A team to set pulses racing

Though by no means a vintage World Cup, there were plenty of individual performances to reflect the new age of one-day cricket.

Though by no means a vintage World Cup, there were plenty of individual performances to reflect the new age of one-day cricket. Gone are the days of bit-part, mix-and-match players. Hail instead the specialist, whose brief is to attack.

Sachin Tendulkar, no doubt, will fill one of the opening slots in a World XI team. His exploits in the just concluded World Cup were phenomenal. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

While attempting to select the best team from all the cricketers who participated, it is tempting to settle for the Australians en masse. The collective spirit which accompanies their vault of talent, huge hearts and strong minds is the most potent force in the world game and makes them quite irresistible.

Perhaps they are the best of all one-day teams, including the West Indies sides of the late Seventies and early Eighties because of the advance they have made tactically and the extraordinary attention that is paid to detail. But feeble it would be to wimp out like that and, anyway, Matthew Hayden and Darren Lehmann do not deserve such status for their efforts here. That then is the criteria, performances during the last six weeks, not reputation or record.

The openers pick themselves and give us the finest batsman of the time, Sachin Tendulkar, and the wicketkeeper, Adam Gilchrist. Other possibilities were Herschelle Gibbs and Stephen Fleming who carried their countries' batting with flair and resilience but who remain one rung below the very best the game has seen.

Gibbs can come in at three, to continue to take advantage of the field restrictions during the first 15 overs should Gilchrist or Tendulkar falter. He is a remarkably clean striker of the ball, almost in the Gilchrist class, and one of the frustrations of the tournament was that neither he nor our No 4, Brian Lara, were tested against Australia. Lara's magical innings in the first match against South Africa was a perfect follow-up to the themed and colourful Opening Ceremony and set a tone for the event.

At No 5, and to lead this gifted throng, must be Ricky Ponting, as much for the way in which he lit up the final as any other cameo he brought to the party. Until that Sunday evening Sourav Ganguly had this position secured but the Australian captain's musketeering hundred on the biggest occasion seems a greater achievement than Ganguly's three hundreds against less demanding opposition.

Only three times in the whole World Cup were the Australians truly under the cosh and twice they were bailed out by the coolest, most clinical batsman on view, Michael Bevan. Bevan does these salvage jobs on all pitches and against all types of bowler. He offers the top five untold security and allows the man who follows him, Andrew Symonds, to play in his own freewheeling way.

For Symonds, read Sanath Jayasuriya, Wasim Akram or even the Canadian/Australian John Davison. In the absence of a world-class all-rounder this is the hardest spot to fill. Jacques Kallis or Shaun Pollock would usually qualify and Brad Hogg might be the man if all games were played in Port Elizabeth. As it is, Symonds fields with incredible intensity, thrills with his powerful strokeplay.

The four front-line bowlers have let their figures do the talking. Brett Lee is magnificent, for me the player of the tournament. Seriously fast, accurate, crafty and skilful with the ball, he also fields as if possessed and bats with vigour. Glenn McGrath takes wickets which really matter and crushes irritant minnows such as Namibia.

Chaminda Vaas is the finished article now, versatile and blessed with a wide range of answers to the various styles of batting which challenge him. There is a case in his place for Shane Bond that may be too strong to be refuted on a fast and hard pitch.

There can be no case against Muttiah Muralitharan, not his performances anyway. He has not taken so many wickets because everyone blocks him and looks to slog the other Sri Lankans, except Vaas of course, which rather plays into their hands.

There it is then, a team of 11 with Ganguly, Akram, Jayasuriya and Bond to make up the party of 15.

For what it is worth, three of this team — Gilchrist, Tendulkar and Lee — might get into the best one-day team ever and a few others would threaten. Perhaps that tells us that the game is moving on. But the problem with modern limited-overs cricket is that so few games are close. The teams play too much and know each other too well. It is time to tinker with the format and set new challenges to players whose professionalism has made the game more predictable and less interesting for it.

World Cup XI: A. C. Gilchrist (Australia), S. R. Tendulkar (India), H. H. Gibbs (S Africa), B. C. Lara (West Indies), *R. T. Ponting (Australia), M. G. Bevan (Australia), A. Symonds (Australia), B. Lee (Australia), W. P. U. J. C. Vaas (Sri Lanka), M. Muralitharan (Sri Lanka), G. D. McGrath (Australia).