Before anyone starts arguing about who should be in and who shouldn’t make it, I should first make the rules of my selection clear.
My idea is to produce the strongest possible team including a 12th man, selecting one and only one player from each Test-playing nation.
After fixing my ground rule, I looked for players who can be regarded as head and shoulders above their other countrymen in contributing to Test cricket as a whole.
I came up with a list of six: Sir Don Bradman (Australia), Sir Gary Sobers (West Indies), Sir Richard Hadlee (New Zealand), Imran Khan (Pakistan), Andy Flower (Zimbabwe) and Rashid Khan (Afghanistan).
These players became automatic selections in my team, and the rest of the team was built around them. I had to look for two openers, and with three all-rounders already in my squad, I decided not to include any more all-rounders. So the likes of Kapil Dev, Shakib Al Hasan or Ian Botham didn’t even come in to my consideration.
Sir Jack Hobbs (England)
Once I decided to select an opener from England, the choices became Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe and Len Hutton. All three are worthy of making the team.
In the end Hobbs got my vote, partly because with him making his Test debut in 1908, he would represent cricket’s golden age in my team.
Sunil Gavaskar (India)
In his 125 Tests, Gavaskar averaged over 51, while Sachin Tendulkar averaged 53 over 200 Tests. However, Tendulkar had certain advantages that Gavaskar didn’t enjoy.
Most importantly Tendulkar played most of his Test cricket in a strong and settled batting line-up. In contrast, in the first half of his career in the 1970s, Gavaskar was a part of a fragile-looking Indian batting line-up. He and his brother-in-law Gundappa Viswanath were the only quality top-order batsmen in the Indian Test team for most of the ’70s.
There was constant change in his opening partner. He had seven different opening partners in his first 16 Tests. And there would be about a dozen more before his retirement. And there was no regular number three until Dilip Vengsarkar established himself in the 1978-79 season.
In this scenario, Gavaskar’s achievements deserve special applause. Also, Gavaskar was born in 1949. He represented the new generation in Indian cricket. Growing up in an independent nation, he was a model for an Indian cricketer in the post-colonial era.
Sir Don Bradman (Australia)
When he ended his illustrious career in the summer of 1948, he held numerous cricket records. Some of these have been broken, some will be broken in the future. But one thing will never change: his name will always be associated with the most famous duck in the history of Test cricket.
Of course, he could have taken a cue from the father of the game and argued that the London crowd at the Oval had mainly come to see him bat. But he didn’t do so and returned to the pavilion with his bat for one last time.
Eric Hollies, the Warwickshire leggie, was the villain of the whole piece.
Graeme Pollock (South Africa)
During the 1970s and ’80s when South Africa was banned from Test cricket, I heard more about Pollock than any other South African cricketer. And, in my mind, he became a kind of mythical hero.
I believed that he was a batsman who had all the flairs of David Gower combined with the brutal strength of Clive Lloyd. And added to that, his temperament was excellent to the extent that even the Aussies failed to disturb him with their sledging.
Whether that was the case or not, I don’t know. In fact, it doesn’t matter to me.
I did see him bat once. In the mid 1990s he scored a hundred playing for the South Africa senior team. It would be more appropriate to say that he was allowed to score a ton – after all, this was mainly an exhibition event.
The good thing is that I don’t remember much from the innings. It’s always better to keep the mythical heroes away from the reality.
His Test career ended at the age of 26. In his 23 Tests he scored more than 2200 runs at an average of 60.97.
Andy Flower (Zimbabwe)
Here is another cricketer whose career was cut short by political influence.
After scoring a hundred against Sri Lanka in his ODI debut in the 1992 World Cup, he remained a regular member of Zimbabwe team for a decade. He was a fine opening bat in ODIs, and a capable wicketkeeper, but he was at his best as a middle-order batsman in Test cricket. In his 63 Tests, he scored almost 5000 runs with an average of 51.
Many people remember him most for his 269-run fourth-wicket stand with brother Grant in Harare in 1995, which led to an historic win against Pakistan. He also has a double ton in Tests, but his best effort came in Delhi in the spring of 1993.
His 115 and 62 not out against the Indian spinners wasn’t enough to avoid an innings defeat for his team, but it showed his class as a top-order batsman.
In my team he is picked as a specialist batsman.
Sir Gary Sobers (West Indies)
A superb left-hand batsman and a versatile left-arm bowler, Sobers is the greatest all-rounder the game has ever seen.
Many people often ask questions like how well Sobers might have settled in to T20 cricket, or what would have been his value in an IPL auction if he was playing with the current generation.
I personally feel that it was best that he played cricket in the pre-Kerry Packer era. He was a natural performer. He was a natural talent who often played the game in a carefree manner. Not that he couldn’t fight in tough situations, but even then he appeared to approach the situation in a manner that made people feel that he was playing in a village game.
Sobers is responsible for securing a permanent place in cricket history for Malcolm Nash from Glamorgan.
Imran Khan (Pakistan)
A hostile fast bowler in his youth, he developed into a great expert in the art of reverse swing later in his career. Besides, he was an aggressive batsman and a successful cricket captain.
Off the field, he was the heartthrob of millions of women worldwide, and now he has become a successful political leader. He is an all-rounder not just in cricket, but in real life also.
Like Graham Gooch, and unlike his great rival Ian Botham, he got better and better in cricket with growing age. He took over the captaincy of Pakistan in 1982 in somewhat controversial circumstances, but it eventually became a great move for the both the player and for his team. Under Imran, Pakistan were the only team in world cricket that could fight against the Windies on even terms.
In Faisalabad in 1986, he scored a defiant 61 against the Windies’ pace battery coming to the wicket at 5-37. Then in Georgetown in early 1988, he took 7-80 in perfect batting conditions with his reverse swing working perfectly for him. Both matches saw resounding victories for Pakistan.
Mushfiqur Rahman (Bangladesh)
Rahman was a teenager when he made his Test debut at Lord’s in 2005, playing as a specialist batsman. There was some confusion about his age – a common scenario with young debutants from South Asia – although Wisden wrote that he looked 12.
Fifteen years on, he still possesses the innocent smile of a boy – although his status as an international cricketer has grown a lot. He is a capable wicketkeeper and a middle-order batsman who can bat anywhere in the line-up. He is a vital member of the Tigers’ team.
He has scored almost 4500 runs in 70 Tests with an average of 36.
Sir Richard Hadlee (New Zealand)
When Richard Hadlee made his Test debut in early 1973, NZ were considered the weakest Test-playing nation. When he played his final match at Edgbaston in the summer of 1990, NZ were just ending the most successful era until then in their Test history.
Hadlee was the man mainly responsible for the transformation in NZ cricket. Coming from NZ, where cricket is not the national passion like in India, he didn’t receive the media attention like Tendulkar.
But he just quietly went along with his job, producing memorable performances, not only with the ball, but occasionally with the bat as well, one after the other.
He was the first Test bowler to take more than 400 Test wickets.
Rashid Khan (Afghanisan)
Thanks to the different T20 leagues in different parts of the world, Rashid Khan was a superstar even before he had made his Test debut. Although he struggled in his first Test against India in 2018, he has made significant contributions to Afghan victories over Ireland and Bangladesh.
So far, he has 23 wickets from four Tests at 21 apiece.
Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka)
In 133 Tests, Murali took exactly 800 wickets, and he had a remarkable tally of 22 ten-wicket hauls in Tests. Of course, he had his critics. In their view, his unusual (and in their opinion, illegal) delivery action gave him an unfair advantage.
Still, it is very difficult to ignore the stats, and he gets into my team on the back of the enormous volume of his Test match stats.
Tim Murtagh (Ireland) – 12th man
At Lord’s in July 2019, Tim Murtagh became the first Ireland cricketer to get his name in Lord’s honour board. His 5-13 restricted England to 85 all out and gave the Irish the early initiative in this historic match. Murtagh is also a capable left-hand batsman and has already scored a Test fifty against Afghanistan.