HARDEST TO DEFEAT: CRICKET'S OVERACHIEVING XII
When you want a good team, you need at least two midfielders who'll never score lower than a 7 (on a scale of 10).You don't need the best players, 8s and 9s are not necessary. Because these players can also score a '4'.-Johan Cruijff
One of my daily rituals on the internet is to read "On This Day" on Cricinfo. 13th July was Hilary Angelo "Larry" Gomes' 65th birthday. In a team filled with flair players like Greenidge, Richards, Lloyd, Richardson, hell even Dujon batted with derisive flamboyance, Larry was a calm, steady presence in the West Indies' top, top-middle order for nearly a decade. His average and strike rate hovered in the 40s for most of his career. He was the perfect epitome of Johan Cruijff's above quote. On a scale of 10, he'd very rarely score 10 but at the same time very rarely would he score less than 6. Gomes' sheet anchor role let the more powerful batsmen go wild.
This got me thinking, how about an entire XI (with a 12th man) of "overachievers". Men, who depended more on discipline and self-denial to achieve greatness. For various reasons, either for the greater good of the team or simply that they just couldn't, they just cut out most of their attacking abilities and just ground the opposition to dust. I decided to go with 12 men to have the flexibility of having 2 spinners, 2 pacers just in case the match takes place on a dust bowl. Without further adieu, let's go to the XII.
1. Alastair Nathan Cook: 156 tests, 12,145 runs at 45.65, 32 100s, 162 catches
The quintessential azhukku (dirty) player as described by tamizh people who never sweat even after batting for 4 minutes shy of 14 hours in the sweltering heat of Abu Dhabi. One of the finest cutters and pullers in the game but Ali Cook simply wouldn't play those shots unless it was aching to be put away. Bowlers know this and try to keep it in the corridor but Cook would just let it go. His supreme powers of concentration meant that he knew no matter what he's not going to blink first. Bowlers rarely maintained this discipline for more than a session and Cook would be ready to pounce for that slightly off-line ball on either side and get his runs. One of the best players of spin. He has the most runs and most 100s in Asia. That always scores highly in my book. He is also a fairly good slipper to have in the side.
2. Geoffrey Boycott: 108 tests, 8,114 runs at 47.72, 22 100s
Cook's bespectacled fellow countryman who could be described as the Alastair Cook of his time. Dogged, disciplined and determined. One of only 2 men to have scored 20+ 100s and never been part of a losing side in a match in which they have scored a 100. He has been dropped for slow and selfish batting but on the flip side, he played crucial roles in England's overseas victories in the West Indies and the Ashes. One of the grittiest batsmen of all time. Can't think of two more stubborn, unyielding men to blunt the new ball and make the bowlers' lives miserable even on the juiciest of pitches.
3. Rahul Sharad Dravid: 164 tests, 13,288 runs at 52.31, 36 100s, 210 catches
The Wall. 'Nuff said. There's a bit of irony in his nickname given that he was bowled or leg before in nearly a third of his dismissals (89/286) but that doesn't change the fact that he was indeed a Wall for India. Just like Larry Gomes, he batted in a team filled with talented stroke-makers (SRT, Azza, Dada, VVS, Viru at various times) and was a serene presence in the middle that allowed the dashers to their thang. Tendulkar was without a doubt the greater of the two but every famous Indian victory (Eden Gardens, Headingley, Adelaide, Rawalpindi, Jamaica) of the era had the inimitable Dravid stamp. No way India win those matches without the genial Bengalurian. He is also one of just 3 men to have caught more than 200 catches and holds the record for the most catches by an outfielder (210). Cook & Dravid make a mighty fine slip pair.
4. Jacques Henry Kallis: 166 tests, 13,289 runs at 55.37, 45 100s, 292 wickets at 32.65, 200 catches
The designated (batting) all-rounder of this side. The Wall of Sathafrika for nearly 2 decades. Had all the shots in the book but cut them all out to forge a career of tough runs. His 45 test 100s are second only to Tendulkar. He could never impose his will on test like a Lara or a Ponting or a Tendulkar but my word he could be irremovable from the crease. In addition to his rock-like batting, he was a fabulous 3rd seamer who could keep things exceptionally tight with disciplined bowling. He also had decent pace and a fine short ball to keep the batsmen on their toes. A man that simply won't beat himself. He was also a safe pair of hands as his 200 catches attest.
5. Allan Robert Border (c): 156 tests, 11,174 runs at 50.56, 27 100s, 156 catches
Allan Border is the captain of this nitty-gritty XI. A reluctant captain after the retirements of Lillee, Marsh & Greg Chappell and the forced removal of Kim Hughes. He lifted Australia from their then toughest period (AUS didn't win a test in 20 matches and lost to NZ home & away for the 1st time) and brought a culture that was taken to the next level by Mark Taylor and the stratosphere by Steve Waugh. Captain Grumpy inspired his teammates by the sheer weight of his runs. His slow left-armers would be a useful change of pace when nothing works. He was also a fantastic all-round fielder who held the record for most catches by an outfielder when he retired.
6. Steve Rodger Waugh: 168 tests, 10,927 runs at 51.06, 32 100s, 112 catches
Tugga! The man described by Nirmal Shekhar as "When there is no need to fight, there is no need for a Steve Waugh. Lesser men can take over." One of the most underrated batsmen in my book. Yes, he played in a loaded side but how many times did he bail them out with a sturdy knock under pressure? The number of his epics outnumber Lara's & Sachin's but he never captured the imagination like the aforementioned duo with pyro-techniques. The quintessential get the job done guy. His gentle medium pacers brought him 92 test wickets. Another useful option when the main bowlers tire.
7. Ridley Detamore Jacobs: 65 tests, 207 catches, 12 stumpings, 2577 runs at 28.31, 3 100s
A somewhat left-field choice perhaps but it feels quite apposite. Jacobs didn't make his debut until he was 31 and he managed to even top the charts for West Indies in what was their most disastrous tour in history until then: 5-0 drubbing in South Africa. You could even say he came with his reputation enhanced. Lara's GOAT innings got all the plaudits but it was Jacobs' 153 run partnership with 1st innings centurion Sherwin Campbell that gave WI a chance to even stay in the match after they were reduced to 98/6. His work wasn't too shabby behind the stumps. His 1.795 dismissals per test being better than Ian Healy's 1.763.
8. Warnakulasuriya Patabendige Ushantha Joseph Chaminda Vaas: 111 matches, 355 wickets at 29.58, 12 5 w, 2 10 w
When he retired Chaminda Vaas was comfortably the 2nd greatest Sri Lankan bowler after
9. Anil Kumble: 132 tests, 619 wickets at 29.65, 35 5 w, 8 10 w
Jumbo couldn't turn the ball, didn't have a great googly, hardly varied his pace but he turned all those negatives into his strength by bowling marathon spells with a heart of a lion. Who can forget his dismissal of Lara with a broken jaw? He simply didn't know when he was beaten. There is a case for him to be the greatest overachiever in test cricket. He is still one of only 3 bowlers to breach the 600 wicket mark. A remarkable feat given his limitations. Late in his career, he managed to do something his more flamboyant Aussie rival could never do: score a test 100. A 100 that effectively shut out England from squaring the series, giving India her first test series in Ol' Blighty after 21 years.
10. John Brian Statham: 70 tests, 252 wickets at 24.84, 9 5 w, 1 10 w
The ultimate support bowler. The ultimate "you-miss-I-hit" bowler. Statham's job was to simply bowl niggardly and endlessly from one end so that his more flamboyant teammates like Typhoon Tyson or Fiery Fred could go medieval on the batsmen. In the Lord's test of 1955 was South Africa, Statham bowled unchanged for figures of 29-12-39-7 in defending a low score of 183 as England won it at a canter by 71 runs. A true epitome of this side.
11. Courtney Andrew Walsh: 132 tests, 519 wickets at 24.44, 22 5 w, 3 10 w
Courtney Walsh made his debut on a WACA flyer. He was part of a wolf pack of Marshall, Garner and Holding. He never even got to bowl in the first innings as the trio shared all wickets and Australia were bowled out in just 31.2 overs for 76. It wasn't until 1992 that he regularly became the new ball bowler. Marshall, Holding, Garner had all retired but Ambrose and Bishop were now the rage. The story of the gentle Jamaican giant's career. He had his moments. 13 wickets in Wellington, the ball that got Billy out in Adelaide, breaking Prabhakar's nose in Mohali, and the greatest innings of them all: the marathon 5 ball 0 not out in Kensington Oval that saw West Indies home with juuuuuuuust a little help from Lara in the greatest test of them all! He was probably the least talented fast bowler of the West Indies pace battery in the 70s and 80s but he outlasted them all with his grit and indefatigableness.
12. Herath Mudiyanselage Rangana Keerthi Bandara Herath: 91 tests, 423 wickets at 28.10, 33 5 w, 9 10 w
Rangana Herath is, if I'm not wrong, the only active cricketer who made his test debut in the last century. It wasn't until Murali's retirement that he could regularly play but he quickly made up for lost time. Not a big turner of the ball like his more illustrious mirror image, Herath has almost single-handedly kept Sri Lanka competitive with his wile and guile for the last 10 years despite next to no support from his bowling mates. Brian Statham will make way for Herath if there is a test on slow turners of the subcontinent.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul: 164 tests, 11,867 runs at 51.37, 30 100s
The Crab. When asked what you do for a living, Chanders' curt reply was "I bat.". A two word sentence that is so profound if you saw him bat. He simply batted.
Kenneth Frank Barrington: 82 tests, 6,806 runs at 58.67, 20 100s
A dasher who cut down his shots to have one of the highest test averages for a batsman. Barrington vs Nadkarni. 131 dot balls in a row. 'Nuff said.
Makhaya Ntini: 101 tests, 390 wickets at 28.82, 18 5 w, 4 10 w
Ntini wasn't as talented as Donald or Pollock but he bowled with a lot of heart and was a tireless servant for the Proteas. He also broke the colour barrier in the Rainbow nation.
Adam Parore: 78 tests, 197 catches, 7 stumpings, 2865 runs at 26.28, 2 100s
The archetypal New Zealand cricketer. Hard working, disciplined & resolute. Made a fabulous 100 at the WACA against one of the greatest attacks assembled.
What is your Overachiever's XII? Name them in the comments.