Dream team

Published April 15, 2010

Cricinfo, the one-stop site for all cricket fans, has been running through various nations’ all-time XIs. They’ve already covered Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa, and Sri Lanka. Next up on their list is Pakistan, so I thought I would save them the trouble and just do their job for them.

Actually, when I thought about selecting this team, I realised that there wasn’t much thinking to do at all. The team selects itself; there are at most – at most – three places that could be seriously debated. But before we get into the nitty gritty details, allow me to present my dream team. Remember, this is for Test match cricket only (i.e. real cricket), so all you Shahid Afridi and Imran Nazir fan boys, please relax.

In my opinion, Pakistan's all time XI are:

1. Hanif Mohammad

2. Saeed Anwar

3. Younis Khan

4. Javed Miandad

5. Inzamam-ul-Haq

6. Imran Khan (captain)

7. Wasim Akram

8. Rashid Latif (wk)

9. Abdul Qadir

10. Fazal Mahmood

11. Waqar Younis

First things first: I understand the batting is a touch weak. Playing two all-rounders at six and seven is usually a recipe for disaster, particularly if you lose a couple of early wickets. Plus, the tail is a bit long – Qadir, Fazal, and Waqar could all bat a bit, but none count among the uber-dogged tailenders who could bat a session. And it’s not like Rashid was Adam Gilchrist with the bat.

But you know what? It can’t be helped. If Pakistan had a super-duper star available at number six, I’d pick him, shunt everyone down a spot, and drop Fazal. But I can’t do that because there are no contenders. Asif Iqbal is a possibility, but when you consider that his batting average of 38.9 is barely better than Imran Khan’s (37.7), it doesn’t make much sense. One could also play Mohammad Yousuf here, but other than that one ungodly period from October 2005 to February 2007, his career has flattered to deceive.

He doesn’t belong in this team. No, two-all rounders at six and seven is the only way to go. But I’ll come back to this.

Let’s return to the top. Can anyone argue against the openers? Only Majid Khan’s friends and family perhaps, and fans of cool sideburns, but few others. Hanif and Saeed were easily the two greatest openers in Pakistan’s history, both averaging in the mid-40s (and when averages in the mid-40s actually meant something, unlike today). Plus, they’d complement each other nicely, with Saeed providing the flair and Hanif the solidity. Moreover, the left-right combination would upset the bowlers. No question, then, they’re starting us off.

Next we get to number three. Now, I know I’ve often been accused of being too much of a Younis fan on the Dawn Blog, but hear me out. First of all, as far as top-order batsmen in Pakistan go, he’s had bigger, uh, guts than most anyone who’s come before him. He’s one of those guys who’s always up for a battle, and you need a guy like that at one-down.

Second, he’s an excellent player abroad, and against the top teams – he averages 44 in Australia, and 43 against South Africa. Compare that to Zaheer Abbas, the other prime candidate for this spot, who averaged a pathetic 19 against the West Indies, the Australia of his day. Zaheer seems to have been my father’s generation’s Mohammad Yousuf: pretty to look at, but not someone you want with you in the trenches. Younis, on the other hand, would make for fine company in the trenches. Plus, his brilliant slip catching basically guarantees him a spot in a team light on top class fielders. He’s in.

Four and five are easy. Javed and Inzi are Pakistan’s two greatest batsmen, and I don’t know a single man, woman, child, or dog who would argue this point. The only issue might be with the running if they bat together – Javed was a hare between the wickets and relied on the single as both a defensive weapon (to get off strike) and an offensive weapon (unsettle bowlers, get momentum going in tough conditions).

Inzi, on the other hand, well… let’s just leave it at that.

Six and seven are taken by two of the greatest all-rounders in the history of cricket. Imran Khan is the most valuable cricketer Pakistan has ever produced – his batting, bowling, fielding, work ethic, captaincy, charisma, and confidence changed the way Pakistanis thought about cricket. Waz, meanwhile, may well have been even more gifted than Imran, but you never got the feeling that he put in the work on his batting that Imran did, which is a pity, because he certainly had the talent.

Waqar and Qadir are also certain selections. For a period of about five years, between 1989 and 1994, Wicky may well have been the most devastating and destructive fast bowler of all time. After his first 31 Tests, Waqar had a scarcely believable 180 wickets at an average of eighteen point seven eight with a strike rate of 35.6 (a wicket every six overs basically). Read those numbers again, and weep for the back injuries which rendered him a merely great bowler for the rest of his career.

For his part, Qadir is Pakistan’s greatest ever spinner, and with the right captain in this team (Imran), good close in fielders (Inzi at slip, Younis at silly point), and a great keeper (Rashid), he’d get plenty of wickets, even if we have neutral umpires now.

I’m going with Rashid as keeper, because I’ve rarely seen a more natural keeper. I’m not beholden to this – if you want to argue for Wasim Bari or Salim Yousuf, I can make peace with that. I’ll just say this: it’s clear some keepers are constructed (Gilchrist, Dhoni, Alec Stewart) and some keepers are born (Rashid, Healy). When you look at the latter group, you think that they popped into this world with gloves already on, shouting instructions at the delivery doctor, and telling the nurses to keep a good line. Besides, Rashid gets bonus points for being the whistle-blower on the match fixing in the 1990s, and generally being a man of integrity.

And last but not least, Fazal Mahmood. I obviously never saw him play, but take a look at his profile photograph on Cricinfo. How cool does he look? Also, other than Hanif, the entire team is a post-1980s enterprise, and I want to mix it up a little bit. Lastly, Fazal is a Pakistani legend, and was perhaps the first bowling superstar Pakistan ever had. He’d bring something different to the table, given that the other three fast bowlers in the team are all out-and-out quicks, and each is probably better with the old ball than the new.

Fazal was a classical new ball bowler, fast-medium at best, with lots of dippers and cutters. He’d get the new ball in this team along with Waz; Imran would be first change; and then Qadir and Wicky would come on when the ball gets a little old.

That, in a nutshell, is my all-time Pakistan XI. What about you, readers? What’s your dream team?

Ahsan Butt is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Chicago, and he blogs at Five Rupees. The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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