Between Wickets | Cricket

The July dream team, with Sunil Gavaskar and M.S. Dhoni

Mahendra Singh Dhoni with Sunil Gavaskar. File

Mahendra Singh Dhoni with Sunil Gavaskar. File   | Photo Credit: Bhagya Prakash K

In one of the closing chapters of his classic The Art of Cricket, Don Bradman writes about ‘The Ideal Eleven’. For those who believe that the great Australian was merely a run machine, a creature not of this world and somehow lacking in the weaknesses that make us human, here’s proof that he was one of us after all. Like fans everywhere, he too understood the “fun trying to pick the best XI”, as he says, and suggests XIs made of players with a specific number of letters in their names or those whose names begin with a particular letter of the alphabet.

It is a game most fans, from seven to 70 play. It leads to arguments, exposes biases, and proves the game of cricket is not limited to the field of play. As the former Australian Prime Minister and cricket fanatic Robert Menzies said, in summer we play cricket and in winter we read about it. For ‘in winter’, read ‘during pandemics’ and you wouldn’t be too far off the mark.

So, as a new month begins here’s a question: Of the 12 teams possible, is the July XI — made up of cricketers born in July — the strongest? It might well be. We speak here only of Indian cricket, but the concept can be widened to include other teams, and perhaps even a ‘World XI’ (W.G. Grace and Allan Border, for instance, were born in July).

Here’s July XI, with an additional 12th man. If you think any of the other teams can come close, please feel free to send in your choices.

Successful opening pair

Opening the batting is one of India’s most successful pairs, Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan, who, when the latter retired, were statistically the third best behind Simpson-Lawry and Hobbs-Sutcliffe. Till Virender Sehwag changed the grammar of opening batsmanship, this was the textbook pair. Sound, risk-averse, knowing that their job was to keep the bowlers from getting at the rest of the batsmen for as long as possible.

Till Shane Warne overtook the mark, Chauhan had scored the most runs in Tests without a century. Gavaskar’s record is too well known to bear repetition here, but suffice to say he is an automatic choice at the top in any all-time India XI, and a contender for an all-time Earth XI too.

At three would be Sanjay Manjrekar, to be followed by Sourav Ganguly and Chandu Borde. That’s a lot of runs, a lot of experience and a lot of range. Both Ganguly and Borde have led India, and Borde, before his shoulder gave out was a top leg-spinner too. V. Subramanya comes in at No. 6. The former Karnataka captain, hard-hitting batsman and brilliant fielder turns 84 this month. Borde and Subramanya toured both England and Australia under Tiger Pataudi, Borde leading the team in Adelaide when Tiger was injured.

The all-rounders’ slots are taken by G.S. Ramchand and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, two more men who led India, Ramchand to the first-ever win against Australia at Kanpur in 1959. He was a handsome striker of the ball and opened the bowling, besides, once claiming six for 49 in a Test in Pakistan. Dhoni is, well, Dhoni.

Among the spinners in the fray is off-spinner Ghulam Ahmed, who, with Vinoo Mankad and Subhash Gupte, became the harbinger of many great Indian spin trios. With Harbhajan Singh, India’s most successful off-spinner (400-plus Test wickets), also born in July, one slot is his by right.

Venkatapathy Raju, left-arm spinner, comes into the reckoning as does Chandu Sarwate, the fingerprint expert, who mixed off breaks and leg breaks. But Sarwate is best known for a century at number 10 which, in partnership with Shute Banerjee’s century at 11, led to a last-wicket stand of 249 runs in a match against Surrey. Soon he was opening the batting for India against Lindwall and Miller in Australia! Raju gets in on the strength of his 93 wickets from 28 Tests.

Medium-pacers in the long list include Roger Binny, Munaf Patel, Debashish Mohanty and Vasant Ranjane (who began his First Class career with nine for 35 and a hat-trick). Munaf was the quickest of the lot, but Binny was the steadiest, and his batting credentials were far superior. Funnily enough, though he was seen as a batsman who could bowl in domestic cricket, he was a bowler who could bat in international cricket. He even opened the batting with Gavaskar.

So there you have the July team: Gavaskar, Chauhan, Sanjay Manjrekar, Ganguly, Borde, Subramanya, Dhoni, Ramchand, Binny, Harbhajan, Raju, Munaf.

Five of the team captained India, but I would hand the honour to Subramanya, possibly the finest captain never to have led the country. Selectors are allowed the occasional surprise!

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 10:56:41 AM |

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