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The All Time XI for India

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8th June, 2024
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India’s first Test was in 1932, and in the past 40 years have generally been at the forefront of cricketing innovation – embracing One Day cricket after the 1983 World Cup, creating the IPL, and generally dictating the direction of the game.

The current era is India’s most successful, but there are periods gone by where they were also a tricky proposition.

As with New Zealand, I have split the 2000s and 2010s such that the eras covered for this team are: 1929-39, 1940-49, 1950-59, 1960-69, 1970-79, 1980-89, 1990-99, 2000-04, 2005-09, 2010-14, 2015-19.

2005-09

Virender Sehwag
40 Tests, 3630 runs @ 53.38, 27 wkts @ 36.22

One of the first “see ball, hit ball” openers, Virender Sehwag didn’t so much see the shine off the new ball as much as clatter it off himself.

By the time the second half of the 2000s rolled around, Sehwag had established himself as one of the most fearsome hitters of a cricket ball, scoring 309 against Pakistan in Multan off just 375 balls.

The second half of the decade would see him go one better – the fastest triple century in Test cricket came against South Africa when he scored 319 off 304 balls in Chennai in 2008.

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The following year he almost topped himself again, being dismissed just seven runs short of a record third Test triple; his 293 runs took only 254 balls.

Although Sehwag’s footwork was occasionally lacking, his lightning reflexes and bat speed made up for the difference.

Such a boom or bust approach naturally lent itself to inconsistency; against Pakistan in 2005/06 he scored 254 in one innings and a total of 40 runs in three others.

The series against South Africa in which he scored 319 saw only 53 runs in four other innings), but frequently Sehwag would set India on course for a big total in combination with those listed as Honourable Mentions below.

His off-spin bowling was a handy option, most effective against the West Indies in 2006 where he took nine wickets at an average of 23.22.

Honourable Mentions:
Rahul Dravid: 50 Tests. 3870 runs @ 48.37
VVS Laxman: 47 Tests, 3122 runs @ 48.78
Sachin Tendulkar: 42 Tests, 3091 runs @ 47.55, 8 wkts @ 74.62
MS Dhoni: 40 Tests, 2176 runs @ 40.29, 102 catches, 18 stumpings
Anil Kumble: 40 Tests, 956 runs @ 20.78, 175 wkts @ 34.19

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1970-79

Sunil Gavaskar
60 Tests, 5647 runs @ 55.91, 1 wkts @ 134.00

In direct contrast to Virender Sehwag’s aggressive approach, India’s first great opening batter Sunil Gavaskar’s most (in)famous innings is the 36 not out off 174 balls in the 1975 World Cup.

In Test cricket, Gavaskar’s limitless concentration and nearly flawless defence laid the bedrock for India’s progression to cricketing power.

His first series saw a record 774 runs at 154.80, including four centuries, to inspire India to a famous 1-0 win over the West Indies.

Gavaskar struggled somewhat for the next few years, before hitting his straps against New Zealand in 1975/76 – in nine consecutive series he scored at least one century, his lowest series average in this period a respectable 39.40 against England in 1976/77.

Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev on tour with the Indian cricket team in 1986

Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev on tour with the Indian cricket team in 1986. (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)

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Captaincy only improved his figures – in 17 Tests as skipper, he averaged 65.95 and scored 7 of his 22 centuries compared with 15 centuries from 42 Tests not in charge.

The highest innings Gavaskar played in the 1970s stood as an almost matchwinning effort – with India down 1-0 against England in 1979 and facing a record target of 438 in the final Test of the series, Gavaskar scored a mighty 221 to bring India to the brink. But the team couldn’t quite finish the job.

Gavaskar continued throughout the 1980s atop the Indian batting order, eventually signing off as the first player to cross the 10,000-run milestone.

Honourable Mentions:
Gundappa Viswanath: 62 Tests, 4611 runs @ 46.11
Bishan Bedi: 48 Tests, 196 wkts @ 29.79
Bhagwat Chandrasekhar: 42 Tests, 180 wkts @ 29.20

2000-04

Rahul Dravid
52 Tests, 4665 runs @ 63.04, 1 wkt @ 33.00

Very rarely does a nickname sum up a player as well as ‘The Wall’ did Rahul Dravid.

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Technically sound and with an impregnable defence, Dravid was the rock around which players such as Virender Sehwag were able to attack with impunity.

By 2000 he had already scored six Test centuries and averaged nearly 50 across 34 matches, but he soon elevated his level even higher.

Statistically, his best effort was an average of 432 in a two-Test series against Zimbabwe, but his finest efforts came in concert with VVS Laxman against Australia.

First 180 in Eden Gardens to help set up only the third-ever Test to be won after following on, before a 233 in the first innings to fight back against a total of 556. Then an unbeaten 72 to guide a tricky chase of 230.

Dravid scored three straight centuries against England in 2002 and compiled a career-best 270 against Pakistan in Rawalpindi in 2004 before becoming one of Imran Farhat’s three Test wickets.

Against all opponents, bar South Africa, Dravid averaged over 47 in this period, and he continued to be a stalwart of the Indian lineup until his retirement in 2012.

Honourable Mentions:
Sachin Tendulkar: 47 Tests, 4038 runs @ 58.52, 23 wkts @ 52.86
VVS Laxman: 45 Tests, 3169 runs @ 51.11
Virender Sehwag: 31 Tests, 2535 runs @ 51.73, 3 wkts @ 111.33
Harbhajan Singh: 35 Tests, 664 runs @ 15.09 168 wkts @ 26.57
Anil Kumble: 34 Tests, 471 runs @ 13.85, 180 wkts @ 27.94

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1990-99

Sachin Tendulkar
69 Tests, 5626 runs @ 58.00, 13 wkts @ 35.38

No cricketer has been hero-worshipped to the extent Sachin Tendulkar has been treated in India.

A rapaciously talented batter, Tendulkar held the hopes of a nation on his shoulders and more often than not carried the burden ably.

Tendulkar’s first century was an undefeated 119 at Manchester in 1990 aged just 17 to save the match, having entered at 4/109.

He really captured imaginations during the 1991/92 series against Australia with an unbeaten 148 in Sydney (Shane Warne’s debut, no less) and a sparkling 114 in Perth.

Throughout the decade Tendulkar’s appetite for runs was unabated, averaging over 40 in 17 of 21 Test series played in this period; and over 100 in four of those.

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Against all comers barring South Africa, Pakistan and Zimbabwe (only three Tests against the latter two countries each), Tendulkar averaged at least 58 throughout the 1990s, topping 80 against both England and Sri Lanka.

His best series was in 1997/98 against Australia, scoring 155* to overturn a first-innings deficit of 71 in Chennai and then 177 in Eden Gardens.

No less a judge than Don Bradman considered Tendulkar to be the closest analogue to Bradman himself since his retirement in 1948; much like Bradman’s 99.94 average, Tendulkar’s 100 international centuries seems certain to be a mark that will last forever.

Honourable Mentions:
Mohammad Azharuddin: 64 Tests, 3880 runs @ 44.09
Anil Kumble: 58 Tests, 1078 runs @ 17.68, 264 wkts @ 27.80
Javagal Srinath: 43 Tests, 771 runs @ 16.76, 162 wkts @ 30.19

2015-19

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Virat Kohli
52 Tests, 4848 runs @ 62.15

Sachin Tendulkar retired from Test cricket in 2013, by which time Virat Kohli had started to cement his place as the next great Indian batter.

Ambitious and dedicated to continuous improvement, Kohli became one of the four preeminent Test batters in the second half of the decade alongside Steve Smith, Joe Root, and Kane Williamson.

Beginning as he meant to go on with 147 in Sydney, 18 of his 29 centuries were scored in this five-year stretch, including seven double centuries.

He was more effective at home than away, averaging 77.11 in India compared with 49.97 away from home. In four series Kohli averaged over 100, as India won nine straight series between 2015 and 2017/18.

Virat Kohli of India celebrates after scoring his century.

Virat Kohli of India celebrates after scoring his century. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

His highest score was an unbeaten 254 in Pune to set up an innings victory over South Africa in 2019, and he continues to lead India as they push for a first World Test Championship.

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As with Tendulkar, Kohli’s Test performances are only a small part of his legend, averaging nearly 60 in ODIs and lifting that to 65 when chasing a total.

Honourable Mentions:
Cheteshwar Pujara: 48 Tests, 3667 runs @ 50.93
Ravindra Jadeja: 36 Tests, 1480 runs @ 42.28, 166 wkts @ 23.09
Wriddiman Saha: 34 Tests, 1126 runs @ 32.17, 88 catches, 11 stumpings
Ravichandran Ashwin: 47 Tests, 1429 runs @ 25.07, 248 wkts @ 23.30
Mohammed Shami: 36 Tests, 134 wkts @ 23.79

1940-49

Vijay Hazare
13 Tests, 1095 runs @ 49.77, 11 wkts @ 74.54

India’s first great Test batter, Vijay Hazare took on the role of backbone with aplomb, becoming the first Indian to score 1000 and 2000 Test runs, as well as the first to score two centuries in one match, with 116 and 145 against Bradman’s Australians in 1947/48.

This wasn’t enough to stave off an innings defeat, but Hazare did his reputation no harm by leading India’s runscorers in the series before heading the team averages in the 1948/49 series against the West Indies.

His two centuries in the latter series staved off defeat at Brabourne when India followed on, and almost saw India chase a fourth innings total of 361 – the match closed with India 8/355.

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Later in his career, Hazare was elevated to the captaincy and led India to their first Test win, defeating England by an innings in 1951/52.

Honourable Mention:
Rusi Modi: 8 Tests, 697 runs @ 49.78
Dattu Phadkar: 8 Tests, 554 runs @ 46.16, 22 wkts @ 30.22

2010-14

MS Dhoni (Wicketkeeper)
50 Tests, 2700 runs @ 36.48, 154 catches, 20 stumpings

Mahendra Singh Dhoni is best known for his exploits in the coloured clothing, whether it be the blue of India or the yellow of Chennai Super Kings, but that shouldn’t overshadow his role as one of India’s finest Test keepers over a decade.

Having been elevated to the captaincy in 2008, Dhoni was an inspirational leader no matter the format – always ready with an impish inning to help dig the team out of trouble if need be or hammer home an advantage.

His highest Test score was 224 in the first match of Australia’s tour of 2012/13 to set up a victory leading to a 4-0 whitewash, and he fought ably if futilely during India’s tour of England in 2014, scoring four half-centuries in ten innings but being unable to avert a 3-1 series defeat.

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With the gloves, Dhoni effected 1.91 dismissals an innings, with his best match effort coming in his final match – nine dismissals in Melbourne in 2014 followed by an unbeaten 24 to help see India to safety after slumping to 3/19 with only two sessions to bat out.

Honourable Mentions:
Sachin Tendulkar: 38 Tests, 2951 runs @ 50.01, 2 wkts @ 97.00
Ravichandran Ashwin: 23 Tests, 956 runs @ 36.76, 114 wkts @ 29.85

India's MS Dhoni bats.

India’s MS Dhoni. (AP Photo/David Rowland)

1980-89

Kapil Dev (Captain)
80 Tests, 3353 runs @ 30.76, 272 wkts @ 29.54

One of the four great all-rounders of the 1980s, Kapil Dev carried India on his back as their finest fast bowler of that time, a hard-hitting lower-order bat and an inspiring leader.

While his most famous innings and defining moment both came in the 1983 World Cup, with the whites on Dev was a talisman and helped produce some fighting efforts.

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His finest series with the ball was 29 wickets at 18.51 against the West Indies in 1983/84 (not enough to avert a 3-0 defeat from six Tests), including a career-best 9/83 bowling unchanged in Ahmedabad for 30.3 overs.

His highest score of 163 came against Sri Lanka in a high-scoring draw. Interestingly, Dev’s contribution to the Tied Test series was almost immaterial after a first-innings century – he took no wickets in all three Tests and did not bat in the second and third matches.

The West Indies were Dev’s favourite opponent with the ball, taking 72 wickets at an average of 22.98 across the decade, while England saw him average 47.09 with the bat, including an average of 46.62 in England.

Dev retired in 1994 having just made his way past Richard Hadlee’s record 431 Test wickets, ending with 434.

Honourable Mentions:
Sunil Gavaskar: 65 Tests, 4475 runs @ 46.13
Dilip Vengsarkar: 71 Tests, 4501 runs @ 46.88

1950-59

Vinoo Mankad
31 Tests, 1536 runs @ 35.72, 122 wkts @ 29.26

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Vinoo Mankad was India’s first great allrounder. A disciplined left-arm orthodox bowler, he conceded less than two runs an over in the 1950s, averaging less than 30 against all opponents except the West Indies.

India’s first-ever Test victory came in no small part due to Mankad’s 12/108 at Chennai, resulting in a drawn series in which he averaged 31.85 with the bat and 16.79 across 34 wickets.

His finest all-round match was at Lords in 1952 – top scoring with 72 out of 235, Mankad bowled 72 overs in taking 5/196 before opening the batting and scoring an incredible 184 to at least force England to bat again. At this point, he bowled another 24 overs straight in a futile attempt at victory.

Against New Zealand in 1955/56, Mankad scored two double centuries – his career-best 231 part of a then-record 413-run opening stand with Pankaj Roy (it is still the second-highest opening Test partnership in history).

Mankad’s Test career ended in some acrimony, with partisan concerns derailing India’s selections during the series against West Indies in 1958/59.

Honourable Mentions:
Polly Umrigar: 43 Tests, 2520 runs @ 39.37, 18 wkts @ 43.11
Subhash Gupte: 31 Tests, 134 wkts @ 29.12

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1930-39

Amar Singh
7 Tests, 292 runs @ 22.46, 28 wkts @ 30.64

Selection for India in the 1930s was often at a whim; for instance, Baqa Jilani’s only test came about after he insulted CK Nayudu at breakfast on the day of the Oval Test beginning in 1936 – Nayudu and captain Maharajah of Vizianagram were no fans of each other.

One player whose place was never questioned, however, was Amar Singh, India’s first great fast bowler.

With unrelenting stamina and an ability to move the ball off the pitch alarmingly – Wally Hammond described it as “coming off the pitch like the crack of doom”.

Singh shared a strong bowling partnership with Mohammad Nissar in the 1930s and took India’s best innings figured of 7/86 in Chennai in 1934.

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No mug with the bat either, he scored 51 on debut at Lords in 1932 and passed 40 on three other occasions, being dismissed in single figures only four times in fourteen innings.

As late as 1970, Sir Len Hutton claimed that no bowler currently playing was Singh’s equal – thirty years after Singh’s untimely passing from typhoid.

Honourable Mentions:
Vijay Merchant: 6 Tests, 460 runs @ 38.33
Mohammad Nissar: 6 Tests, 25 wkts @ 28.28

1960-69

Erapalli Prasanna
22 Tests, 362 runs @ 11.31, 113 wkts @ 27.05

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the fabled Indian spin quartet of Bedi, Chandrasekhar, Venkataraghavan, and Erapalli Prasanna all arrive on the scene to tantalise opposing batters and crowds alike.

Prasanna was the first to make his debut, but after two middling matches in 1961/62 elected to complete his studies and did not grace the Test arena for another five years.

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As a patient offspinner who used flight as his primary weapon, Prasanna hit his straps touring Australia in 1967/68, taking 25 wickets at 27.44.

In each of the following series during the 1960s, he took at least 20 wickets and averaged under 26 each time.

It is little coincidence that the only Test in which Prasanna did not take at least six wickets as India toured New Zealand in 1967/68 was the only Test of that series that India lost.

He closed out the decade with his first 10-wicket haul, against Australia in Chennai – not enough to avert a 77-run loss as the batting let him down.

The 1970s regularly saw Prasanna and Venkat tussling for the same offspinner role, and he was less effective in the second half of his career as a result.

Honourable Mentions:
Nawab of Pataudi Jr: 39 Tests, 2552 runs @ 36.98
Chandu Borde: 45 Tests, 2562 runs @ 37.13, 44 wkts @ 41.61
Bapu Nadkarni: 33 Tests, 1063 runs @ 25.92, 76 wkts @ 25.98
Farokh Engineer: 30 Tests, 1607 runs @ 28.69, 42 catches, 12 stumpings

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In summary, India’s all-decade XI is as follows:

Virender Sehwag (2005-09)
Sunil Gavaskar (1970-79)
Rahul Dravid (2000-04)
Sachin Tendulkar (1990-99)
Virat Kohli (2015-19)
Vijay Hazare (1940-49)
MS Dhoni (2010-14) [Wicketkeeper]
Kapil Dev (1980-89) [Captain]
Vinoo Mankad (1950-59)
Amar Singh (1930-39)
Erapalli Prasanna (1960-69)

An attack lacking in pace options perhaps, but the part-time options of Sehwag, Tendulkar, and Hazare can each pick up a handy wicket or two if opportunity allows.

It has only been of late that India has been blessed with quality pace bowling – had I added the 2020-24 period to deliberations, Jasprit Bumrah (97 wickets @ 21.62) would certainly have been a strong option.

India’s neighbours and rivals, Pakistan, will close out the series with some of the closest selection calls in any team thus far.

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