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Aug 27, 2010

Eleven talents that kept me very busy - Ponting's XI

In "The Captain's Year", Ricky Ponting names a World XI hand-picked from the best cricketers he has played against in the past decade 

Virender Sehwag (India), Graeme Smith (South Africa) and Jacques Kallis (South Africa)
As a selector, I like the fact that I've picked a right-hand/left-hand combination for my opening partnership. I've always thought it is harder for bowlers and captains when there is a left-hander and right-hander batting together. When that happens, the bowlers are constantly being asked to change their line and the field is always changing, which has to be to the batting side's advantage.
And what a contrast my two opening bats offer. Virender Sehwag, the right-hander, has an almost unique ability to be able to take an attack down and change the course of a Test in an hour, even half an hour. When he is on top of his game he is as good as anyone who has ever picked up a cricket bat, but it is also true that when he is out of touch he looks like he has never batted before in his life. Indian conditions suit him because the ball doesn't swing much over there, so he can get away with not using his feet much. He's scored two triple centuries in Tests, both on the sub-continent, but he's also reached three figures in Tests at Melbourne, Adelaide, Bloemfontein, St Lucia and Nottingham, so he is certainly capable of making runs anywhere in the world.
Maybe it's because we've both been captains for a while, but I've built up a great deal of admiration for my other opener, the left-handed Graeme Smith. I know what it's like to bat in the top order and also be leading the team; that it's often not an easy thing to do. Yet Graeme's Test record is excellent, averaging more than 50 over more than 150 innings, almost all of them as an opener. His style is a little unorthodox, and he is one of those guys who is pretty hard to bowl to because he is so strong through the legside and can be ruthless on anything even remotely short. Initially, we thought he had a weakness on or outside off stump, but he's developed his offside game significantly in the past couple of years.
I've always thought of myself, as a No 3, as being part of the top order, so I've included Jacques Kallis here, with the openers. When you look at what Jacques has been able to do with the bat, averaging more than 55 in 140-odd Tests over the past 14 years, making something like 35 hundreds and taking more than 250 wickets, that is simply amazing. What I like most about his batting is the consistency he's achieved over such a long period of time; maybe he is not quite as dominant a batter as, say, Sachin Tendulkar or Brian Lara, but he is a guy who knows his own game and has the mental strength to stick with what he believes is best for him and his team.
Sachin Tendulkar (India), Brian Lara (West Indies) and Kumar Sangakkara (Sri Lanka)
I guess it's fair to say the Sachin Tendulkar of the 21st century hasn't been quite as good as the Sachin of the 1990s, but he's still been a fantastic player who remains the wicket every bowler in world cricket would most like in their resume. The way he batted against us in Hyderabad a couple of months ago is proof he's still a genius.
I guess many people will think of Sachin and Brian Lara together, because they emerged at roughly the same time and then were considered by most experts to be the best two batters in the game for the best part of a decade, from about 1994 to 2003. When Sachin was at his best, we often felt like he was never going to get out, whereas with Brian we always thought we had a chance, especially in his first few overs because he might just go for a shot that wasn't really on. But if you didn't get him out before he faced 60 balls, then look out! After that, he played the way he wanted to play, and there was nothing we could do to change that. He was a master at manipulating fields, in the process putting bowlers, fielders and captains under pressure.
I know a lot has been made of the burden Sachin has had to carry during his career, from being the most popular Indian cricketer in history, but Brian had his own stress to deal with which in a way was just as confronting. Sachin was usually part of a batting order that also included gifted batters such as Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman and, lately, Gautam Gambhir; in contrast, Brian always batted with the pressure of knowing that the only way the West Indies could possibly win was off his bat. It's amazing looking at his record to see how many of his centuries were scored while the Windies had their backs against the wall.
Kumar Sangakkara is this team's wicketkeeper, but he deserves to make the line-up for his batting alone. There have been few finer knocks played against Australia in the past decade than the 192 he made in Hobart in November 2007, when he was in the middle of an unbelievable run of form. When Adam Gilchrist was at his best, averaging 60 with the bat in Tests and wicketkeeping to a high standard, too, I wasn't sure we'd ever see another keeper/all-rounder capable of influencing a game in the same way, but Kumar at his best is not far behind.
If I was picking the keeper for this team purely on the quality of his glovework I'd go for South Africa's Mark Boucher, but that is not to say that Kumar is not efficient behind the stumps. A good way to measure the quality of a keeper is how many errors they don't make, and I can't recall seeing Kumar making too many, which is not a bad trick given he is often working with Muttiah Muralitharan. And as Murali will be my spinner in this team, picking Kumar as the keeper makes a lot of sense, because from what I have seen the two work well together.
Andrew Flintoff (England)
I am tempted to pick Jacques Kallis as my all-rounder, which is actually very logical given that his Test statistics measure up even against Sir Garfield Sobers, or maybe I could have called Kumar Sangakkara my all-rounder, in the way we used to think of Gilly as an extra frontline batter even though he went in at No 7. This would have given me the opportunity to include another batter probably one of India's Rahul Dravid, Pakistan's Mohammad Yousuf or England's Kevin Pietersen or perhaps a second spinner, most likely Anil Kumble, who was always a handful for us when bowling at home in India.
At the same time, Freddie Flintoff was one of the most talented cricketers I saw during the past 10 years. However, I can't help thinking he should have achieved more than what he did. He was superb against us in 2005, when he had a large influence on just about every game of that famous series bar the first Test at Lord's. His hitting was often prodigious and as a bowler, when he was firing, he was one of those blokes where you never felt like you were truly on top. Freddie also had that rare ability to change the mood of the game through his presence as well as his cricket ability. In recent Ashes Tests in England, the crowd was invariably more involved if he was playing -- the difference between the vibe at the Headingley Test in 2009, when he was out injured, and the other Tests of the series was remarkable.
Curtly Ambrose (West Indies), Wasim Akram (Pakistan) and Shaun Pollock (South Africa)
I can hear you saying, 'You can't pick Curtly Ambrose and Wasim Akram, they hardly played in the 2000s!' And in one sense, you're right: Curtly only played 10 of his 98 Tests after January 1, 2000, and made his farewell to Test cricket in early September 2000, while Wasim's final Test appearance came in January 2002. But they are clearly the best two fast bowlers I have faced during my career and they both played in the decade, so that's good enough for me.
Wasim's ability to swing the ball, whether it be old or new, was second to none. And he could do it at high speed. He had that short run-up and a rapid-fire arm action, which meant I always felt under great pressure when I was trying to survive against him. It didn't matter whether I was on zero, fifty or even 150, it always felt like he could get me out at any time.
The pressure Curtly exerted was different, but just as unrelenting. With him, it was more a case that I just didn't know where my next run was coming from. There were times when it was simply a case of waiting for his spell to end, or taking an undue risk to try to get the scoreboard moving. To me, he was Glenn McGrath, only taller and a few kilometres quicker. I always took some satisfaction from surviving a spell from either Curtly or Wasim; if I ever made a decent score against them, the feeling afterwards was that if I could survive that, I could make runs against just about anyone.
My choice for the third quick was the trickiest call in this whole process. I thought about South Africa's Dale Steyn and New Zealand's Shane Bond, but in the end I've decided to reward longevity at the top level through the decade. To be able to combine excellence and durability is an achievement I will always rate highly, so my decision came down to one of Shaun Pollock or Sri Lanka's Chaminda Vaas. To me, though they are different styles of bowlers, there is little between the two. In the end Shaun got the nod because he was a fractionally better all-round player as well as taking 421 Test wickets (Chaminda took 355) he averaged more than 30 with the bat in Tests, and he was probably a slightly more effective bowler in ODI cricket (I know that shouldn't be a factor when picking a Test XI, but as I said it is very hard to split the two). But please don't think I am underrating Chaminda at all; to open the bowling for Sri Lanka in more than 100 Tests, often in conditions that are unsuitable for pace bowlers, and to be as successful as he was is in my view an amazing effort.
Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka)
What sets Murali apart is that he spins it both ways, and I, like many other batters across the planet, have rarely been able to pick the difference out of his hand. If he was a traditional off-spinner, with the ability to spin the ball into the right-hander and with a well-disguised arm-ball, then he'd be a totally different kettle of fish. He'd still be a really good bowler, but not the lethal wicket-taker he's been for more than a decade.
Knowing that an off-spinner can turn the ball "the other way", away from the outside edge of my bat, means I can't use my feet against him in the way I would against a normal offie. Thus, if I don't get right to the pitch of the ball, then it might spin away from me and I'm gone. Murali has only got me out stumped once in Test matches -- at the Gabba a couple of years ago -- but that's more a reflection of the way I have to play him, the way he's pinned me to the crease, rather than evidence that I've been able to handle him effectively. His method is to build pressure and bring his bat-pad fielders into play, and he's been the best in that business for 15 years, superior to others of a similar style, like Pakistan's Saqlain Mushtaq and India's Harbhajan Singh.


1 comment:

  1. It is very nice to see that pontin has mentioned about two Lankans in his 11 pack. specially I appreciate his words wich has described about murali. As we know murali has been criticizing among Australian for last decade, however pontin's words suggest there is no more criticism on murali.


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