The ICC World Twenty20 is upon us, and that set me wondering about what the greatest Twenty20 XI would look like. We have all indulged in this exercise for Test matches and ODIs. I don't know about you, but I haven't with T20s. So, why not now?
Unlike the other formats, especially Tests, where we've only heard of and not seen many of the legends, Twenty20 was conceived in front of our eyes. I'm tempted to sift through cricket's Hall of Fame and imagine who might have rocked the T20s scene if only they had been born a few years later. It's more fun than listing the usual suspects - Chris Gayle, Virender Sehwag, Lasith Malinga and others. More than a couple of names I tick off in my head might be members of a Test Dream Team. So what? Great men like Rahul Dravid, Jacques Kallis and Sachin Tendulkar have said over and over that handling T20s is more of an adjustment, and what you need is the skill and temperament - something that Test cricket inculcates better than anything else.
Anyway, the criteria for selection is, more or less, the following:
a. Ability in more than one of the basic departments - batting, bowling and wicketkeeping (for one batsman)
b. The XI should have seven players who are primarily batsmen, including the wicketkeeper, and four players who are primarily bowlers. Of these, there should be three pace bowlers and one spinner
c. Not more than four players from the same country
We need at least one specialist opening batsman, one with a reputation for hitting hard and scoring quickly. Anyone better than Gordon Greenidge? His ODI strike rate of 64.92 might not look too convincing, but if you saw him bat, especially at Lord's in 1984 when he scored an unbeaten and extremely brutal 214, you'd know that Greenidge is the man to open.
Who opens with him? Roy Fredericks? No, we might need some slots for West Indians later on. In any case, there's no need for a specialist opener now that we have Greenidge. Maybe Ian Botham then? He opened a bit in ODIs too, so he knows what's needed of him, and he frees up a slot later in the order.
One drop? Don Bradman. Has to be. It's one of those things that must, forever, be accepted without contest.
Ditto with Viv Richards. He makes the squad without question. He retired from cricket in 1991, having scored 6721 runs from just 187 ODIs at a strike rate of 90.20. Most batsmen can't match that even now.
I am also tempted to bring in Javed Miandad as the man who'll be around if things start to go wrong, though with a top four like Greenidge, Botham, Bradman and Richards, he might not even get to bat. His availability, however, brings in one crucial element to this batting order: running between the wickets. Fours and sixes will come easily to this lot, but Richards and Miandad need to bat together for those stolen singles.
The next two players on the list - Garry Sobers and Salim Durrani - fit in rather easily for me, even if many of you will raise your eyebrows at the second name. Sobers: no questions, right? Durrani: well, he doesn't score much by statistics, but was by all accounts outstanding. Apparently, he could hit sixes on demand. He was fearless. He bowled left-arm orthodox spin. And, I have a soft spot for this self-destructive, extremely charismatic Pathan. It's my team after all.
To keep wickets, let's bring in Alan Knott. He could bat in all gears for his 20s and 30s, and was an outstanding wicketkeeper to spinners like Derek Underwood, a skill that puts him ahead of Rodney Marsh, who did most of his work to fast bowlers. And in this team, the ability to handle different kinds of bowlers would be key - we have Sobers in there, after all.
On to the bowlers now, and remember, we already have a medium-pacer in Botham, part-time offspinners in Richards and Miandad and a left-arm spinner in Durrani. In Sobers, we have someone who could bowl pretty much everything except express pace.
Two pace bowlers then. How about Joel Garner and Dennis Lillee? Garner was not rated as highly as some of his contemporaries, but almost every batsman from the 1970s, like Geoffrey Boycott, says without a moment's hesitation that he was the toughest bowler to score off. Lillee was someone who didn't give an inch, was in your face at all times, in addition to possessing outstanding skills. The only problem might be in having him share the dressing room with Miandad - remember Perth 1981?
And finally, the main spinner. Sidney Barnes? One of the Indian quartet? Abdul Qadir? Richie Benaud? Bill O'Reilly? Jim Laker? Tough one. Let's go with Barnes, who has incredible numbers, even though they were achieved before World War I on underprepared wickets.
The team: Gordon Greenidge, Ian Botham, Don Bradman, Viv Richards, Javed Miandad, Garry Sobers, Salim Durrani, Alan Knott, Dennis Lillee, Joel Garner, Sidney Barnes.
12th man: Jonty Rhodes (obviously)
Over to you.