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All-time lists rekindle the memories


Summer, autumn, winter, spring, monsoon and if you are following cricket these days, it is a season of naming the best XIs or all-time lists. Kapil Dev named it first with no players from his World Cup winning side of 1983. Then, Sourav Ganguly came up with his own across 50 overs cricket and Test cricket. Syed Kirmani too announced his best XI of the Ranji side he played his cricket for. If that was not enough, at Karnataka State Cricket Association's Platinum Jubilee meeting, Kumble and others mentioned which were the best players they played with or against.

By no means, such practice is uncommon. In fact, the best XI idea is equally appealing to fans and even to some big names in cricket. The parameters to choose a player may change but the fascination about the same remains strong. Hence, this whole exercise (mostly overwhelming) provides for a good debate and has a potential to acquire a good deal of media space across web, newspapers and magazines. The topic has its takers but also a few who think such lists are a waste of a time.

Nonetheless, naming squad comprising players across eras is a funny experience. It provides fans or whoever makes such squad with one more medium to rekindle their memories. There is no shortage of photos, record books, memorabilia, souvenirs and videos. However, coming up with such all-time list is a thrilling experience for many. One can call it hero-worship of some kind. But it need not be the case always. It is safe to believe that naming such teams is an opportunity to appreciate a particular cricketer's contribution on the field of play.

For cricketers, genuine respect about a quality cricketer(s) in their own or rival team is not too rare. Although an ICC code of conduct asks players ‘to respect the opposition,' players generally are aware of worth a certain cricketer offers. Hence, for fans this all-time list made by cricketers who have played a significant amount of top-level cricket, can become a good platform to know what a certain cricketer thinks about his contemporaries or cricketing peers. While that holds some truth, the best XI kind of teams also reaffirms the cricketing phenomenon that states a great or a better player of a certain era is good enough to play in any other era. To put it differently, the best XIs containing players across eras can be a direct outcome of the above mentioned thought.

But as there are fans who rave about the best XIs, there are many who don’t buy into the brouhaha about best XI or teams of that kind. It is not that the best XIs don't play a match. For the records, such games were played in the past. For example - Australia and World XI engaged in a series of 50 overs and Test matches. But the occurrences of such matches are rare. Even if they are played, to accommodate too many big names of the game, the players in the final XI can be put out of their regular positions in the team line-up. It is argued that the better players are expected to adjust as per the conditions of the game and do well. But even they need time before they could warm up to the new position and to their teammates. Additionally, these teams are rarely going to take the field and engage frequently in a competitive cricket match. So, this whole business of choosing the best XI across eras makes for a good imaginary game and nothing else.

To borrow from the basic principle of leadership that supports the different situation demands a different type of leader, the team may require different sorts of players in a given point of time. While ‘a better player of one era is well equipped to play in another era backs the best XI idea, it, at the same time defies another cricketing belief that highlights the importance of team formation/composition. To continue this point, the ‘best XI' can run in danger of sidelining the bits-and-pieces kind of players. Those who could come up with match turning knock of 30-40 runs, chip in with an important wicket or two or take some sharp catches or create run-out opportunities with their fielding display. The all-time lists run in danger of ignoring the handy players who may not be high on stat/record books yet extremely crucial for their teams at a given point of time.

This view was well supported and logically put forth by Dhoni at his recent media interaction. He stated, "You cannot compare one era with another as they will be different. Whether a player has played one match or a hundred, we should give him respect for what he has achieved and leave it at that. It is like, comparing two-stroke bikes with four-stroke. I don't think you will get a better product by mixing them. At least I will never make an all-time list."

To conclude, I would say that there is nothing fundamentally wrong in naming the best XI. It is a fascinating experience for anyone who makes such teams. In fact, if a cricketer makes such a squad, it is a telling sign that he is no God. But the feasibility of such teams to enthral the audience by their display is very utopian in its nature. Hence, the realists are well in their rights to claim that the best XIs hold absolutely no sense.

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