Go ahead, pick your Dream XIs

Picking dream XIs can be the trickiest task. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, not always the diplomat, would, however, like to leave it well alone. And who can blame him for that? This is not an exercise a current player would like to indulge in, perhaps not only for fear of stepping on the toes of his contemporaries as much as the difficulty of comparing players across eras.

Dhoni has promised never to do it in his life. But that is a bit of a stretch. Surely, he would spend an hour on this someday in his life.
Comparisons may be odious but they are made nevertheless. Truth is they can be awkward. For instance, how great was Vijay Merchant — a very great batsman yes, but when it comes to measuring his contribution to Indian cricket would you place him above or below Anil Kumble? The spinner cannot be allowed to suffer because of the theory that standards have watered down over the years and that the golden era, as defined by an older generation, is always the best.
One hundred of us were picked to choose the five greatest cricketers of the 20th century. Not one got all the five names right. Several got four but not one predicted all the five who came out of the Wisden poll. Younger judges may not have fitted in John Berry Hobbs while the older ones may not have rated Shane Warne as highly. While Sir Donald Bradman and Sir Garry Sobers were certain to be on everyone’s list, the other three were tricky choices considering we are measuring 100 years of cricket in one go.
Just for the record, the Wisden quintet chosen were Bradman (100 votes), Sobers (90) , Hobbs (30), Warne (27) and Richards (25). The last named was a bit of a surprise while Sachin’s omission is also worth debating. There was no bar on including current cricketers and both Sachin (got six votes) and Warne were near the zenith of their careers towards the turn of the millennium. Warne may have got in for mastering what has been a fast disappearing art while even a champion batsman could be said to be one among many.
Picking an all-time XI for any country with a long history in the game is never going to be easy. Comparisons across eras are bound to bristle with the highest degree of difficulty, especially because the amount of Tests played in the prime of a career varies across the eras. Players in the past would have suffered from too little cricket while the current generation, perhaps, can claim to be facing a surfeit of cricket.
Not even the career average can be the definitive criterion because batsmen of previous generations would not have played enough when they were in the most productive phase of their careers. The computerised rankings may help somewhat by bringing in several other mathematical measurements but they too generally tend to favour the current generation more. Given the quirky nature of the game, it’s impossible to say who is greater among the greats.
The exercise of choosing Dream XIs or All-Time XIs is generally reserved in the media box for rainy days or, say, when Chris Tavare is batting. Not to pick such XIs would be denying the journalist what is close to his birthright. And now the legends of the game are also getting into it. The one problem there is modesty may forbid them from including themselves, as in the case of Kapil Dev, India’s triumphant skipper in 1983. The same does not apply to another captain who roused India into winning action, Sourav Ganguly.
With more such Dream XIs certain to come out soon, the debate will go on. And cricket lends itself so very easily to just that — arguments and lively discussion . Kapil, Sourav and Dhoni may have just set off another series of debates on the All-Time Indian XI.

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