The writer J.M. Barrie is well-known as the author of Peter Pan. He was also an avid amateur cricketer. Barrie had once put together an eccentric team composed of some of the greatest English writers of his times, including Arthur Conan Doyle, Jerome K. Jerome, A.A. Milne, P.G. Wodehouse, H.G. Wells and G.K. Chesterton.
The name of the team was suitably eccentric as well. The Allahakbarries Cricket Club does not seem to have met with much success between 1887 and 1913, but many of the team members were proficient cricketers. Doyle had famously got the great W.G. Grace out in a first-class match.
Not all unusual teams have to actually take the field as the Allahakbarries did. Some are mere creations of the mind. Few cricket fans can completely get away from the schoolboy urge to make lists of imagined teams. Even Don Bradman fell for the bait just before he died, when he gave the world a list of the greatest cricketers he saw in action. As 14 teams battle it out to win the 2011 cricket World Cup, here is a personal list of the best Indian One Day team that never was, made up of cricketers who played before 1980, when the One Day game came into its own.
Photo: Getty Images
M.A.K. Pataudi (captain)
Eknath Solkar/Salim Durrani
Arguably the most dashing Indian opening batsman before the age of One Day cricket. My father would tell me how Ali would advance down the wicket to even the fastest bowlers to unsettle them.
A good wicketkeeper and bustling batsman, Engineer also had some One Day experience thanks to his long stint in English county cricket. He once scored 93 before lunch in a Test match against the West Indians led by Gary Sobers.
The greatest Indian all-rounder before Kapil Dev, Mankad was a superb left-arm spinner and attacking batsman. His most famous performance was in a Test at Lord’s in 1952, when he scored 72 and 184, and took five wickets in 73 overs. Also, a good fielder off his own bowling.
Not exactly known as an aggressive batsman, but possibly the classiest middle-order Indian batsman before the 1980s, with Vijay Manjrekar and G.R. Vishwanath running close behind. Hazare at one down would have anchored the innings.
A hard-hitting batsman and inspirational leader, he once scored 153 in 116 frenetic minutes against a team of visiting Englishmen in 1927. There were 11 sixes in that knock. But he would have to leave the captainship to the next man on the list.
Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi
A dashing and fearless batsman, it boggles the mind to think what he could have achieved if he had two healthy eyes. Pataudi did much to transform Indian cricket in the 1960s, setting the stage for the successes of the 1970s. A tiger in the field at cover point.
A useful lower-order batsman as well as a bowler who could seam and spin the ball. But, most importantly, Solkar was the sort of cricketer who could walk into a team on the strength of his fielding alone. His fielding would give him an edge over the supremely talented Salim Durrani, a complete lost cause as a fielder.
A genuine all-rounder, Phadkar was a quick bowler and hard-hitting batsman in the lower order. One of the few successes during the 1947 tour of Australia, when the hosts, led by Don Bradman, crushed the Indian team.
One part of the famous duo with Mohammad Nissar in the 1930s, Singh was rated as one of the best swing bowlers in the world. English captain Wally Hammond famously said that Singh was “as dangerous an opening bowler as I have ever seen, coming off the pitch like the crack of doom”. A proficient batsman as well.
The third pace bowler in the team, Desai could extract pace off the wicket despite his tiny frame. He also had a potent bouncer. Old timers in Mumbai cricket have told me that his run-up was so smooth that it was like watching poetry in motion, each step taken with beauty and precision.
Though he was the least celebrated of the famed quartet of spinners, Venkat had unabashed admirers such as Sobers. His flat trajectory was suitable to One Day cricket and the presence of Mankad would anyway keep the great Bishan Singh Bedi out. Venkat was also a brilliant fielder.