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An Indian XI for the ages

Wisden India logo Wisden India 22-09-2016

A grand total of 285 players, spread over 84 years and 499 Test matches. Several of those games and players not viewed at all, many of those years not spent on earth. How do you pick an all-time XI from this?

It is both an exciting and a humbling experience. There is a definite slant towards players of the last three or so decades, after live television allowed us to soak in their deeds at least second-hand, as there will perhaps inevitably be. After much brainstorming, several hours of discussions that ranged from the informed to the heated, and plenty of give and take, we at Wisden India have arrived at our all-time Indian Test XI.

Selection is oftentimes a subjective exercise, not driven only by cold statistics and numbers. Several legends have missed out because, as Sandeep Patil, the chairman of selectors, recently pointed out, only 11 can form a team. Many of this squad were unanimous choices, some not so, but this is a squad that can do serious damage. By almost unspoken agreement, active players weren’t seriously considered, though a couple of names did crop up more than once.

Here is our XI that has several men who have led the country with distinction, with another former skipper as the designated 12th man. You are, of course, free to dissect and analyse, and come up with your own XI.


Batting: 125-214-16-10122-236*-51.12-34-45-108-0

Bowling: 125-380-206-1-1/34-1/34-206.00-0-0

Captaincy: 47-9-8-30-0

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Pretty much the first name for obvious reasons, and not only because he is an opening batsman. The numbers roll off the tongue easily – 774 runs in his first Test series, at 21, in the Caribbean. The first man to pass Don Bradman’s long-standing mark of 29 hundreds. The Edmund Hillary of the 10,000-run club. Sunil Gavaskar was the first Indian batsman in the television era to fire a huge salvo for Test batsmanship. Till he was at the crease, there was a sense of calm assurance, the feeling that all was well. His technique was exemplary, as was his ability to concentrate hard for long periods and to shut out everything around him. He could attack too, like he did during his glorious 221 at The Oval in 1979 as India nearly chased down a total of 438, and at the Kotla against West Indies in 1983, when he brought up his 29th Test century at better than a run a ball. As a captain, if he was defensive, it was because of the resources he had – or, more importantly, did not have – at his disposal. He was also a wonderful slipper, gobbling up catches with the same stylish elegance with which he clipped the ball through midwicket. A batsman for all seasons, the master of Little Masters.


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Batting: 104-180-6-8586-319-49.34-23-32-91-0 

Bowling: 104-3731-1894-40-5/104-5/118-47.35-1-0

Captaincy: 4-2-1-1-0

The fire to Gavaskar’s ice. The man who redefined the art of batting against the new ball. The one who saw opportunities where others might have seen challenges, who saw gaps when others spotted fielders. India’s first, and only, triple centurion, two times over. A converted opener who marked his Test debut with a magnificent century from No. 6 in Bloemfontein. A packed middle order meant the only way Sehwag could keep his place in the Test XI was to move up the order, a switch that suited both his game and his personality brilliantly. In his first innings as opener, he made 84 at Lord’s, and followed it up with 106 in the next Test in Nottingham to showcase his adaptability, and an aggressive approach that teams around the world came to fear for the next decade. Few batsmen have done more to shape the destinies of Test matches. Sehwag was also a more than handy, classical offspinner, taking crucial wickets and providing vital breakthroughs to complement the specialist bowlers and offer the captain an entirely different attacking dimension with the ball too.


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Batting: 164-286-32-13288-270-52-31-36-63-210-0

Bowling: 174-120-39-1-1/18-1/18-39.00-0-0

Captaincy: 25-8-6-11-0

The undisputed, unchallenged No. 3, easily one of the greatest batsmen of all time. Technically sound, but even more resolute and strong mentally, with a penchant for standing up to the meanest quick bowlers away from home, and producing one epic after another. His solid presence at one-drop allowed Sehwag ahead of him, and those below him in the batting order, to paint the pretty pictures. The artistes flourished around the artisan, which meant that as the 2000s developed, India always had enough overseas runs on the board for the bowlers to attack with. Unfairly nicknamed The Wall, Dravid was never the stone-waller, though batting time and wearing the bowlers down came almost naturally to him. He has been immortalised as the second wheel in that epic Eden stand with VVS Laxman against Australia in 2001, but Dravid played the lead role in many an overseas triumph, notably at Headingley in 2002, Adelaide the following year, and Kingston in 2006 as well as 2011. As captain, he masterminded India to series wins in the Caribbean (2006) and England (2007), and signed out from Test cricket as its most prolific catcher, helping Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, in particular, boost their wickets column.


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Batting: 200-329-33-15921-248*-53.78-51-68-115-0 

Bowling: 200-4240-2492-46-3/10-3/14-54.17-0-0

Captaincy: 25-4-9-12-0

A record 15,921 runs, a whopping 51 centuries, the only cricketer with 200 Test caps, more than 40% of all Test matches played by his country. A shoo-in for all all-time XIs, across countries and generations. Tendulkar burst forth as a baby-faced, chubby-cheeked, slightly plump, curly-mopped teenager, and proceeded to take the best bowlers apart with minimum fuss. His match-saving century at Old Trafford in 1990, in his second series, justified the hype, and he had the critics and pundits eating out of his hands with a memorable century in Perth on the tour of Australia in 1991-92. At every stage of his career, Tendulkar was burdened with the massive pressure of expectations, and at every stage, he met them in spectacular fashion. Strong on both sides of the wicket, against pace and spin alike, and with a back-foot punch to die for, Tendulkar exemplified courage, character and sincerity. With the ball, he could do just about anything, his mesmeric mix of long-hops and unplayable deliveries as a legspin-googly bowler one of the great spectacles of the modern game. He never enjoyed captaining the country, often disappointed that he didn’t get the teams he wanted, but he was never shy of being in the captain’s ear with advice.


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Batting: 134-225-34-8781-281-45.97-17-56-135-0

Bowling: 134-324-126-2-1/2-1/2-63.00-0-0

He will always be synonymous with 281, the innings that changed not just his life, but also the landscape of Indian, even international cricket. Through one epic, Laxman redefined the approach to enforcing the follow-on, and instilled a belief in the Indian team that was to stand them in exceptional stead in time to come. Laxman never played his cricket with an eye on numbers, though for someone with his skills, he should have done far better than just 17 hundreds from 134 matches. However, he has been instrumental in more Indian Test wins than any other batsman, Sehwag and Dravid included, despite battling knee and back injuries at various stages during his career. In one purple patch between August and December 2010, he shaped victories at the P Sara Oval, in Mohali against Australia, and at Kingsmead. A master at batting with the lower order and getting them to perform above themselves, Laxman forged wonderful batting alliances with Dravid, Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and was an excellent catcher at second slip, standing beside Dravid at first. In another era, he would have made a superb captain too, but given the people he played alongside, that honour was to prove elusive till the end.


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Batting: 131-184-15-5248-163-31.05-8-27-64-0 

Bowling: 131-27740-12867-434-9/83-11/146-29.64-23-2

Captaincy: 34-4-7-22-1

Until Kapil broke into the Test team as a 19 year old on the tour of Pakistan in 1978, India’s new-ball bowlers were essentially the precursors to the main course, basically taking the shine off the ball and setting the stage for the spin wizards to do their thing. Kapil changed all that, hurrying batsmen with express pace at the start of his career and then becoming a more rounded, swing-centric bowler with the passage of time and burgeoning workload. At home and overseas, he was both the stock and the shock bowler for the longest of times, manfully carrying the attack on his shoulders and supplanting Richard Hadlee in early 1994 as Test cricket’s highest wicket-taker. With the bat, Kapil was a phenomenal talent, effortlessly switching gears and playing with an abandon that might have prevented him from being more prolific but certainly appealed to the masses. He was a wonderful mover across the turf and had an exceptional arm from the deep, though he was at home in any position and had the softest, most giving hands. A true allrounder’s allrounder, capable of being in the team solely as a batsman if he put his head to it, or solely as a bowler as evidenced by the numbers. His best Test moment as captain came in England in 1986 when India won the three-match series 2-0, and it was later that year too that Kapil was at the helm during only the second tied Test in cricket history, against Australia at Chepauk.


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Batting: 90-144-16-4876-224-38.09-6-33-256-38 

Bowling: 90-96-67-0-N/A-N/A-0-0

Captaincy: 60-27-18-15-0

Dhoni’s transformation from a rustic, long-haired biffer of the cricket ball to a suave, polished leader of men has been one of the more fascinating tales in Indian cricket. From the time he made his Test debut in December 2005, Dhoni made the big gloves his own, leaving the rest of the stumping fraternity to settle for crumbs. As he grew into Test cricket, Dhoni reshaped his batting too, though from time to time the innately dominant persona did make its presence felt. As a wicketkeeper, he was in a completely different league, especially when standing up the spinners. He redefined the art of keeping, his hands always moving forward and allowing him to pull off stumpings that otherwise might not have dared to dream of. Once he took over the captaincy towards the end of 2008, Dhoni led with dignity, even if occasionally he was defensive. Under him, India were swept 4-0 in England and then Australia in 2011-2012, but he presided over a difficult transition period that saw several legends of the game bid adieu, and several young guns arrive and quickly assert themselves. In a team replete with several captains, nominating a skipper was a tough call. Dhoni shaded the rest largely because he has more Test wins than anyone else, and was the first to take India to the No. 1 Test ranking, in December 2009.


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Batting: 132-173-32-2506-110*-17.77-1-5-60-0 

Bowling: 132-40850-18355-619-10/74-14/149-29.65-35-8

Captaincy: 14-3-5-6-0

He was to bowling what Tendulkar was to batting, though in his own words, both Tendulkar and he always had plenty to prove – Tendulkar to live up to expectations and prove people right, Kumble to exceed expectations and prove people wrong. Having turned to legspin after having started off a medium pacer, Kumble relied on bounce and fizz as much as anything else for wickets early in his career, though a rotator cuff injury forced him to look for other weapons to retain his effectiveness. He thus came up with two googlies, each one more difficult to pick than the other, on his way to a rash of wickets in the second half of his career. With 619 scalps, he is third in the all-time list, only behind Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne. In February 1999, he took all 10 wickets in Pakistan’s second innings in the Kotla Test, only the second man after Jim Laker to have achieved that feat. Kumble put a huge price on his wicket and enjoyed his hundred at The Oval in 2007 as much as any of his storied bowling accomplishments. Captaincy came to him very late in his career, and just as well that it came when it did. On the fractious tour of Australia in 2007-08 with Monkeygate rearing its ugly head, Kumble moved from cricketer to statesman. Everything after that was mere icing on the cake.


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Batting: 67-92-21-1009-76-14.21-0-4-22-0 

Bowling: 67-15104-7196-236-8/86-13/132-30.49-10-1

Tall and rangy, and able to work up extreme pace with a whippy action that invariably brought the ball sharply in to the right-hand batsman, Srinath was a whiff of fresh air so far as Indian cricket was concerned. He repeatedly disconcerted those used to getting on to the front foot to India’s new-ball attacks, hustling batsmen across the world even if it took him nearly three years since his debut to make his maiden Test appearance in India. With Manoj Prabhakar and Kapil in the mix and spin the dominant weapon of destruction at home, Srinath had to bide his time despite impressive overseas displays, but when he did get his chance, he immediately made it count by winning the Man of the Match award against West Indies in Mumbai in November 1994. A tireless performer who seldom lost his effectiveness despite miles in the legs, Srinath continued to be a key performer until his retirement in November 2002 when he perhaps still had a couple of years of Test cricket in him. He was a competent bat as evidenced by four half-centuries but clearly, he isn’t in this team for a few handy runs down the order.


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Batting: 92-127-24-1231-75-11.95-0-3-19-0 

Bowling: 92-18785-10247-311-7/87-10/149-32.94-11-1

A rare and precious commodity in Indian cricket, Zaheer’s left-arm pace acquired a totally new dimension in the second half of his career, following a stint with Worcestershire in the English County Championship in 2006. Having announced himself with a memorable One-Day International debut against Australia in the ICC KnockOut Trophy in 2000, Zaheer had to overcome numerous unrelated injuries to keep himself relevant to the scheme of things. The arrival of several exciting young prospects seemed to have consigned him to history until, re-energised after the Worcester stint, Zaheer came roaring back, a master of his craft and an absolute legend of the reverse swing. He began his second coming, ironically, in England in 2007, then played an instrumental part as the leader of the bowling pack in India’s climb to the No. 1 position in Test cricket with masterful exhibitions of reverse on unhelpful home pitches. Furthermore, he took it upon himself to mentor the younger fast bowlers coming through, imparting his knowledge and experience and walking them through their progress. In his final Test innings, he picked up 5 for 170 in Wellington in February 2014, a fitting swansong for one of India’s most versatile quick bowlers ever, who also once boasted the highest score by a Test No. 11.


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Batting: 67-101-28-656-50*-8.98-0-1-26-0 

Bowling: 67-21364-266-7/98-10/194-28.71-14-1

Captaincy: 22-6-11-5-0

The sheikh of tweak. The turbaned mesmeriser, who had the ball on an invisible string, and who directed it to do his bidding. The most celebrated member of the famed spin quartet, Bedi is one of the greatest left-arm spinners ever to have played the game. His impeccable control and the ability to land the ball on a spot time after time were as integral to his enormous success as his guile and deception, and helped him stand out in the league of champions that he was in alongside BS Chandrasekhar, Erapalli Prasanna and S Venkataraghavan. He had more than reasonable success on the less-friendly surfaces overseas too, particularly in Australia where he had three five-wicket hauls including in both innings of the Perth Test in 1977. Bedi often dared batsmen to go over the top as he gave the ball loads of air, trusting his ability to deceive them in the air and off the surface. As captain, Bedi was not averse to calling a spade a spade and was an excellent leader of men, taking hard calls when he needed to and rapidly establishing himself as a no-nonsense, non-establishment individual. He was far from the typical tailender of his era and once batted as high as No. 3, if only as a nightwatchman in the second innings, as India successfully chased down 181 against Australia at the Kotla in 1969.


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Batting: 99-147-9-6215-199-45.03-22-21-105-0 

Bowling: 99-13-16-0-N/A-N/A-N/A-0-0

Captaincy: 47-14-14-19-0

The original Destiny’s Child, Azhar made a sensational entry into Test cricket by becoming the first – and to date only – batsman to make centuries in his first three games. Pencil-thin but blessed with extraordinarily wondrous supple wrists of steel, he was a connoisseur’s delight as he coaxed and cajoled the ball into the deep recesses of the outfield, much like Laxman was to do after him. The more he played outside India, the better he got against quicker bowling, though he was at his best when the ball was around waist high and he could direct it to whichever part of the ground his mood dictated. Azhar also brought the fitness culture to Indian cricket, taking great care of his diet, working out rigorously and paying particular rare attention to fielding and catching. Thrust into the captaincy hot seat of the Team of the 90s by Raj Singh Dungarpur, Azhar more than held his own in the middle of established superstars such as Kapil, Dilip Vengsarkar and Ravi Shastri, building up an impeccable home record with Ajit Wadekar as the cricket manager and Kumble as the chief wrecker in a three-pronged spin force. With Azhar at the helm for the most part, India went undefeated in a series at home for the entire duration of the 1990s.


For batting, please read: Matches, innings, not out, runs, highest, average, hundreds, fifties, catches, stumpings

For bowling, please read: Matches, balls, runs, wickets, best innings bowling, best match bowling, average, five wickets in an innings, 10 wickets in a match 

For captaincy, please read: Matches, wins, losses, draws, ties.

Photos: 31 crazy cricket world records

Left - India's captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, left, bowls as teammate Ishant Sharma, right, looks on during South Africa's 2nd innings on the fourth day of their cricket test match at Wanderers stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013.
Right - South Africa's AB de Villiers misses a catch during the third day of their cricket test match against India in Johannesburg, December 20, 2013. 31 crazy cricket world records

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