Who’s Number 1?

4 02 2010

The hastily arranged ‘Battle of the Champions’ gets under way this weekend in India. Having arrived very recently and only had one practice match in which to get used to conditions, South Africa will be attempting to win their first series in India since 1999. Undoubtedly this will be a very interesting, albeit too short, series and by its end we should have a greater idea of the relative standing of the two sides.

The term ‘Battle of the Champions’ is justified insofar as India and South Africa are rated number first and second in theICC’s test rankings. The Compulsive Hooker would like to tender the observation that whilst this is currently so in the rankings, it really is a misnomer. We believe that there are 3 other sides around the world who would honestly back themselves when playing these two sides and rather than there being any side who are clearly the best, for the first time in years it is a relatively level playing field. In the recent past Australia obviously dominated the world game and before that it was the West Indies for 20 years.

M.S. Dhoni

Without a doubt they have the worlds best batting line up. If you were picking a current world XI you could make a very strong case for almost all the top six, bar perhaps Laxman, and even he would stroll into any other side around the world. In Dhoni they have a genuine heir to Gilchrist as possibly the best keeper/batsmen to have played the game and also an innovative and inspiring captain. The only problem on the horizon for India is the fact that three of the major cogs in this line up, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman are all the wrong side of 30 and unlikely to go on for too much longer. Incidentally Dravid is out of the series against the Proteas and it will be interesting to see how his replacement goes.

In the bowling there is less strength although in Zaheer Khan and Singh they have two world class operators. Find another top class spinner and consistently performing seamer and suddenly you have the makings of what is a truly world dominating team. India have never been good travellers though, and although this has improved, they need to rectify this before the world truly adjudges them number one.

Dale Steyn

South Africa:
If a year or so ago you had asked us who you thought the strongest batting side in the world was, we may well have answered South Africa. Since then several gaping holes have appeared where previously there was only solidity. Prince cannot buy a run, and consequently they are an opener down and Duminy, after the most auspicious of starts has faded dramatically.

The seamer’s however are where the Proteas strength lies. In Steyn they have the best fast bowler in the world by some distance and with Morkel coming through to provide the height and bounce, even India’s incredible opening pair would have some nerves. What South Africa lack, and indeed always have, is a spinner. Harris unfortunately, although he has mastered the one that goes straight on, is simply not good enough.

South Africa are doing what England did in 2005, hit the heights and are now losing ground to the extent where we would back any top 6 side playing them at home.

The Aussies are an annoying side. Just when you’re hoping (as a life time pom supporter!) that they are going to have a period of relative mediocrity, they find some new bowlers and utilise their extraordinary levels of self confidence to do what New Zealand specialise in, i.e. over perform. The batting is solid rather than spectacular now that Ponting seems to have retreated to the level of mere mortals, and they’re keeper is effective. They even have an all rounder who is beginning to boast stats more similar to Kallis than Flintoff which is a major surprise. In Hilfenhaus, Bollinger, Johnson and Siddle they have an array of fast bowling talent as good as any around bar perhaps the Proteas. With Hauritz apparently metamorphosing into a half decent spinner, suddenly they are a side who can beat any again. Since Warne retired spin has been the weak link and even though the Compulsive Hooker is still convinced that Hauritz’s recent success is some kind of extraordinary cosmic event, it is such that he deserves a mention.

Sri Lanka:
Boasting perhaps the most graceful, and certainly one of the best,  batsmen on the planet Sri Lanka are a force to be reckoned with. At home they rarely lose a series and only need to banish the curse of many a subcontinental team, in that they don’t travel well. There middle order is one packed with major talent and are ably led by Jayawardene. In the bowling they have an up and coming all rounder who looks to have what it takes in the form of Matthews, and in Mendis surely the best spinner in world cricket at the moment. Despite a couple of poor recent results no side should take them lightly and they have the potential to be challenging for the number one spot in years to come.

05. Kumar Sangakkara
Kumar Sangakarra

England are the quiet men in the corner of world cricket. Unlikely to be devastating (except in odd sessions) and with a proven steel core (mainly Collingwood) they cannot be easily dismissed as they are occasionally liable to pitch in with telling contributions. Whereas we admit they are certainly not the best side in the world at the moment, we would hesitate to write them off when playing any of the above. Pietersen is perhaps the only player capable of being outstanding, but this apparent lack is made up with a team of very good players and one or two (Strauss & Prior) who have the ability to be world class. The bowling is good although not always as penetrative as one would desire. Anderson still has his off days and Broad is incredibly still only about 14. Happily they do have the ability to take wickets in clusters and at telling points, which in the last two series has ensured they beat Australia and drew in South Africa. This is despite being out performed in both series in almost every way statistically.

With the above in mind, here is my current World XI. (5 from India, 2 from Aus, 2 from SA, 2 from SL).

1. Sehwag 2. Gambir, 3. Ponting 4.Tendulkar 5. Kallis 6. Sangakarra 7. Dhoni 8. Johnson 9. Steyn 10. Mendis, 11. Khan.

Therefore the verdict on best team in the world is India by a nose, with the Aussies most likely to challenge them.




3 responses

29 07 2010

I’m surprised you think Mendis is the best spinner in the world, especially since you’re a Pom and I rate Swann much higher than him 🙂

BTW, a world XI doesn’t necessarily have to comprise players from just these 5 nations. It’s hard to pick players from Pakistan, New Zealand, West Indies or Bangladesh. I think Asif definitely deserves to be there but since you wrote this in February I can see how he may not have been on your radar. My XI (When you wrote this article) would be

Virender Sehwag
Graeme Smith
Kumar Sangakkara
Sachin Tendulkar
Jacques Kallis
VVS Laxman
Mahendra Singh Dhoni
Graeme Swann
Dale Steyn
Zaheer Khan
Morne Morkel

29 07 2010

Hi Mahek, yes actually I would have Swann in there now – I wrote this article several months ago now and have changed my opinion. Also Asif would possibly make the cut now although back then he hadn’t played much so felt I couldn’t select him. Think yours is more or less the team if asked today I would pick, although possibly Gambhir for Smith and Asif for Khan. Thanks for commenting.

29 07 2010

I haven’t picked Gambhir because he hasn’t played a single test in Australia, England, South Africa or the West Indies. I was tempted to pick Katich in place of Smith but the Saffa has played a lot of crucial innings in the past couple of years.

If I were to pick a side right now I’d have Asif ahead of Morne Morkel. Zaheer has had to bowl on absolute belters and yet he’s been consistently among the wickets. You just have to see his bowling in England and South Africa to know he’s up there with the best.

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