From S Ramesh to Parthiv Patel: India’s best alternative Test XI | cricket | Hindustan Times
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From S Ramesh to Parthiv Patel: India’s best alternative Test XI

It could be argued that the relatively overlooked names included never got their due, despite an obvious talent and a number of Tests (minimum five) under their belt.

cricket Updated: Sep 30, 2016 21:51 IST
Gaurav Bhatt
Inconsistent behind the stumps, it was Patel’s batting that kept him in the Test side before he lost his place first to Dinesh Karthik and then MS Dhoni.
Inconsistent behind the stumps, it was Patel’s batting that kept him in the Test side before he lost his place first to Dinesh Karthik and then MS Dhoni.(PTI)

The favourite pastime of cricket fans, armchair pundits and journalists is to conjure a dream eleven to rule them all. The second favourite is getting into shouting matches over it.

While the Sachins, Dravids and Kumbles are a shoo-in for any fantasy Test squad, they are also a little too – dare we say it -- mainstream.

We at HT care for the hipsters and thus have come up with a Test XI (and a deserved 12th man) for the next time someone gets in your face with the same old Sehwag or Merchant conundrum.

It could be argued that the relatively overlooked names included never got their due, despite an obvious talent and a number of Tests (minimum five) under their belt.

So put down that mason jar, pause the Arctic Monkeys and take notes (or scroll right down for the ‘too long;didn’t read’ version).

Sadagoppan Ramesh

Test career span (1999-2001)

Tests Runs Avg 100/50

19 1367 37.97 2/8

Imagine taking up cricket as a medium pacer, making the U-16 team as an offspinner, and playing your first Test as an opener. In your home town. Against a Pakistan attack comprising Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis, Shoaib Akhtar, Saqlain Mushtaq and Mushtaq Ahmed. In a story that would make a better film than the upcoming MS Dhoni biopic, Sadagoppan Ramesh went on to score a brisk 41-ball 43, prompting captain Mohammad Azharuddin to hug him and say, “I’ve never seen any youngster or anybody bat against Wasim like this”.

During the late ‘90s, when India experimented with a number of openers, Ramesh appeared to be the answer. After seven Tests, Ramesh racked up an average of 57 and two hundreds. However, he failed to touch the magical three-figure mark after that. A wretched tour of Australia (his only series out of the subcontinent) followed and Ramesh was dropped after the series in Sri Lanka -- where he was India’s second highest run getter with five 30+ scores in six innings.

We are not that heartless. Ramesh opens the innings for us.

Bonus trivia: In the 1999 Coca Cola Cup match against West Indies, Ramesh became the first player to pick up a wicket with his first ball in ODIs. Wavell Hinds achieved the feat in the same game!

ML Jaisimha (captain)

Test career span (1959-1971)

Tests Runs Avg 100/50

39 2056 30.68 3/12

With his spotless white gear, collar-up style and filmstar looks, ML Jaisimha was more charismatic than many current pretenders. He batted with the same flair, the front-foot drive his signature shot. ‘Jai’ scored over 2000 runs with three centuries. But it is believed that the Hyderabadi – who had 13,516 runs and 431 wickets in 245 first-class matches -- didn’t do justice to his raw talent.

The keen cricket mind is also one of the best captains to have never led India. He, however, did lead Hyderabad (and often then national captain MAK Pataudi) for 16 seasons and thus is the captain for our side. And though he never relished opening the innings, he partners Ramesh, keeping the sacrosanct right-left combination intact.

Bonus trivia: For the 1967-68 Australia tour, the selectors inexplicably dropped Jaisimha – then an established name. Bhagwat Chandrasekhar – a specialist leg spinner – got injured on the tour and specialist batsman Jaisimha was sent by the first available flight. Within hours of landing in Brisbane, Jaisimha took guard and scored 74 and 101, almost leading India to a win.

WV Raman

Test career span (1988-1997)

Tests Runs Avg 100/50

11 448 24.88 0/4

While it was the debutant Narendra Hirwani who stole all the limelight in the Madras Test against West Indies in 1988 (more on that later), hometown boy Woorkeri Raman began well enough as well. Coming in for the injured Dilip Vengsarkar, the 23-year-old scored 83 in the second innings.

But while he became the first Indian to score an ODI hundred against South Africa in 1992-93, he could never reach the three-figure mark in Tests, despite coming close with the scores of 96 and 72 not out during the 1990 New Zealand tour. Raman was dropped in favour of Vinod Kambli when England visited in 1993, and failed when recalled for the South Africa tour four years later.

Bonus trivia: A handy left-arm orthodox, Raman took a wicket in his first over in Test cricket, getting Courtney Walsh out stumped.

Surinder Amarnath

Test career span (1976-1978)

Tests Runs Avg 100/50

10 550 30.55 1/3

Best described as the Bobby Deol of the Amarnath family, Surinder couldn’t reach the heights of popularity of his father Lala and brother Mohinder despite obvious talent. The prodigal son scored 86 runs on his Ranji debut at 15, a century on debut in an unofficial Test against Sri Lanka and another century on Test debut in New Zealand. Of his 10 Tests, only two came at home.

After being sent home from the tour to Australia due to an injury, Surinder did well in Pakistan in 1978-79, his last appearance on the international stage. A year later, he scored a 235 not out for Delhi against a Rest of India attack consisting of Kapil Dev, Karsan Ghavri, Roger Binny, Shivlal Yadav and Dilip Doshi. All five bowlers were selected for a tour Down Under. Surinder wasn’t. His technical prowess makes him a shoe-in for the coveted number four slot.

Bonus trivia: During the Karachi Test, Surinder broke his bat and had no replacement. Pakistan’s Zaheer Abbas came to his rescue and offered him a bat.

Pravin Amre

Sachin Tendulkar with Pravin Amre and Ajinkya Rahane during a practice session in Mumbai. (PTI Photo)

Test career span (1992-1993)

Tests Runs Avg 100/50

11 425 42.50 1/3

A product of the Shardashram-Achrekar combo that produced Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli, Amre’s first-class average was 87 when he donned the India whites for the first time against South Africa in Durban in 1992. Coming in at 38 for four, Amre went on to score 103 against the likes of Allan Donald, Meyrick Pringle, Brett Schultz and Brian McMillan, becoming the ninth Indian to score a century on debut.

He was dropped nine months and 10 Tests later after a New Zealand tour where he didn’t get a look-in. In his own words, Amre “went into coaching rather than cribbing” and played a part in bringing out stars like Robin Uthappa, Suresh Raina and Ajinkya Rahane. Part of the current Anil Kumble set-up, Amre never got his due despite an average of 42.5 after coming in at six and going for quick runs. At number five, he would have arguably fared better.

Bonus trivia: Amre also scored a fifty on ODI debut against South Africa in 1991.

Eknath Solkar

Eknath Dhondu Solkar, bowling for India, 3rd May 1974. (Photo by James Jackson/Evening Standard/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Test career span (1969-1977)

Tests Runs Avg 100/50 Wkts Avg BBI

39 913 21.23 0/2 109 33.54 5/33

The ‘poor man’s Garry Sobers’, Eknath Solkar could bat at any position, and bowl both medium-pace and spin. During the 1971 tour of Caribbean, the audacious ‘Ekki’ told the actual Garfield Sobers to mind his own business. He played his part in India’s first ever win over Windies at Port-of-Spain, with a useful 55 and six catches – the then world record.

In fact, in spite of his crucial knocks and miserly overs, Solkar is remembered for his reflexive fielding. With his intimidating up-close style and an ability to pluck catches out of nowhere, Solkar made the forward short leg (a position reserved for initiating younglings into the line-up) his own. His 53 catches in 27 Tests is still the record for non-wicketkeepers with 20 or more Tests. Bishen Singh Bedi, part of the legendary spin quartet, summed it up best. “We would never have been as effective without Solkar at short leg.”

Bonus trivia: During the 1974-75 tour of England, Solkar repeatedly got under the skin of Sir Geoffrey Boycott. “I will out you bloody,” Solkar told Boycott. He dismissed the Boycott in three successive innings.

Parthiv Patel

Test career span (2002-2008)

Tests Runs Avg 100/50

20 683 29.69 0/4

When he made his Test debut at Trent Bridge in 2002, Parthiv Patel was not old enough to buy a pint in the pubs. Test cricket’s youngest wicketkeeper ever, Patel took guard at 17 years and 153 days, and saved the match with a gritty 19 on the last day.

Inconsistent behind the stumps, it was Patel’s batting that kept him in the side before he lost his place first to Dinesh Karthik and then MS Dhoni. While he has made appearances on the limited-overs scene, a return to the Test squad remains unlikely, with Wriddhiman Saha and Naman Ojha the preferred custodians in the post-Dhoni era. But with a strong showing in domestic cricket and the Indian Premier League, a case could be made for a look-in. What’s more, Patel doesn’t look a day older than 17.

Bonus trivia: During the Wisden Indian Cricketer of the Century Awards ceremony in London 2002, Parthiv was mistaken as the team mascot when he led the side on stage.

Karsan Ghavri

Karsan Ghavri bowling for India against Australia A in the sixth Test in Bombay in November 1979. (Getty Images)

Test career span (1974-1981)

Tests Runs Avg 100/50 Wkts Avg BBI

39 913 21.23 0/2 109 33.54 5/33

For a medium pacer, Ghavri had a run-up too long, and a bouncer too nippy. And when the sheen came off, he would trouble the batsmen with his quickish left-arm spin. In a spin-dominated era, Ghavri made his mark as a new ball bowler and helped bring a young Kapil Dev up to speed (pun somewhat intended).

In the 1-0 home series win against West Indies in 1978-79, Ghavri picked up 27 wickets at 23.48. Though he began to fade away afterwards, he remained a strong supporting act for Kapil. More than capable with the bat, Ghavri scored a quick 86 in the 127-run stand with Syed Kirmani in the win against Australia in Bombay and a match-saving 45 not out against Pakistan in Kanpur.

Bonus trivia: In 1975, Ghavri gave away 83 runs from his 11 overs against hosts England to become the most expensive bowler in a World Cup match. New Zealand’s Martin Snedden broke the record in 1983, conceding 105 runs from his 12 overs.

Arshad Ayub

Test career span (1987-1989)

Tests Runs Avg 100/50 Wkts Avg BBI

13 257 17.13 0/1 41 35.07 5/50

In a rollercoaster Test career of two years, Ayub saw it all. In his debut Test against West Indies in 1987-88, the offspinner took five wickets, four in the second innings to show signs of things to come. He led the series win against a visiting New Zealand with 21 wickets in three Tests next season and took 14 wickets – including two five-wicket hauls -- in four Tests on the Caribbean Tour.

However, he was dropped after two wicketless Tests against Pakistan in his fourth and last series. He continued playing for his home state of Hyderabad, and finished with the first-class figures of 2,224 runs and 268 wickets.

Bonus trivia: Ayub led India to a win over arch-rivals Pakistan in the 1988 Asia Cup match with figures of 9-0-21-5. In the final against Sri Lanka, Ayub bowled a spell of 9-0-24-0 and India went on to win the tournament.

Narendra Hirwani

Narendra Hirwani and Jalaj S Saxena of Madhya Pradesh Ranji team during practice session. (Shankar Mourya/HT file photo)

Test career span (1988-1996)

Tests Wkts Avg BBI

17 66 30.10 8/61

A legend in several benign quiz contests, Hirwani holds the record for best bowling figures on Test debut. The bespectacled 19-year-old legspinner sent 16 of 20 West Indies batsmen home on an underprepared Chepauk pitch in 1987-88. Among those dismissed was Vivian Richards who was castled by a googly.

But contrary to misconceptions, Hirwani wasn’t a one-hit wonder. He took 20 wickets in the three Tests against New Zealand, but the magic wavered when he hit foreign shores. Hirwani was pushed out of the side by an emerging Anil Kumble, but finished with a mammoth 723 wickets from 167 first-class matches for Madhya Pradesh and Bengal.

Bonus trivia: Hirwani holds the Test world record of bowling 59 overs unchanged without a break (other than for scheduled intervals) against England at The Oval in 1990.

Mohammed Nissar

Test career span (1932-1936)

Tests Wkts Avg BBI

6 25 28.28 5/90

Mohammad Nissar was India’s first pace bowler, and possibly the fastest. The Hoshiarpur-born played in the pre-partition India’s first Test against England at Lord’s in 1932, bowled the first delivery and got the first wicket. He dismantled the English line-up with a fiery 5-93 in the first innings, castling Yorkshire batsmen Percy Holmes and Herbert Sutcliffe, who had put on a 555-run opening stand for the county merely days ago.

He took another fifer against England, this time in the inaugural Test in India. Playing for Southern Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, Nissar finished with a first-class record of 396 wickets in 93 matches at 17.70.

Bonus trivia: A tribal leader of a large Pushtun tribe, Nissar moved to Lahore after independence and founded the Pakistan Cricket Board where he worked as an administrator and selector.

Sanjay Bangar (12th man)

Test career span (2001-2002)

Tests Runs Avg 100/50 Wkts Avg BBI

12 470 29.37 1/3 7 49 2/23

Of the twenty years Bangar spent playing cricket, only one came at the Test level. He scored a 100 not out batting at number 7 in his second Test against Zimbabwe, but his most significant contribution came as an opener. In the 2002 Headingley Test against England, Bangar weathered the storm with a 236-ball 68 before Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, and Sourav Ganguly cashed in with centuries to set up a win.

A prolific all-rounder, Bangar is the only cricketer to have achieved a double of 6,000 runs and 200 wickets in the Ranji Trophy after Vijay Hazare. He led the Railways team to three domestic titles before taking up coaching. He is currently in his second stint as batting coach of the national team.

Bonus trivia: Barring his last two Tests against New Zealand, India didn’t lose any of the 12 Tests Bangar featured in.

The Hipsters’ greatest Indian Test XI

Sadagoppan Ramesh

ML Jaisimha (c)

WV Raman

Surinder Amarnath

Pravin Amre

Eknath Solkar

Parthiv Patel (wk)

Karsan Ghavri

Arshad Ayub

Narendra Hirwani

Mohammad Nissar

12th man: Sanjay Bangar

(The views expressed by the author are personal)