Despite the complete lack of cricket to watch, I’ve found this period of time to be quite conducive to random pondering and what ifs.
The first one is this: a hypothetical Test match of two teams made up of the best players from the world’s northern countries and southern countries.
Apart from the fun of picking the XIs, which I’ve done below, it popped into my head that this could be an interesting one-off match to actually organise, for whenever international sport is able to resume. There would be little pressure on the players to be at their absolute best after the long lay-off, yet fans from around the globe could find it relevant to them.
I deliberately haven’t called it southern hemisphere versus northern hemisphere because of a bit of cheeky fiddling I did to the definitions: I’ve included the West Indies in the southern team. This is just to balance numbers, otherwise it would be only three major Test-playing nations for the south (sorry Zimbabwe!) against five (apologies to Ireland and Afghanistan). I admit I’m skewing the equator a fair bit to squeeze the Windies in like this, but it makes this hypothetical much more fun.
So without further ado, here are my two XIs, and my reasons below.
Southern XI: David Warner, Tom Latham, Marnus Labuschagne, Steve Smith, Kane Williamson, BJ Watling, Jason Holder, Pat Cummins, Kagiso Rabada, Kyle Abbott, Nathan Lyon.
Northern XI: Rory Burns, Shan Masood, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Babar Azam, Ben Stokes, Kusal Perera, Ravindra Jadeja, Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Jasprit Bumrah.
Warner was an easy choice, and surprisingly so was Latham when you look at his recent stats. While he didn’t impress too much in the series against Australia, that was an aberration from his normal form – he averaged exactly 50 in 2019 and was a stubborn thorn in India’s side for their recent series.
Labuschagne, Smith and Williamson are obvious. Labuschagne nudged Williamson out of first drop due to his superior recent form.
For the keeper’s spot I picked Watling over the more hyped Quinton de Kock because for a long time he’s been the more invisible (and therefore proficient) keeper, and the more consistent batsman. He is fantastic at obdurately preserving his wicket and letting the quicker scoring batsmen do their thing.
Watling is batting at six because I’ve picked Jason Holder to bat at seven as the team’s all-rounder. He’s a very handy and occasionally damaging batsman, as well as one of the best bowlers in the world. His bowling really flies under the radar, but the stats show that his accurate out-swingers are seriously good – his ICC ranking of number three is no fluke.
Otherwise, the rest of the bowlers are no surprises, except perhaps Kyle Abbott. I’ve picked him because he is still an outstanding bowler, and for this special one-off Test match his Kolpak contract shouldn’t be relevant. He has simply torn up county cricket in the past couple of years.
This team has a different balance to it, and its selection issues were different too. The openers were harder to pick, simply because there weren’t the same stand-out performers. So I’ve gone a bit more speculative. Rory Burns, who may not have a large body of work, was impressive in the Ashes and has shown a Smith-like ability to embrace his weird technique and let it work for him. In 2019 he scored 824 runs at 45, a very creditable performance for an opener.
Shan Masood is admittedly even more speculative. He had a decent if not amazing 2019 (440 runs at 40), but I was impressed with his tour of Australia. His stats weren’t stunning but his technique looked solid and his temperament was sound, not letting himself get ruffled by short balls or edges. Two 50s and a lowest score of 19 shows that he was never overwhelmed. He might not go on with it, but I like him.
For the next batsmen we return to the blindingly obvious, with Pujara, Kohli and Babar Azam. While Babar might not have been as exceptional in Tests as in the white-ball formats, he’s still ridiculously good and is ranked number five for a reason. Ben Stokes is a similarly easy choice and provides a very good fifth bowling option.
The choice of wicketkeepers for the northern team was surprisingly poor. Rishabh Pant is not yet settled into Test cricket, neither Bangladesh nor Pakistan provide stars and England are torturing themselves by continuing to pick Jos Buttler for Tests. Kusal Perera is the best option – I’m not sure about his keeping but his batting has the potential to be match-winning, as South Africa well know.
Their bowlers are much easier to pick. Unfortunately I have to pick the English pace duo of Anderson and Broad. Although Bumrah wasn’t at his best in New Zealand I’d still pick him ahead of his compatriots or someone like Shaheen Shah Afridi, the closest competitors.
I went with Jadeja over Ravi Ashwin as the spinner because I am in awe of his accuracy, which makes him more dependable around the world, plus Ashwin’s form has dipped and Jadeja’s batting is seriously good. He scored exactly as many runs as Shan Masood at a better average of 60, and down at eight he’d have the freedom to either blaze or build.
In terms of who’d win, I’m leaning towards the Southern XI. Their shorter batting list is balanced by having more overall depth than the Northerners, and I feel the Southerners’ bowlers are slightly more adaptable.