Wednesday, January 18, 2012

T20 legends - that never were... (Part 1: batsmen)

This year’s Australian T20 Big Bash League (BBL) has seen the re-emergence of a number of retirees into the forefront of the game - Warne, Hayden, Hogg and MacGill. Instead of simply making up numbers or acting as a marketing tool, though they have done that too, all four have shown touches of genius against peers much younger. So, I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at players whose careers had finished prior to the T20 circus, but who would have likely outshone all before them had they played in the current era (the only stipulations – players must have played at ODI level but retired prior to T20I).

It's likely all of us have selected a fantasy team at some stage; a side we'd love to see play, and which ignores nationality, age and era, but in our minds would dominate all comers. I have tried to do nothing more than that - I have selected a T20 team of international legends I would have loved to see in the current format. It'll never take to any field but it's the kind of team I would imagine playing against as a child as I repetitively hit a ball hanging from the rafters in the garage. It's not a definitive list and not driven solely by statistics; they seldom tell the full story. Where I have had to choose between two or more players for one position I’ve gone for the older one. Don’t ask me why – respect for my elders, perhaps? Please keep in mind I'm a Kiwi but I grew up watching the West Indies dominate the international arena - I would have liked just to choose a team full of Windies greats accompanied by Dean Jones and Wasim Raja, but where’s the fun in that?

Like most of the current BBL or IPL squads, I’ve selected 20 players which made it easier for me to include a few more legends too. I’ll cover the squad off in two parts; this blog, Part 1, will look at the top six batsmen, while Part 2 will select a bowling line-up to complement them as well as considering the wider squad. 

The playing XI:
1. Roy Fredericks
West Indies. Matches: 12, Runs: 311, Average: 25.91, Strike rate: 70.68 (all ODI statistics)
A batsman who genuinely relished facing the quicks, Fredericks’ international record was solid if not outstanding. So, why pick him? One reason and one reason alone – a 71 ball century at the WACA (in the days when it was ferociously quick) against a bowling attack that included Lillee and Thomson. That effort still stands amongst the fastest test centuries in a game latterly laced with dashers such as Richards, Warner, Gayle, Afridi et al. Imagine what he might do to today’s quicks on T20 roads!
2. Romesh Kaluwitharana (Wk)
Sri Lanka. Matches: 189, Runs: 3711, Average: 22.22, Strike rate: 77.70
Along with Sanath Jayasuriya, ‘Kalu’ took batting at the top of the order to a new level during World Series Cricket in Australia in 1995/6. He struck at close to 100 and continued that as he helped Sri Lanka to their first World Cup title on the sub-continent later in 1996. His overall record would scare no-one but for those few short months he set up huge totals with a break-neck start and would likely do the same in T20. I’ve selected him because he can take the wicket keeping gloves, though it was a close run thing with the current England coach.

3. Dean Jones
Australia. Matches: 164, Runs: 6068, Average: 44.61, Strike rate: 72.56
There are very few batsmen who have terrorised fieldsmen with their running quite as Deano did. Even in today’s tip and run format he would have run fielding sides ragged. He changed the way modern batsmen played one-day cricket as he walked down the wicket at the quicks and put them on the back foot. As an outfielder he was unrivalled – an Andrew Symonds of an earlier era.

4. Sir Viv Richards
West Indies. Matches: 187, Runs: 6721, Average: 47.00, Strike rate: 90.20
Imagine being two down in a T20 match and seeing King Viv swagger to the wicket. He was the most destructive batsman of his era and with today’s boundaries constantly being shortened for ‘entertainment’ he would have regularly cleared the ropes. But the key to his brilliant stroke making was an uncanny ability to deposit a length ball through mid-wicket and then smash the same ball through extra cover next up. His skidding off-spinners would have been taxing in a season that has been dominated by spinners, and his cat-like fielding would have tested batsmen looking for a sharp single into the covers.

5. Mark Waugh
Australia. Matches: 244, Runs: 8500, Average: 39.35, Strike rate: 76.90
One of the most elegant stroke makers of any era, Junior could play every shot in the book with consummate ease and often treating even the best international bowlers with absolute contempt. What’s more, he could go the aerial route whenever he chose. His easy off-spin would be an asset as another bowling option, as would his unrivalled athleticism anywhere in the circle.

6. Clive Lloyd (C)
West Indies. Matches: 87, Runs: 1977, Average: 39.54, Strike rate: 81.22
Having led his side to three World Cup finals, the first two as victors, Lloyd would lead my side of superstars. At 6ft 5in. and with huge shoulders, Lloyd wielded a bat most other international cricketers would have struggled to pick up. When in the mood he could dismantle any attack and for a big man was a fantastic fielder in the inner ring.

Given the roads today’s T20 cricket is played on, a total of 200 would be viewed as below par for some of the hardest hitters ever to take guard and face the music. These legends of the game would entertain even the harshest opposition crowds with an unrivalled batting ferocity.

Next up: Part 2 – Bowlers (and the wider squad)

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