Restricted though the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction was this year, it did not fail to excite—or baffle and befuddle. Michael Clarke, Ricky Ponting and R.P. Singh all sold for the same price ($400,000, or around Rs.2 crore), a million bucks for rookie all-rounder Glenn Maxwell, match-winners Vernon Philander and Matt Prior unsold. Somebody’s got to be kidding.
If you saw the sombre faces of franchise owners, their cahoots and advisers at the auction though, it was clear this was no laughing matter. Furious number-crunching, rapid-fire analyses and mind games preceded the bids for players.
Despite this, to those weaned on conventional cricket logic, several bids may have made no sense. But to use an old axiom (out of context and with due apologies to the French mathematician Blaise Pascal), the Twenty20 (T20) format provides reasons which reason knows nothing of.
For instance, a batsman who can hit a frenetic 30 (off, say, eight balls) would be a match-winner in most T20 matches. In One Day Internationals (ODIs), the value of such an innings would be substantially devalued. In Test cricket, the same batsman would probably be shown the door after a couple of warnings.
Some of the greatest batsmen in the history of the game, like W.G. Grace, Ranjitsinhji, Jack Hobbs, George Headley, Leonard Hutton, Vijay Merchant and Sunil Gavaskar—to name a few—would perhaps be misfits in the T20 game because it would be in complete contradiction to their cricketing nature as we know it.
Why, even Don Bradman, despite his phenomenal run-getting in Tests, may not be of as much value as, say, a Victor Trumper, Denis Compton or Clyde Walcott because he was loath to hit the ball in the air, which is almost a prerequisite in T20.
But I am basing this argument on what we have seen, heard and read about their prowess and the quality of cricket they played. Extrapolation of their skills and strike-power into the modern era would require algorithms of statistical analyses that I don’t know exist or clairvoyance that I don’t possess.
Obviously, these great players would have adapted, and given their mastery over batsmanship, perhaps even excelled. Gavaskar played the slowest innings in an ODI (36 not out against England in the 1975 World Cup) but also hit the fastest century by an Indian, versus New Zealand in the 1987 World Cup.
The assessment is relatively easier when it comes to bowlers, but only just. When limited-overs cricket started, it was believed that bowlers who were accurate and economical were better than those who were wicket-takers. That theory has since been debunked—or almost.
As the genre evolved, it was found that wicket-taking bowlers won more matches than those who tried to defend a score, or tried to slow down the scoring of the side batting first. As strategies developed, bowling in the “death” overs became even more crucial.
The T20 format, however, makes the demands on bowlers even more excruciating. Jeff Thomson, a terrific strike bowler in Tests, was not quite as effective in ODIs and could, in fact, become a liability in T20 because there was only one way he knew how to bowl. The T20 game demands astuteness, versatility and great control.
Runs must be curtailed, but wickets must also be taken. Parsimony is important, wicket-taking ability even more so—and every over is a death over, so there is no room for error at all. This makes it imperative for bowlers to be three-in-ones, so to speak.
The sheer brevity of the T20 format not only makes for topsy-turvy results, but in many cases, also turns the “brand equity” of players upside down, if you get what I mean. The best in Test or One Day cricket may not necessarily be as proficient in the newest avatar of the sport.
Yet there are players who would be brilliant in all three formats. The recent IPL auction made me mull on who would be the best buys for a T20 team. I restricted myself to players I have seen in action and who have excelled at least in ODIs to make the extrapolation to the T20 format possible.
This is my Dream Team (provided all are in peak form). How much would it cost? Go figure.
Adam Gilchrist, Chris Gayle, Vivian Richards, Sachin Tendulkar, Ricky Ponting, Garry Sobers, Kapil Dev, Wasim Akram, Richard Hadlee, Shane Warne (captain), Dale Steyn. 12th man: Yuvraj Singh.
Photographs: Getty Images
Ayaz Memon is a senior columnist who writes on sports and other matters.