(Photo: Getty Images)
By Derek Pringle
The Partition of British India 70 years ago, which created modern-day India and Pakistan, caused social disruption on an unprecedented scale. It also created an animosity between the two countries that simmers still, borne out by the recent refusal of their cricket teams to play one another in a bilateral series, a situation ongoing since 2007.
It wasn’t always like that, at least on the pitch. Before Partition, Hindus and Muslims played side by side in representing India against England in Test matches during the 1930s. But that changed in 1947 with Partition, when entire communities were separated along religious lines and new international boundaries were drawn.
The two ‘new’ countries began playing each other in 1952, when Pakistan played a five-match series in India which the visitors lost 2-1. Thereafter, the rivals have met a further 54 times in Test matches leaving the overall tally reading 12 wins for Pakistan, nine wins for India, with a whopping 38 matches drawn.
But if we picked two teams comprising the best players since Partition now, which one would win a five-match series, played across both countries?
Naturally, as sole selector of both teams my ‘Best of’ sides will be contentious. For starters, I never saw the great Fazal Mahmood bowl nor Hanif Mohammad bat, but their records and eye-witness accounts can speak for their talent. Likewise, I have not witnessed India’s Polly Umrigar or Vijay Hazare, two cricketing giants of India in the pre-TV age.
My aim is to pick two squads of 14 to play Tests in Lahore, Karachi, Mumbai and Chennai with Kolkata, a city that very nearly became part of Pakistan back in 1947, being the venue for the fifth. The pitch for that final Test (the series should be close given that two previous five-match series between the sides, in 1955 and 1961, both ended 0-0 suggesting neither team gives much quarter), will be prepared by the International Council. I expect the grounds to be filled and TV audiences, along with advertising rates, to be off the scale.
First, then, my India team. There will be no room for captains unworthy of their place so that means no Ajit Wadekar or Nawab of Pataudi, urbane and masterful leaders though they were. Nor will I give it to Sourav Ganguly or Virat Kohli. The crowd and series will be volatile enough without these two passionate men further inflaming matters. Instead, I shall give it to that oasis of calm, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, whose towering presence would not only solve the wicket-keeping problem but ensure that attacking cricket prevailed as well.
India’s openers would be Sunil Gavaskar and Virender Sehwag, a Yin and Yang combination who would see off the shine in contrasting ways; Sehwag by blasting it against the boundary boards and Gavaskar through his perfect forward-defence.
After them would come Rahul Dravid, his steadying influence and impeccable judgment crucial to lengthy contests like Test matches. Dravid also led India to a series victory in Pakistan in 2004, a feat that no other Indian team has managed, so he knows what it takes to win in the Land of the Pure.
The Little Master, Sachin Tendulkar, would be at four with Virat Kohli coming in at five, the former’s calm being followed by the latter’s fire. If the pitch is flat and the ball soft when they come together, heaven help the bowlers.
I’m going to have the already mentioned Umrigar at six. A towering figure in Indian cricket, he held most of India’s run-scoring records for 16 years until Gavaskar overhauled them. He would also supply some off-spin, if required, his all-rounder status being the start of a trio of them including Dhoni and Kapil Dev – Kapil also taking the new ball.
That leaves three bowling slots, which given the slow, bare nature of pitches both in India and Pakistan, should probably comprise two spinners and a pace bowler. Among the spinners there is a case for Subhash Gupte, Erapalli Prasanna and Bhagwan Chandrasekhar to all be included, but I’m going to go with Bishan Bedi and Ravichandran Ashwin with Anil Kumble being in the 14-man squad. Any two of the three could play, though, depending on the conditions.
My pace bowler would be Umesh Yadav, just to add some zip and return fire should Pakistan produce quick pitches at their two home venues. The skilful swinger, Zaheer Khan, would be in the squad as back-up pace bowler while VVS Laxman, a man of languid strokes and impeccable manners, would be the spare batsman.
Pakistan’s post-Partition team should be slightly easier to pick, given they have used fewer players since 1947 than India (228 to 265). Yet, petty politics have played a part in selection even more than with their neighbours, so some selections are bound to be contentious.
Misbah-ul-Haq has strong claims to be Pakistan’s greatest ever captain, given the way he hauled the team from ignominy to become the No. 1 side in the world, but due to my earlier criterion that leaders must be worth their place, the captaincy is going to fall to the ‘Pathan Prince’, Imran Khan.
The openers would be Hanif and Saeed Anwar, another contrasting pair, being right-hand and left but also grit and silk. Following them would be Younis Khan at three, Javed Miandad at four and Inzamam-ul-Haq at five, the three highest run-scorers in Pakistan history.
Having played against Zaheer Abbas and admired his brilliant strokeplay, I would like him in there too, an aesthete to complement the otherwise earthy pragmatism of the middle-order. But he may have to bide his time in the squad until form or injury dictate otherwise.
Number six would be Imran with Sarfraz Ahmed, Pakistan’s current captain, batting at seven and keeping wicket. Wasim Akram would be at eight though his prime role would be to bend to his will the new ball and old along with his chum Waqar Younis. That leaves the spinning roles to be taken by leggie Abdul Qadir and offie Saqlain Mushtaq, the latter having taken 25 wickets against India in four Tests.
Which means Fazal Mahmood and Saeed Ajmal, pace and spin, would make up the squad, the latter’s reconditioned action leaving him as potent as before the change as an off-spinner with a fearsome doosra.
Perhaps somebody with greater computing power than me and with a more intimate knowledge of algorithms could work out the result. All I know is that, given the history of these two teams, and even given that draws have predominated, a five-match series between them would be a mouthwatering prospect even for neutrals like me.
If I had to call it I’d say 2-1 to Pakistan, based on the firepower of Imran, Wasim and Waqar. And yet Wasim has been on the winning side in just three out of 12 Tests against India and Waqar just once out of four, so I could be way off beam.