy leg breaks and googlies, sometimes – by his own admission – without even knowing what he was going to bowl next.
11. Bishan Singh Bedi
Some of the younger readers of this column might only know him as a ranting cricket analyst frequenting our primetime shoutathons. But during his heyday, Bedi was an offspinner like no other.
Jim Laker, who before Anil Kumble was the only bowler to take ten wickets in an innings, once described his idea of heaven as Ray Lindwall bowling from one end and Bedi from the other.
A master of deception, with a myriad of tricks up his sleeve – ranging from varying speeds, flights, loops and spin – Bedi was known a true ‘Sardar’ on the field. He never shirked away from an attacking batsman, once commenting that his response to an advancing batsman was to give the ball even more loop than usual.
A pity that his days after retirement never came close to matching his grandiose exploits on the field. Nevertheless, the original Turbanator edges his younger version, Harbhajan Singh, and becomes the last member of the eleven.
A pity that India’s greatest ever captain, Sourav Ganguly, just missed out on entering this list. On a lighter note, he has only himself to blame – promoting VVS Laxman to number three in that classic match at Eden Gardens, thereby launching Laxman’s career resurgence and his entry into our list.
MSD’s weak leadership in Test matches rules him out of the running while Tendulkar himself has stated that captaincy was not his cup of chai. Of the remaining players, Rahul Dravid stands out – with his extensive knowledge of the game, his cool head and statesmanlike demeanour. He is also perhaps the only man on this list – apart from Tendulkar – whom the others wouldn’t mind taking orders from.
This weekend issue cover image: Hash Milhan/Flickr
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