The IPL is right around the corner for all the cricket enthusiasts and the long wait is coming to an end for this stunning tournament.
My idea here is to form the strongest Indian XII picking up not more than one player from any Ranji Trophy team.
The Ranji Trophy is India’s main first class competition, and with 38 teams participating currently, it’s a much bigger event than the domestic first class competitions in other countries.
The event started in 1934-35 with Bombay lifting the trophy and starting their domination of the event. Due to a number of geo-political changes there were frequent changes in the participating teams for about 25 years. Teams like Holkar, Gwalior, Sindh, Northern Punjab or Eastern Punjab are no longer part of the tournament. It can be said the participants have seen only moderate changes since the 1960s.
Though it’s basically an inter-state event, some states have more than one representative. For example, Maharashtra has Mumbai (Bombay), Maharashtra and Vidarbha teams in the trophy. Neighbouring Gujarat also has three teams. Moreeover, there are teams like Railways and Services (Army).
Now to my team.
Vinoo Mankad (Nawanagar/Saurashtra)
For multiple reasons, it is highly appropriate that Vinoo is the first name in the list. Firstly, he was the architect of India’s first ever Test victory against England in Chennai. There he followed his 8-55 in the first innings with four more victims in the second. In fact, out of the 44 Tests that he played, India won five and he made significant contribution with both bat and ball in all of those.
Secondly, he was India’s first genuine all-rounder. He was a left-arm spinner and a right-hand bat who could open the innings if necessary. It was as an opener that he produced his highest Test score of 231, at Madras against NZ in early 1956, sharing a 413-run opening stand with Bengal’s Pankaj Roy. As for his bowling, he ended his Test career with 162 wickets – it remained an Indian record until 1976.
Thirdly, he was born in Jamnagar, also known as Nawanagar, the place in westernmost India, which has produced India’s first great cricketer, Ranji.
It was with Nawanagar that he won the Ranji Trophy in 1936-37. His 185 in the first innings helped his team beat Bengal in the final.
Following the independence of India, the Nawanagar state didn’t exist for too long. Now, the players from there play for Saurashtra, the current Ranji Trophy champions. Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja are the two stars of the current team.
Navjot Singh Sidhu (Punjab)
Sidhu was basically a right-hand number three bat, but the requirement of the Indian team meant that he often opened the innings.
Although he made his Test debut against the West Indies in 1983, he first announced himself in the international arena in the 1987 World Cup. In India’s first match of the event, he smashed 73 from 79 balls, with four fours and five sixes. He was especially harsh on the offie Peter Taylor, who finished with the figures of 5-0-46-1. It was the dismissal of Sidhu, bowled by Craig McDermott, that changed the course of the match.
Sidhu eventually became a highly reliable opening bat in ODI cricket, finishing with an average of 37. His Test average of 42 is also impressive, but he never showed his best in England or in Australia.
In the 1990 summer, when everyone in both sides was scoring freely in England, he scored 56 runs in five innings. Then in 1996, he returned early from the England tour early following an altercation with the skipper Mohammad Azharuddin.
VVS Laxman (Hyderabad)
Rahul Dravid (Karnataka) is generally recognised as India’s best ever number three, but I have allocated a bowler spot for the southern state. Vinoo’s presence rules out Pujara, so I have gone for this elegant right hander from Hyderabad.
The presence of Dravid in the Indian Test team meant that Laxman mostly batted down the order in Test matches. But his most famous innings came while batting at number three. His 281 against Australia saw India snatch victory form the jaws of defeat.
However, in the eyes of many people, including me, technically his best innings was at the SCG in January 2000. Opening the innings, never his natural position, and playing for a team with no confidence or form. He took on the Australian bowling attack of Glenn McGrath, Damien Fleming, Brett Lee and Shane Warne in the most glorious manner. His 167 from 198 balls was out of India’s meagre second innings score of 261. His innings included 21 glorious hits to the fence. It was his first Test hundred.
He certainly enjoyed batting against the Aussies – five of his seven top scores came against them. Surprisingly for a natural stroke maker, he never quite settled in the Indian ODI team, and never played in a World Cup.
Sachin Tendulkar (Bombay)
Given the great dominance of Bombay in the Ranji Trophy and their continuous production of international players (mostly in the batting department), it is a bit surprising that I only had two candidates from there: Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar.
It is clear that Bombay’s success isn’t based on the superstars or the international players – it is the depth of their talents that has served them well. Amol Muzumdar and Padmakar Shivalkar are two examples of highly successful first class cricketers from Bombay who never represented India in any official Test matches.
Out of the two candidates here, I selected Sachin. There isn’t much need to write about him. During his international career lasing for more than two decades he created all kinds of records, and at the same time entertained the crowds throughout the world greatly.
Virat Kohli (Delhi)
The team from the Indian capital territory became a major force in the 1970s under the leadership of Bishan Singh Bedi. Delhi’s golden era was from 1978-79 to 1991-92. During that period they appeared in 11 finals, winning six of those. While cricketers from different parts of northern India have often represented Delhi with some distinction, Kohli is very much a product of Delhi.
Kohli is a modern day sportsman, equally adept in smashing hundreds and in maintaining his media relations. After scoring another fine hundred in the day, he looks fresh and eager while facing the media in the evening.
Sourav Ganguly (Bengal)
For decades Bengal was the football capital of India. It has produced numerous top footballers of the country. Its contribution to cricket, though, is less impressive. Some of the better cricketers of Bengal like Arun Lal or Dilip Doshi were imports from outside.
Ganguly, however, is true Bengali. He is from Behala, a locality in south west Calcutta. Sourav, an elegant left hander, scored back-to-back to hundreds in his first two Tests in England and didn’t look back after that.
MS Dhoni (Bihar/Jharkhand)
MS Dhoni started his first class career representing Bihar in the Ranji Trophy and East Zone in the Duleep Trophy. After Bihar was divided in to two states, he started representing the Jharkhand team.
East Zone is not a traditional powerhouse of Indian cricket, and often players from the regions get their chance in the Indian team benefitting from the quota system. So when he got his chance in 2004, I thought he was yet another beneficiary of the system. But it took him only five ODIs to show me that I was wrong. His 148 from 123 balls against Pakistan at Vizag in 2005 heralded the arrival of a new star in India’s cricket horizon.
In his long international career, Dhoni has proved himself to be a top-class wicketkeeper, an unorthodox but effective bat, frequently thriving when the odds are against his team, and a shrewd and a successful captain.
Kapil Dev (Haryana)
This is another fairly obvious choice. Kapil came into the fore in the late 1970s as the cricket in Northern Zone was going through a resurgence.
In his debut Test at Faisalabad in 1978 the Pakistan openers Majid and Sadiq came out to bat without any helmets. In less than 15 minutes, Sadiq after facing Kapil asked for one from the dressing room. Sadiq, in the second innings, became his only victim in the match. Sixteen years later, at Hamilton in NZ, Adam Parore the Kiwi keeper became his 434th and final Test victim.
Apart from his wickets, he also scored more than 5000 runs in Tests with an average of 31. He never took his batting too seriously, and generally focused on entertaining the crowd. The Boxing Day Test of 1991 was a classic example. In the second innings he came out to bat with India facing defeat at 6-141. Showing no regard to the situation of the match, he nonchalantly lofted off spinner Peter Taylor for two massive sixes. But the entertainment didn’t last long as Bruce Reid had him caught behind. Those two sixes were his only scoring shots in the innings.
As an Indian captain, Kapil’s greatest moments came at Lord’s. First, in 1983 he led them to World Cup success, then in 1986 he led India to their first ever Test success at the Mecca of cricket.
In domestic cricket his biggest success was leading Haryana to their only Ranji title. In 1991 in a nail-biting final at the Wankhede, Haryana defeated Bombay by just two runs.
Ravi Ashwin (Tamil Nadu)
Off spinner Ashwin is the first truly great cricketer to come from Tamil Nadu, India’s southernmost state. Tamil Nadu, along with Karnataka and Hyderabad, are considered the powerhouses of south Indian cricket. But while Srinivas Venkataraghavan and Krish Srikkanth from TN had captained India, their Test records don’t put them in the list of world-class cricketers.
Two leg spinners, VV Kumar in the 1960s and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan in the 1980s, faded away after showing early promise. The reasons were different: Kumar due to the arrival of BS Chandrasekhar, and Shiva for his own lack of motivation and discipline.
After making his Test debut against the West Indies at Delhi in 2011, Ashwin has developed himself in to a consistent performer with both bat and ball. In fact, he can be considered as an all-rounder. After 71 Tests, he enjoys a bowling average of 25 and a batting average of 28.
Zaheer Khan (Baroda)
India’s premier left-arm seamer had successful stints in the Ranji Trophy with both Baroda and Bombay. Here he is picked as the representative of Baroda.
His average of almost 33 with the ball in Tests doesn’t look very impressive, but we have to consider the number of Tests he played in the sub-continent. He was quite effective with the old ball as well, with his ability to get reverse swing with the old ball.
Bhagwat Chandrasekhar (Karnataka)
Interestingly, selecting the Karnataka representative caused me my greatest headache. After emerging as a major power in Indian cricket in the late 1960s, the state has already produced seven world-class cricketers: two middle orders bats, a wicketkeeper, a fast bowler and three spinners.
I made an early decision to pick a bowler. Then Erapalli Prasanna and Javagal Srinath were eliminated by Ashwin and Zaheer Khan respectively, leaving me with the two leggies, Anil Kumble and Chandrasekhar.
Both have similar bowling averages: Kumble (29.65) to Chandra’s 29.74. Kumble of course took 619 wickets in comparison to Chandra’s 242, but while Kumble was often unplayable in Indian conditions, he didn’t enjoy the same level of success outside the subcontinent.
Mainly due to this fact, I have chosen Chandra ahead of Kumble. Chandra was the main architect of India’s first ever victories in both England and Australia, both coming in historic venues.
At the Oval in 1971, the home side took a first innings lead of 71, but their batting collapsed badly on the fourth day against Chandra, who took 6-38. India won the match by four wickets.
At the MCG during the 1977-78 season, India – already 2-0 down in the series – made a disastrous start with both the openers Gavaskar and Rajesh Chauhan perishing for ducks. But the middle order stood strong. Gavaskar redeemed himself, scoring a ton in the second innings and Chandra took 12-104 to ensure an easy victory for Bedi’s men.
Interestingly, no comparison can be made between the two regarding their batting. Kumble scored more than 2500 runs (average 17.77) with one Test century. Chandra managed only 167 runs in total – an average of just over four.
But I always like to see a genuine rabbit with the bat in every Test team. I enjoy their batting – too bad that they generally don’t stay at the wicket long enough. So Kumble’s better batting skills didn’t come into my consideration.
12th man: Vijay Hazare (Maharashtra)
While my decision to look for my 12th man from Maharashtra was somewhat arbitrary, there is no doubt that Hazare is worthy of his place. In fact, the Cricinfo experts selected him as the number five bat in the 20th century best Indian Test team, although I personally would have preferred Gundappa Viswanath from Karnataka.
His career was hampered by World War 2 and he was already 31 when he made his debut at Lord’s in June 1946. Nevertheless, he made most of the limited opportunities that came his way, scoring more 2000 runs (average 47.65) in 30 Tests. He enjoyed less success with his medium pacers, taking 20 wickets at 61 apiece.
His best batting display came at Adelaide in 1948. His 116 and 145 against a good Aussie attack wasn’t enough to avoid an innings defeat for his team, but it impressed the pundits immensely.
He was the captain of the Indian team, which achieved the historic win over England at Chennai in 1952. So I have started my team with the hero of India’s maiden Test success, and I have finished it with the captain who led them to that success.