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The cream of the World Cup crop — an all-time World Cup XI
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As the quadrennial cricketing extravaganza that is the Cricket World Cup gets ready to rumble, the sports pages of every news publication, online and offline are getting filled to the brim with stories about players, squads, and unforgettable moments of yesteryear. So, naturally, we decided to throw our hat into the ring with a fun exercise of our own — building a hypothetical all-time XI.
Such an exercise in fandom needs a fair selection criteria that can be applied across the board. Here are ours — only performances from the ODI World Cups will be considered; the player should have played in at least 10 World Cup matches over two separate editions (this parameter is to ensure that players with a stellar showing in one tournament — for example, Shikhar Dhawan — don’t necessarily upstage players with longer, more consistent World Cup records). As a consequence of these two criteria, many players with stellar ODI records (sorry, Virat Kohli and Joel Garner) unfortunately miss out, albeit present-day players certainly have a chance to correct this in the future. The team will have 6 batsmen (2 of whom can serve as the 6th bowler and one proper all-rounder), 1 wicketkeeper-batsman, and 4 bowlers but there is scope for some flexibility. With this in place, let us move on to the players themselves.
Four wicketkeepers have stellar World Cup records: Adam Gilchrist, Kumar Sangakkara, Brendan Taylor, and Brad Haddin. Both Gilchrist and Sangakkara have had longer and more productive careers compared to the other two — hence it is down to these two. Both are excellent glovemen and hence the debate between the two will come down to batting.
Top order (1-3)
One name automatically makes the list: Sachin Tendulkar. Who can argue against the veteran batsman’s overall record which included stellar showings in three World Cups? As to the other two players, will it be his illustrious batting partner, Sourav Ganguly? Or explosive southpaws such as Adam Gilchrist or Sanath Jayasuriya? If we look for players who married consistency with a good strike rate at the top, we land on four other candidates — Mark Waugh, Herschelle Gibbs, Matthew Hayden, and Tillakaratne Dilshan. While Dilshan had the reputation of a reliable all-rounder, the fact that his best performances came against the “lesser” teams take him out of contention. With little to choose from between the other three, we go with Matthew Hayden for his left-handedness and higher strike rate. For the No.3 slot, Kumar Sangakkara’s consistency is hard to overlook and he easily towers over Ponting, Kallis, and Lara. A case could be made for playing both Gilchrist and Sangakkara but Hayden’s advantage (~+15 average) wins out in the trade-off with Gilchrist’s stats (~+5 strike rate) — you see, we will be packing the side with plenty of firepower in the middle order.
Runs @ Strike Rate
987 @ 92.93
2,278 @ 88.98
1,532 @ 86.55
Middle order (4-6)
As was the case in the top order, one more name automatically makes the list at No.4: Viv Richards; his destructive batting and aura of insouciance were supplemented by handy bowling and fielding skills. A contemporary batsman who probably comes the closest to Richards in terms of flair and flamboyance is AB de Villiers.
Runs @ Strike Rate
1,013 @ 85.05
AB de Villiers
1,207 @ 117.29
The No.6 and No.7 slots are among of the hardest to fill — would the team be better served if it had someone like Javed Miandad, or Steve Waugh, who can marshal the lower order and bring in the big hits when necessary? Ultimately, we went with flexibility and power as the top 5 have enough batting ability and consistency to stave off even the most hostile bowling attack.
There are 4 players under consideration — Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Yuvraj Singh, and Lance Klusener. Imran Khan has an outstanding bowling record but his batting is less than stellar. Following Richards and de Villiers is already a difficult task and his ~66 SR would be out of place, even if it were to be “inflation-adjusted”; Lance Klusener has an amazing batting and bowling record in World Cups and would have felt totally at home in today’s T20 era; Yuvraj Singh is more a part-time bowler who had one good World Cup bowling-wise. Kapil Dev’s World Cup bowling record is merely “average” by his own lofty standards but his batting takes the cake — who can forget his immortal 175* against Zimbabwe? In the end, it is a very tough call between Kapil Dev and Imran Khan but considering that the top 5 are very consistent, we went with batting power over bowling chops. Kapil, Klusener, Richards, and Tendulkar can more than capably bowl the 5th bowler quota.
Runs @ Strike Rate
Wickets @ bowling average
372 @ 121.17
22 @ 22.13
669 @ 115.14
28 @ 31.85
For the fast men who will take the new ball, it is hard to look beyond two legends of the game — one known for unerring and nagging consistency, and the other, the sultan of swing. Yes, we are referring to Glenn McGrath and Wasim Akram. Unsurprisingly, they are the two fast bowlers with the highest number of wickets in the World Cups. Other capable candidates such as Chaminda Vaas, Zaheer Khan, Lasith Malinga, Brett Lee, and Shane Bond miss out due to the illustrious careers of these two new-ball schemers.
Here too, it is difficult to look beyond the two champion tweakers of the game — Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne. Though Warne played in just two World Cups, his overall record bunts him into the final bowling slot ahead of Vettori, Hogg, and Kumble.
Squad balance and captaincy
Overall, this squad has it all — consistency at the top and middle, explosive power in the middle order, left-right combinations galore, a bowling quiver full of all types of arrows, lower-order batting in Akram and Warne, and even comic value in two genuine number 11s. Who will be the captain? Imran Khan would have been an obvious choice had he made it, but since we’re picking the captain after selecting the 11, we would pick Kapil Dev. Kapil Dev was even more crucial for India in 1983 than Imran was for Pakistan in 1992, and he transformed a bunch of no-hopers into world champions against all odds through a mix of self-belief, inspiration, and leading from the front. Imran, on the other hand had an excellent bowling unit and decent batsmen coming up the ranks. For this reason, Kapil-paaji daa jawaab nahin. The cerebral Sangakkara will serve as his able deputy.
All -time World Cup XI
Matthew Hayden, Sachin Tendulkar, Kumar Sangakkara (wk & vc), Viv Richards, AB de Villiers, Lance Klusener, Kapil Dev (c), Wasim Akram, Shane Warne, Muttiah Muralitharn, Glenn McGrath