No one from the legendary Indian spin troika of Bishan Bedi, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and Erapalli Prasanna figure in Sourav Ganguly's all-time best Indian Test team. In what was a "tough choice" for Ganguly, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble have made the cut as the only two spinners in the Test squad that has VVS Laxman as 12th man.
Ganguly named his best ODI and Test XIs on a TV channel on Independence Day. Unlike the 1983 World Cup-winning captain Kapil Dev who did not include himself in his all-time best Indian ODI team, Ganguly didn't hesitate to name himself in both the ODI and Test teams he picked. (Also read: Why MSD does not want to pick a dream team)
While he has chosen himself as Sachin Tendulkar's opening partner in ODIs, Ganguly feels his position at the top of the Test batting order could only be 'challenged' by Gundappa Viswanath, whose batting average (41.93) is marginally less than his own (42.17). Although they played in different eras and against different kinds of attacks, Ganguly has 113 Test caps to Vishy's 91 and scored 16 hundreds to the Little Master's 14.
At a time when ODI rules were transforming, Ganguly redefined batting by making the most of the advantage of fielders inside the circle. Between 1996 and 2007, Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar produced a torrent of runs to become the most successful opening combination in the history of 50-over cricket. With a staggering 21 century opening partnerships, a world record, the pair produced 6609 runs from 136 innings at an average of 49.32.
Opening combinations have been a matter of great debate in Indian cricket. The post-Ganguly era has seen several combinations with Virender Sehwag and Tendulkar standing out as the fourth most successful combination with 3919 runs at an average of 42.14. The next best India duo, according to statistics,Â is Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir - 1870 runs in 38 innings with a good average of 50.54.
Ganguly has picked Sunil Gavaskar and Sehwag as India's best ever Test openers. Interestingly, Rahul Dravid figures prominently in Ganguly's Test XI and as the 12th man in the ODI team! Test cricket is considered the true benchmark of a player and Dravid's position at No. 3 in the Test line-up speaks for the fact that Ganguly has always believed in specialists. Considering this aspect, Mahendra Singh Dhoni is in both the ODI and Test teams. It effectively means, Ganguly has rated Dhoni above a Syed Kirmani, who most believe has been India's technically best stumper.
But there are hints of contradictions too. Dravid and Laxman as the 12th man in the ODI and Test squads, respectively, are debatable. By conventional logic, the 12th man's position goes to an all-round fielder, who is good at close-in positions and also has a great and accurate throwing arm. Mohammed Azharuddin would perhaps have been a much better choice but there could be 'ethical' issues that may have acted as 'hindrances'.
Dhoni's presence in both Test and ODI teams expresses Ganguly's respect for the current Indian captain. In a recent interview to NDTV.com, Ganguly had acknowledged Dhoni's immense contribution to Indian cricket but refused to say whether he was India's best ever skipper. "You can't compare anyone. Every era has its uniqueness," Ganguly had said.
Ganguly has always been credited for mentoring the careers of Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan. It is no surprise then that he has picked India's 2011 World Cup hero Yuvraj in his ODI squad. Zaheer figures in both squads, alongside Javagal Srinath.
Just like Kapil Dev, Ganguly has picked Ravindra Jadeja in his ODI XI. It speaks about Jadeja's enormous talent and probably tells why Dhoni addresses the Saurashtra cricketer as "Sir." Dhoni has himself acknowledged Jadeja as India's best No. 7 cricketer. Ganguly has only corroborated this fact. (Related read: Nobody knows the real MSD, says Gavaskar)
The other youngster to figure in Ganguly's ODI team is Virat Kohli. The Delhi star's growing stature in international cricket is being noticed by the game's pundits and hasn't escaped Ganguly's attention. "He is superbly skilled and has enormous potential. He has learnt from his mistakes and is a different cricketer now," Ganguly had said.
Tendulkar, Kapil, Sehwag, Dravid, Dhoni, Zaheer, Srinath, Kumble are common to the ODI and Test teams. But interestingly, there is no place for Bedi, Chandrasekhar or Prasanna. Probably, Ganguly doesn't believe in the concept of "buying" wickets but Chandrasekhar's absence from at least the ODI team seems debatable. Even if Ganguly's justifies Harbhajan's selection due to his ability to take wickets (413 in 101 Tests) and fighting qualities on the field, old-timers will probably vote for Prasanna, whose classical bowling action has always been a connoisseur's delight.
Picking all-time best Indian or world teams is never an easy task. Ganguly's teams are strictly a post-Eighties pick because the 1972-born former Indian skipper feels it in unfair to comment on players like Polly Umrigar, Vinoo Mankad or Vijay Hazare he has never seen play. Seeing is believing and that's what Ganguly has stuck too.
Both Kapil and Ganguly have indicated that any team must have the right balance of youth and experience. And of course, the right man to lead. In Indian cricket there are two clear contenders -- Ganguly and Dhoni. By sheers numbers and success rate, Ganguly and Dhoni have no challengers.
While Dhoni has won every piece of ICC silverware a captain can possibly dream of, Ganguly took charge at a time when cricket was emerging from the match-fixing crisis and needed a strong leader. Ganguly not only helped build new careers but taught young players the positive side of aggression and the ability to look the opposition in the eye. Dhoni has only taken the process forward with some amazing results on the field. The Ranchi star consolidated the new Team India whose foundation was laid by the Prince of Kolkata.
Ganguly has done a brilliant balancing act on who should be the captain of his dream teams. Initially reluctant to put himself in the hot seat, Ganguly 'agrees' to be the Test team captain while leaving the ODI position to Dhoni, no questions asked! It was the perfect cover drive by one of the most intelligent man Indian cricket has ever seen.
Ganguly's Dream Teams
ODI XI: Sachin, Sourav, Sehwag, Kohli, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Kapil, Jadeja, Kumble, Srinath, Zaheer. 12th man: Dravid
Text XI: Gavaskar, Sehwag, Dravid, Sachin, Sourav/Viswanath, Dhoni, Kapil, Harbhajan, Kumble, Srinath, Zaheer. 12th man: VVS Laxman