With the T20 World Cup thrashing its way across India, it is apt to write about cricket. But I’ll cast my mind back 29 years to mid-March in 1987, when Sunil Gavaskar played his last Test innings. The match was at Bangalore, against the old foe — and India lost, falling short by 16 runs in pursuit of 221. Gavaskar made 96 on a pitch that was as venomous as a saffron sadhvi, one that transformed Pakistan’s journeymen spinners into twirling dervishes.
I remember that Gavaskar knock because it was gallant and patriotic, and played with the most perfect technique against the turning ball. In memory of that innings, I offer you the all-time Indian Test XI that I’d like to see play for my life.
I’d start with Gavaskar and Sehwag, who together form a platonically ideal opening pair, men of contrasting styles, both ravenous for runs. If Gavaskar saved more Tests for India than any batsman I can think of, Sehwag, arguably, won India the most. The two would be sword and shield, side by side.
At number three, I’d have Dravid, along with Gavaskar the most consequential batsman to have played for India. This is a man you’d want in the trenches with you: dedicated to his craft and courteous to a fault, he never gave anything less than his entire soul for India’s cause.
In this, he was not unlike Kohli, who’d be next in the batting order. Kohli is still an unfinished player — at least as a Test batsman — but by the time he retires, he’ll be in the Indian pantheon alongside Gavaskar and Dravid. He is a modern Indian, sometimes obnoxious; but we’re learning to live with his on-field ways. In truth, he brings India the pungent aggression that it has often lacked.
After Kohli comes the man I idolised as a boy: Gundappa Viswanath, an underrated genius who carried India on his shoulders for years, alongside Gavaskar. His batting was improbably beautiful for a man so squat, and so lugubrious. At his peak, he played fast bowling more strokefully than any Indian batsman of his generation.
At number six I’d pick Vinoo Mankad, a cussed professional whose place in history is rather unfairly guaranteed by his running out of Bill Brown in the Sydney Test in December 1947, when he removed the bails before delivering the ball as the batsman ventured down the track. Mankad was an accomplished batsman, and an orthodox slow left-armer of considerable guile.
Kapil Dev would follow him, another all-rounder — the best India has produced — who’d open the bowling and be counted on to cavort with the bat against a tiring opposition attack. He’d also be my captain, not Dhoni, who would, though, keep wickets, despite being far from the most accomplished Indian glove-man. But Dhoni’s destructive batting clinches his place in my side.
Which leaves me with three bowlers: Kumble, Harbhajan and Zaheer. The pace attack isn’t as incisive as I’d like, but that’s never been India’s strength. I pick two modern spinners over Bedi, Chandra and Prasanna, because their stats are better, as is their fielding. Watching Harbhajan bowl, however, would be an aesthetic torment. He’s no Prasanna, alas. But he has never played with a paunch.
You’ll notice there’s no Tendulkar in my XI. And that’s because I wouldn’t want him playing for my life. It’s hard to recall a Test that he won for India. He wouldn’t make a bad Twelfth Man, however.
And now, I shall seek police protection.