Selecting the World XI

Print edition : April 11, 2003

Sri Lanka's Chaminda Vaas was the highest wicket taker in the 2003 World Cup. - V.V. KRISHNAN

There were several acts of individual brilliance in the 2003 cricket World Cup. An attempt to select the star performers in a World XI, based on their form in the event.

THIS World Cup will not be remembered for its close matches, but there were several acts of individual brilliance over the six weeks. It is now time to hand out the honours, recognise the stars, and make up a composite team. In the spirit of drawing-room cricket conversation everywhere, a World XI based on performances in the 2003 World Cup, is constituted below.

Weight has been given to the importance of a player's contribution to his team's fortunes and his performances under pressure. Contrary to some pre-tournament expectations, no all-rounder that is, a batting-bowling all-rounder has impressed. Based on that fact, this World XI includes six regular batsmen and five regular bowlers; while some selected are capable of contributing in both departments, they are not true all-rounders.

This time the pitches were, by and large, friendly to the batsmen. In consequence, several teams chose to play seven batsmen and rely on part-time bowlers. At first glance, playing six batsmen seems to make for a long tail but part-time bowlers represent a substantial risk that might not be outweighed by the presence of an extra batsman. Moreover, if six world-class batsmen, who are currently in excellent form, cannot score enough runs, it is hard to see how an additional batsmen will make a material difference.

Sachin Tendulkar, the Player of the Tournament, is the first name that comes to mind. He scored 673 runs at an average of 61.18 and a strike rate of 89.25. It was not merely his aggregate but the dominant manner in which he got his runs that impressed. Sachin was the catalyst for India's run to the final and his awe-inspiring performances in this World Cup make him an obvious selection as opener.

For his destructive batting at the top of the order, Adam Gilchrist wins the second opening spot over Herschelle Gibbs, Marvan Attapatu, Sanath Jayasuriya, Stephen Fleming and John Davison. As Gilchrist showed in the final, a typical attacking start from him immediately puts the opposition on the back foot and eases the pressure on the other batsmen. He scored 408 runs, including four fifties, at an average of 40.8 and a strike rate of 105.15. He will make any side based on his batting alone, but his additional role as wicket-keeper cements his spot. He also brings to the game a spirit of old-fashioned chivalry witnessed in his Brian Lara-like walking away from the middle when he knew that he was out against Sri Lanka.

Even though he cannot be accommodated in his accustomed spot, Gibbs must follow Tendulkar and Gilchrist at number three in this World XI. Gibbs single-handedly managed to keep his side competitive in some key games. He scored 384 runs, including a highest of 143 and two fifties, at an average of 96 and a strike rate of 100.78. Gibbs was the fifth highest run-getter in the tournament, a striking fact considering South Africa was eliminated in the first stage of the tournament. The prospect of Tendulkar and Gilchrist causing havoc, in tandem, at the top of the order is too enticing to give up. But Gibbs cannot be overlooked and so the next best alternative is to play him at number three. With his wide-ranging repertoire of cricket strokes and his ability to score against pace and spin, he can be a match-winner in this slot.

Ricky Ponting, Andrew Symonds, and either Ramnaresh Sarwan or Rahul Dravid are thechoices to fill the middle-order spots in this team, though several others, including Aravinda de Silva, Andy Flower, Sourav Ganguly, Yuvraj Singh, and Michael Bevan merit consideration.

(From left) Adam Gilchrist, Andy Bichel and Andrew Symonds celebrate the fall of Aravinda de Silva in the semi-finals. Gilchrist was devastating with the bat on several occasions. Bichel and Symonds were the finds of the tournament for Australia.-

Ponting's magnificent 140 in the final confirmed his reputation as a champion batsman in both forms of the game. At times, he looked susceptible to spin but he dominated when it mattered most. Ponting was the third highest run-scorer in the tournament and his 415 runs, including two hundreds and one fifty, came at an average of 51.87 and a strike rate of 87.92. He also fielded and led his side superbly and is a clear choice to captain this team of star performers.

The selection for the number five spot can be narrowed down to Ramnaresh Sarwan and Rahul Dravid. In the past, they have been dubbed as Test-only players but it is now clear that they are among the finest even in the shorter version of the game. Both have proved excellent at building partnerships, rotating the strike, finishing effectively, and bearing the burden of great responsibility.

Sarwan was explosive in the death. He scored 209 runs, including one fifty, at an average of 104.5 and a strike rate of 95.87. Tendulkar may have been India's star, but enough cannot be said in praise of Dravid's contribution. He played four crucial innings against Zimbabwe, England, Pakistan and New Zealand and delivered each time he was at the crease. He scored 318 runs, including two fifties, at an average of 63.6 and a strike rate of 64.11.

Ideally, both Dravid and Sarwan should be picked. But then, the explosive Andrew Symonds is perfect for the sixth spot and cannot be omitted. The choice between Sarwan and Dravid is left to the reader.

Symonds promised a lot in the past and finally delivered in this World Cup and how. His century against Pakistan was a flawless gem and his 91 against Sri Lanka in the semi-final was invaluable.

Symonds scored 326 runs, including a century and two fifties, and averaged 163 and scored at a strike rate of 90.55. His tremendous shot-making ability and his quickness between the wickets are assets at the death. He is also a spectacular fielder.

Brett Lee and Shane Bond have been devastating and lead the bowling selections in this team. Brett Lee was, arguably, the pick of the bowlers in this tournament. He demonstrated this with 22 World Cup wickets at 17.9 apiece. He bowled with hostile pace and immaculate accuracy and attacked at all times. Both Lee and Bond used their extreme pace to full effect and sometimes looked almost impossible to face. They were expensive occasionally, but this can be overlooked since they were constantly striving for wickets. Bond took 17 wickets at an average of 17.94.

Andy Bichel is an ideal foil to the two genuinely fast bowlers. His line and length were impeccable and he generated plenty of swing. Bichel made key contributions in almost every game he played. He took 16 wickets at 12.31 apiece and an economy rate of 3.45. Few would have expected Bichel to play two vital knocks, which he did against England and New Zealand. He is being selected in the side primarily for his bowling, also for the sheer entertainment value of having the tail wag.

Left arm seamers have had a very successful World Cup, but none more so than the World Cup's highest wicket taker, Chaminda Vaas. Vaas rounds up the pace quartet in this team. He showed plenty of variation and his ability to swing the ball both ways made him difficult to handle.

In general, spinners did not perform exceptionally in this World Cup. But they did add variety and were able to apply the brakes on the batsmen. Of the spinners in the World Cup, only Muttiah Muralitharan, Brad Hogg and Collins Obuya can be considered for selection. Muralitharan is the sole spinner in this World XI, even though his wicket tally was not as large as it usually is. He was effective in stopping the flow of runs whenever he bowled, particularly at the death. He took 17 wickets at an average of 18.76 and an economy rate of 3.63.

Selecting a World XI from this year's World Cup is a tough challenge and must involve at least a degree of subjectivity. Nevertheless, here is my line up:

1.Sachin Tendulkar 2. Adam Gilchrist (wicket-keeper) 3. Herschelle Gibbs 4. Ricky Ponting (captain) 5. Ramnaresh Sarwan/Rahul Dravid 6. Andrew Symonds 7. Andy Bichel 8. Chaminda Vaas 9. Brett Lee 10. Muttiah Muralitharan 11. Shane Bond

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