Over the years I wondered what would have happened if the Caribbean had not played as a combined cricketing entity, which the world came to know as West Indies and which dominated world cricket till the early nineties. Whenever I think along these lines my thoughts hit the pitch of Indo-Pak cricket and ask: What if India and Pakistan had played together as a cricketing nation, especially in Tests?
For a start, looking beyond Sunil Gavaskar as one of the openers would have been blasphemy. The diminutive opener – probably the best batsman of fast bowling – faced and excelled against the all conquering West Indian pace attack of the 70s and 80s. To give him company at the other end would have been one of Pakistan’s greatest openers, Hanif Mohammad. An average of nearly 44 with 12 centuries – in the pre-helmet era of uncovered pitches – is a strong justification of his class and talent.
My vote for the crucial number three position goes to ‘Asian Bradman’ Zaheer Abbas. The only Asian batsman to score hundred First Class centuries, Zaheer was a master of playing long innings and scored four double centuries – only seven cricketers have scored more double tons than him. Sachin Tendulkar and number four slot go hand in hand in Test cricket. Described by the legendry Don Bradman as very much like his own, and a holder of most of the batting records, Tendulkar is one cricketer who can easily fit into any team of any era.
The maverick Javed Miandad would have been an ideal number five batsman. He holds the dual distinction of being the highest Test scorer for Pakistan and having the highest batting average for the country. Moreover, his ability to get under the skin of the opposition rattled many of his rivals during his days. Though Wasim Bari would have been a perfect wicketkeeper, but better batting skills of Syed Kirmani tilt the scales in the latter’s favour.
With Pakistan in the equation, the strength of the bowling department would never have been in question. The positions six and seven would have been manned by two of the world’s all time greatest all-rounders: Imran Khan and Kapil Dev. With nearly 800 Test wickets and almost 9000 runs between them, they would have single-handedly turned matches for Indo-Pak XI. Imran’s pace and Kapil’s swing would definitely have been too hot to handle for the opposition.
Supporting the two stalwarts would have been the ‘Sultans of Swing’, the two ‘Ws’-Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Both these bowlers redefined the art of pace bowling in the 90s and will go down in the history as two of the fastest, most lethal, accurate and fearsome bowlers the game has ever seen. With them in the team, any total could have been defendable.
With both the countries having produced several world class spinners, the slot of spinners was a tough one to decide. But since someone had to be picked, I zeroed in on Bishan Singh Bedi and Anil Kumble. Bedi’s bowling was full of guile and artistry. He was an expert in flighting the ball, and was capable of making it hold it back or hurry forward, and added subtle variations of spin. Apart from his mastery over his art, the former would have fulfilled the team’s need for a left arm spinner if it required one. Kumble has to be in any Indo-Pak team for the sheer weight of his statistical achievements. Add to this his resilient, never-say-die attitude and you have a great team man at your hand.
Finally, last but not the least – the captain. Well, it was the easiest pick. There would have been no better a choice to captain the team than the one and only Imran Khan Niazi.