The exciting XI
In the context of this excellent Stickers XI
by Chandrahas Choudhury, I thought it'd be fun to come up with a side of players who really are exciting to watch in test cricket. Here goes, in batting order:
- Virender Sehwag: His recent form and frustrating one-day batting aside, there is little doubt that watching him in a test match is about as exciting as it can get. Yesterday, he slapped the first ball he got, wide outside off-stump, straight to third man. Another day, it'd have sailed over the fielder for six. He got to his triple century in the small matter of 364 balls, reaching his century and triple-century with sixes!
- Sanath Jayasuriya: He may currently be out of the test side, but given Sri Lanka's batting in the current series, it won't take too long for him to make a comeback, aged 36. South Africa's bowlers didn't know what hit them when he raced away to 96 in the first session at Galle in 2000.
- Ricky Ponting: His rants over England's use of substitutes may have seemed childish and he will forever bear the stigma of losing the Ashes, but purely as a batsman, he is really exciting to watch. While his batting style isn't really of the thrill-a-minute variety which some of the others in this side offer, he can play some outrageous shots, especially on the onside. His pull shots are among the best I've seen recently and he plays a mean drive through the onside.
- Brian Lara: One of the rare instances of someone piling up records by the dozen without being an accumulator, Brian Lara's batting is a treat to the eyes. His extravagant backlift is merely a prelude to what follows. Pace bowlers and spinners are treated with equal contempt as he launches into drives on the rise, especially off the quicks through the off-side, and blasts the spinners over the infield.
- Shahid Afridi: Probably a controversial pick, given that he isn't a certainty to be picked in Pakistan's test side. But he has the ability to turn a game around in a matter of a few overs, like he did at Faisalabad or over the span of nearly a day. He also has the ability to do stupid things, like he demonstrated a day later.
- Andrew Flintoff: Everything he did in the Ashes series, pretty much turned to gold, culminating in an award from the BBC. His assault on Shane Warne at Edgbaston certainly gave a fillip to England's hopes, for they batted a lot better from that point onwards. In fact, it did wonders for Flintoff's self-belief, because he'd been hoodwinked at Lord's. Before that, he was named the ICC Player of the Year award, along with Jacques Kallis. After the Ashes, he ended up as England's top wicket-taker in the tests in Pakistan, although his batting suffered. In the last two years, he has been vital to England's victories in South Africa, West Indies and at home.
- Adam Gilchrist: A fairly lean time by his normal standards, as his form fell away from a good start early on when he first terrorized Pakistan and then New Zealand, not once but twice! The Ashes saw him out-thought by England's bowlers, especially Flintoff. He did seem to have sorted his batting out in the Super Series, but didn't do too well against the West Indies. Nevertheless, he still has the rare ability to scare the opposition even when they're in a better position.
- Shane Warne: A few days ago, he Dennis Lillee's record for the most wickets in a year. He now has 90, and a ten wicket haul at his beloved home ground would give him 100 wickets for the year, a feat unlikely to be equalled for a while! Forty out of those wickets came in the Ashes, where he singlehandedly bowled Australia to strong positions, only to be let down miserably by the rest of the bowlers and the batsmen. In spite of the likes of Flintoff and Pietersen attacking his bowling in the Ashes, he never gave up and was possibly the standout player on either side. There is a buzz around the place whenever he ambles in to bowl. It is quite indescribable. You get the feeling something is going to happen. Never quite out of the headlines, though.
- Brett Lee: Till the middle of the year, Lee found it hard to get into the Australian test side and was frequently relegated to 12th man duties. All that changed with the Ashes when he got the nod over Kasprowicz. While he did bowl erratically, when he did get his act together, such as the ball to bowl Flintoff at Trent Bridge, giving Australia a sniff, he was lovely to watch. Besides, it is always fun to watch batsmen go into a foetal position when they suddenly realize the ball is headed for their helmet. Of course, Lee did cop it from the spectators in New Zealand.
- Muttiah Muralitharan: While Warne is the extrovert and is constantly in the newspapers for reasons outside the cricket field, Murali remains in the newspapers because of his bowling action, quirky to some, dodgy to others. But the pleasure of watching him bowl and his ability to make things happen, as he showed in the Super test and in the first innings of the Delhi test against India, puts him in my side, no doubt.
- Shoaib Akhtar: Insipid for the most part, pulling out of a crucial series in India, thinking about acting and attitude under the scanner, until he bowled Pakistan to victory at Multan and Lahore with an assortment of bouncers, yorkers and deadly slower deliveries. He did disappoint me with his stodgy batting though. Once again, dodgy action or not, it is always great watching him bowl. His yorker at Multan to my eternal favourite, Ashley Giles, was a treat to watch.
It was actually a tough call between Chris Gayle and Shahid Afridi. Gayle did have his moments last year and he has always been great to watch, especially his batting. He doesn't actually look energetic and probably looks too lazy to have any sort of impact. He did score a triple century against South Africa
, but overall he hasn't really shown any signs of match-winning/turning performances the ones above have displayed in test cricket.
I think I'd pick Warne as the captain, despite him not captaining Australia currently. Ponting's captaincy has been quite uninspirational and this exciting bunch of players needs to be led by someone who can take outrageous decisions on the field. So, what do you think about this side? What would your side be? Chatter away in your comments!