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All-time world cricket XI proves difficult to choose
Garfield Sobers stirred a minor controversy when he stated a preference for India’s Subhash Gupte ahead of Shane Warne in a mythical all-time World XI.
In an introduction to “In a League of their Own”, a recently released book in which 100 great cricketers select their ideal XI, Sobers said he found it too difficult to select his greatest team.
He leaves, though, no doubt about his personal philosophy, an uncompromising and thoroughly Caribbean commitment to attacking cricket.
Peter May, for example, is widely regarded as the finest English batsman since World War Two. To Sobers, his lack of a hook shot disqualifies him from the elite.
“People say he was a great player, but he couldnt hook; well how can he be a great player if he couldn’t hook?,” commented Sobers.
Geoff Boycott, who could and did hook in his prime, is also summarily dismissed. “Great players have to take good balls and turn them into bad balls, but Geoff never seemed to be able to do that.”
Then there is Warne, who was included with Sobers in the Wisden almanac’s greatest five cricketers of the 20th century.
“I have got my reservations about Shane,” said Sobers. “I think he is a great bowler, but I’m not sure how he compares with spinners overall.
“I think people get carried away with this man’s ability as he hardly ever bowled a good googly…in my estimation Subhash Gupte was a better leg-spinner.”
Richie Benaud, another great leg-spinner, has seen as much cricket as anybody ever.
In his autobiography “My Spin on Cricket”, he includes both Warne and Sobers in his team plus Wisden’s other three selections; Don Bradman, Jack Hobbs and Viv Richards.
Benaud’s team in batting order is: Jack Hobbs (England), Sunil Gavaskar (India), Don Bradman (Australia), Viv Richards (West Indies), Sachin Tendulkar (India), Garfield Sobers (West Indies), Imran Khan (Pakistan), Adam Gilchrist (Australia), Shane Warne (Australia), Dennis Lillee (Australia), Sydney Barnes (England).
The first prerequisite is balance. Benaud’s team has two fast bowlers in Imran and Lillee backed by Sobers who could bowl in any style. Then there is Barnes, who could swing, cut and spin the ball at medium pace and whose figures of 189 test wickets at 16.43 runs apiece are simply astonishing. Imran, Sobers and wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist are the all-rounders.
As a young man, Benaud saw Barnes, then 80, bowl the first ball of a match for the Minor Counties in 1953 which the batsman was forced to defend.
No one now alive could have seen W.G. Grace, the Englishman who invented modern batting, and both Benaud and the respondents to “In a League of their Own” confine their choices to the 20th century.
Using Benaud’s team as a template and broadening the debate to include Grace, a personal preference would be to include the great Victorian ahead of Tendulkar.
George Headley carried the fallible West Indies’ batting in the 1930s and averaged 60.83 in test cricket. He would win a place ahead of Richards.
Gilchrist was a uniquely destructive batsman and a splendid wicketkeeper, but a team this strong in batting can afford a superior keeper in the genuis of Alan Knott, who was also a quirkily effective batter. Lillee versus West Indian Malcolm Marshall would come down to a toss of a coin.
Reuters XI: Hobbs, Gavaskar, Bradman, Headley, Grace, Sobers, Imran, Knott, Warne, Lillee, Barnes.
PHOTO: Australia’s Shane Warne leaves the test arena for the last time after the fifth and final Ashes match against England at the Sydney Cricket Ground January 5, 2007. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne