I posted a comment in a Roar article recently where I said that Adam Gilchrist would not make my all time XI.
I thought that maybe it actually deserves a full article to flesh that out a little bit more, and then explain who goes into my all time ODI XI. I know that suggesting Gilchrist and his immense talents don’t belong in any all time team is borderline sacrilege and is exceptionally controversial, but I stand by it.
Firstly, I want to state unequivocally that I rate Adam Gilchrist as the best Test wicketkeeper batsman of all time and is always a first three pick in any all-time test XI (Don Bradman and Shane Warne the other two). Adam Gilchrist is responsible for revolutionising the role of a wicketkeeper in both Test and ODI formats, and will always be acknowledged as that person.
That, in many ways, is the more prestigious honour than any naming in a hypothetical best XI.
There is nothing hypothetical about his reputation – he changed the game in a bigger way than other legends ever did. He’s more influential than a Bradman, a Brian Lara or a Warne. These three people were exceptionally talented at what they did, but cricket always had batsman and bowlers. They always had wicketkeepers. But they didn’t have keeper-batsman until Gilchrist came long.
Adam Gilchrist is Neil Armstrong. The first. Deservedly so, the first is always the fondly remembered and widely regarded. But Neil Armstrong didn’t spend the most time on the moon. Nor was his landing the best. His contribution to lunar scientific exploration was dwarfed by subsequent astronauts on future Apollo missions. The torch was passed. Gilchrist is no different.
My exclusion of Gilchrist comes down to trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Cricinfo a couple of years ago published its list of the top five ODI players of all time which listed Gilchrist, MS Dhoni, Viv Richards, Sachin Tendulkar and Wasim Akram. I completely agree.
Therein lay a small problem. A top five list was blessed with two wicketkeepers, a unprecedented achievement in its own right, but one of them will have to be omitted from a first XI.
A team can have multiple fast bowlers, multiple spinners, and multiple batsman, it can’t have multiple wicketkeepers. And despite that some teams can have players who could sub in and out of the gloves (like Brendon McCullum, AB DeVillers, Kumar Sangakkara and to a lesser extent Rahul Dravid) Adam Gilchrist played just five matches out of 287 where he wasn’t wearing the gloves.
Dhoni has never not been the wicketkeeper in 318 matches.
These two players are unequivocally full time wicketkeepers and thus only one can be picked in a team.
Gilchrist statistically has more catches, Dhoni has more stumpings (not surprising for either) and no one would say one was demonstrably better than the other either. You could argue that Gilchrist was a shade better with the gloves but both are clearly excellent keepers and neither had any question marks raised over their abilities with the gloves throughout their career.
So, we need to also remove their wicket keeping abilities and focus exclusively on their batting – the reason why both are in any top five discussion anyway.
Both Dhoni and Gilchrist excelled (or in Dhoni’s case continues to excel) in their entirely different batting roles. Gilchrist was a superb top order batsman, working perfectly with Mark Waugh and Matt Hayden to set up platforms for the likes of Ricky Ponting, Michael Clarke, Damien Martyn and Andrew Symonds to build on in the first innings, or making life easier for the middle order in the second innings by getting off to a flyer.
It’s no coincidence their period of complete ODI dominance was during the Gilchrist era.
MS Dhoni on the other hand is a superb finisher. An incredibly reliable bat in positions five and six ensuring that strong starts by the Indian top and upper middle order were capitalised on, but his real strength lay in shepherding India over the line in difficult targets.
Both Dhoni and Gilchrist produced their finest on the world stage, and coincidentally, both against Sri Lanka. Gilchrist ensured Sri Lanka weren’t going to win in the 2007 world cup final with a barnstorming century, easily his best of a very strong list.
Dhoni took the game away from Sri Lanka (when Sri Lanka had their nose in front) with an unbeaten 91 in the 2011 world cup final. Add the burden of captaincy for Dhoni with a billion people expecting victory to truly appreciate that innings.
Statistically, there isn’t much to separate them. Gilchrist batted 279 times for 9600 runs at almost 36. He passed fifty 71 times (16 hundreds in there) and hit at a surreal 96.94. It reinforces his reputation as a dashingly powerful opener.
Dhoni has had 272 innings for a shade under 10,000 at an unbelievable 51 average. He’s hit 77 50+ totals (10 centuries). Yes, he has many not outs, but that is expected for someone who has spent the bulk of his career at positions five and six.
It also reinforces his reputation as the best finisher in the game. Throughout his career, and despite his position and role, he’s maintained a very quick clop of 88.4. What is extraordinary it that these two wicketkeepers have batted almost a similar amount of times and have scored almost a similar amount of runs. Dhoni has scored centuries in positions 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 highlighting a his versatility with bat in hand.
So, when taking into account their roles, statistically it’s hard to separate them. We are still in the pickle of trying to pick only one of them. I can’t even say that one stood out more in teams of mediocrity either.
Both had the privilege of playing with some of the finest to play the game, and when they were at their peaks. Neither were starved of supporting talent.
So, how did I come to the conclusion that Dhoni should be in the team at the expense of Gilchrist? Two reasons.
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The first reason is that Dhoni was a captain. In 199 matches as captain he managed to maintain a 53.92 average, hit 53 fifties and took India from a competitive ODI team to a champion team that won the world cup. He took captaincy by the horns and handed the reigns to Kohli as the best ODI captain India ever had and finished with a record second only to Ponting as captain.
I go back to the 2011 world cup final. Sri Lanka posted a strong total. Dhoni made a ballsy call to promote himself up the order, knowing he’d cop it royal if it backfired. 91 runs and a game ending six later he’s upper cutting himself in the jaw for some weird reason. But he’s a world cup captain with a match defining captain’s knock to rival if not exceed Ponting’s in ’03.
Gilchrist didn’t have the burden of full time captaincy and although was a senior and respected leader of the Australian team, he wasn’t the one calling the shots.
The second reason? We have one opener and one finisher. I went with the finisher. Here’s why.
Gilchrist is one of many excellent ODI openers. However, Gilchrist did not invent rapid starts to an innings (that was indisputably Sanath Jayasuriya and Kaluwitharane and why Sri Lanka won the 1996 world cup), nor does he have the record that other openers have.
He may have become one of the best openers in the game, but he wasn’t the best during his era (Tendulkar was still leaps and bounds better) and ultimately other people have since become better than him. Gilchrist had a scintillating strike rate to compensate for a decent average. Others had better averages and scoring abilities but were slower by comparison.
Clearly Sachin Tendulkar takes one spot. For me, the other spot has to go to Hashim Amla. He quietly and calmly destroys teams in the first ten overs of an innings. Secondly, he didn’t have the same generous field restrictions Gilchrist had.
Gilchrist played the majority of his ODI career where only two people were allowed outside the circle in the first 15 overs. Amla has played his career in an era where you only get ten overs of that.
While a lot of well-deserved praise goes to Virat Kohli (where if the cricinfo article was written today, Kohli would undoubtedly be on that list) for his exploits, and the smashing of Tendulkar’s records one by one, Amla silently and calmly is breaking all of Kohli’s. And not just breaking them, he’s putting such large margins on them, it will be hard to think they could be broken again.
At the end of the day, I looked at one opener who averaged 36 and was hitting at 96, against an opener who averages over 50 and strikes at 89. A 50 average as an opener in ODI cricket is just insane and can’t be ignored.
Amla has hit 26 centuries and will likely finish behind only Tendulkar and Kohli on that list. Amla also happens to go like the wind in the opening ten overs before slowing down when the fielders get to go outside the circle. He just doesn’t do it with the same visual destruction as others.
MS Dhoni, much like Gilchrist, didn’t invent the role of designated finisher, that was arguably invented (or at least defined) by Michael Bevan. But there is really no one else who could assume Dhoni’s spot at 6. The only other people I could think of as the perfect finishers were Bevan and Michael Hussey. Both Bevan and Dhoni have 50+ averages, both have a heck of a lot of not-outs meaning they performed their role perfectly, but Dhoni just did it quicker. Striking at 89 is much better than 74. Hussey was no slouch, he would hit at 87, and averaged 48.
But what Dhoni has is that little bit extra. He also has the ability to step it up in a first innings and clear the fence at will – something a Michael Bevan, or a Mike Hussey couldn’t do.
Each of these three batsman could be depended upon to shepherd a team home, but of those three, only Dhoni could do what few else can – hit a straight six at Adelaide 18 rows over the fence. It seems harsh to say this, because Bevan in both world cup victories never got to bat in a final, but Dhoni did and it was remarkable.
The rest of the team sort of selects itself.
Amla – as discussed. Proof that you don’t need it to be raining sixes to be just as effective and quick.
Tendulkar – obviously.
Kohli – He’s better than Tendulkar now. He’s also the finest chaser the game has ever seen.
Richards – Still the greatest. Leaps and bounds better than any of his contemporaries, and an average that is worth 60 in the modern game and would probably strike at well over 100 too. Still not sure whether cricket is poorer or better for him not having David Warner’s cricket bat in his hands.
De Villers – His strength lies not with building an innings, but with destroying the morale of a team with a good platform. His success is due to Amla building a solid platform for him to then give him the freedom to swing. A true pairing if there ever was one.
Dhoni – As discussed.
Akram – Best ODI bowler of all time. Liked to swing the blade like a nine iron for some lusty lower order blows too.
Warne – As devastating in ODIs as he was in Tests.
McGrath – Unplayable in ODIs. We’ll rightly remember his Tests better, but he was seriously awesome at ODIs too. Not too many batsman can say that they had his measure.
Muralitharan – Holds many records, won many more games. Hard to ignore.
Shane Bond – an out there pick, but he was seriously good. Exceptionally fast, almost always on top of the batsman, saved his best for Australia at their peak as well. Injuries robbed him and us of much more joy.
That said, I’d also be happy with Waqar Younis in place of Shane Bond if people think his career was too short to be credited with an all time jumper.
I don’t believe in all-rounders. I think when you are picking a best XI, you wouldn’t need one. Presumably you have to make an assumption you are picking players in a hypothetical team, you pick them to perform as close to their reputations or statistics would suggest they would.
I accept the omission of Gilchrist is controversial. I think I’ve put up some decent reasons as to why I went the way I did.
I accept people will almost certainly disagree, and I absolutely want to hear your reasons why you think I’m wrong. But, I only ask that if you disagree, you back it up with reason driven passion, not patriotism driven passion.
I don’t want to pretend that I have insight into the mind of Gilchrist, but if I was him, I would always prefer my legacy as an epochal figure of the game rather than a placement in a hypothetical team. He’ll always have that over Dhoni or any subsequent keeper-batsman.