The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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- Imagining a cricketing clash of civilizations

Those who market world cricket are forever on the look-out for new ways to package the game. The ideas on offer do not always resonate either with good sense or with the paying public. Twenty-Twenty is spectacle rather than sport, pure tamasha, whereas cricket should be — and traditionally has been — a test of skill and character. As for the experiment which placed the Champion Country against All (Other) Comers, this fell flat not because the Australians were so good but because their opponents were so unmotivated. Who, for God’s sake, is going to put on his best for a formless, shapeless, entity called the ‘Rest of the World’'

In this column, I propose an annual contest that promises to be more challenging and appealing than either Twenty-Twenty or Champions versus the Rest. Unlike the first alternative, it shall be played over fifty overs, a space that allows a fuller and freer display of cricketing technique. Unlike the second alternative, it invokes bonds deeper and more compelling than those provided by a residual category such as the ‘Rest’. The contest I have in mind is of a cricketing Clash of Civilizations.

The first contending party we may call, simply, ‘Asia’. This shall represent the continent where cricket is most passionately followed — and played. An ‘Asian XI’ will bring together the best players from those cricketing powerhouses: India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, each of whom have won the World Cup in their time.

The first name to be pencilled into the Asian XI will be of the man who owns — perhaps for all-time — the records for most one-day runs as well as centuries. Here, Sachin Tendulkar will open the innings with Kumar Sangakkara, a stylish, assured left-hander who will also double up as wicket-keeper. The next three choices will likewise be uncontentious. Thus, at numbers three, four, and five will bat the current captains of these countries — Rahul Dravid, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Mahela Jayawardene. The choice of the last batsman is a toss-up — between Pakistan’s Mohammed Yousuf, if one is going for experience, and India’s Yuvraj Singh, if one instead fancies flair, fielding ability, and the odd helpful over with the ball. In the spirit of the contest, I shall suppress my patriotic instincts and choose Yousuf.

As for the Asian bowling, the new ball will be in the capable hands of Chaminda Vaas and Zaheer Khan, left-arm swing bowlers who can swing the bat handily too if required. They will be backed-up by the promising young Pakistani, Mohammed Asif, who in his first year in international cricket has displayed splendid control — of ball as well as head. The side’s spinners will be those magnificent bowlers and characters, Mutthiah Muralitharan and Anil Kumble, men who are as gentle — and gentlemanly — off the field as they are aggressive on it.

In this annual Clash of (Cricketing) Civilizations, Asia will be opposed by a side called ‘Anglo-Saxonia’. The two major countries making up this unit will be cricket’s old colonial power, England, and cricket’s new imperial power, Australia. But New Zealand and (white) South Africa will chip in well. Much like its opponents, this side will be bound together by a common culture and history.

Opening the innings for Anglo-Saxonia will be two attacking left-handers. The South African captain, Graeme Smith, will have as his partner the greatest wicket-keeper-batsman in the history of the game. If Adam Gilchrist gets out early, he will be replaced by his captain, Ricky Ponting, who must be reckoned the best batsman now playing. After Ponting shall come three all-rounders, all massive and muscular yet very gifted withal — Jacques Kallis, Andrew Flintoff and Andrew Symonds.

This is a terrific batting line-up, and the bowling is there to match. The new ball attack will pair the miser Glen McGrath with the tearaway from across the Tasman Sea, Shane Bond. When one or the other tires, Shaun Pollock will step in to keep up the pressure. When the ball loses its sheen, the fast men will make way for the peerless Shane Warne, and in time for the artful Daniel Vettori. Both Warne and Vettori, of course, will chip in (if need be, substantially) with the bat. (Warne, and his comrade-in-slaughter, Glenn McGrath, will both, I am sure, cheerfully ‘suspend’ their retirement from international cricket for this contest.)

The two teams are superbly matched, man for man, to the extent of each having a convicted drugster, bowling on high, Shane Warne in the one case and Mohammed Asif in the other. This is how they will line up:

ASIA: 1. Sachin Tendulkar, 2. Kumar Sangakkara (wicket-keeper), 3. Rahul Dravid (captain), 4. Inzamam-ul-Haq, 5. Mahela Jayawardene, 6. Mohammed Yousuf, 7. Chaminda Vaas, 8. Anil Kumble, 9. Zaheer Khan, 10. Mohammed Asif, 11. Mutthiah Muralitharan.

ANGLO-SAXONIA: 1. Graeme Smith, 2. Adam Gilchrist (wicket-keeper), 3. Ricky Ponting (captain), 4. Jacques Kallis, 5. Andrew Flintoff, 6. Andrew Symonds, 7. Shaun Pollock, 8. Shane Warne, 9. Daniel Vettori, 10. Shane Bond, 11. Glenn McGrath.

Readers will notice that one great international team is unrepresented — the West Indies. I admit that there is a problem — with regard to where to place them. While by skin colour and historical experience (of colonialism), they belong more to Asia, in terms of culture and faith they rest more easily with Anglo-Saxonia. Circa 2007, however, the problem is no problem at all. For while the West Indies were once the acknowledged masters of world cricket, they have fallen away very heavily indeed. About the only West Indian who would even be a contender for a spot in a world one-day eleven is the left-handed opener, Chris Gayle. But surely Smith is more consistent than him, while Gilchrist, of course, is irreplaceable.

The problem of West Indian non-representativeness can be tackled by having, as our two umpires, Billy Doctrove and Steve Bucknor. As for the likely venue, one obvious choice presents itself — Iraq, a land badly in need of civilization in the form of cricket. Let me then suggest that the matches, three in all, be held in cities in each of that land’s main regions — one in the Kurdish town of Kirkut, a second in the capital, Baghdad, the third in the southern port of Basra. The cricketers will play by day, and in whites, this being the colour not just of classical cricket but of peace as well.

The timing is perfect to play cricket in Iraq, and the time zones too, with the matches played early enough to take in Europe, but not too late to omit Australasia (while the bulk of the television audience shall rest, naturally, in the Indian sub-continent). But one must also hope for a decent attendance at the grounds, some of this provided by American servicemen and al Qaida insurgents, admitted into the premises on condition they leave their guns and bombs behind, thereby to witness — and learn from — a war played with bat and ball alone.

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