Players I can't help but love.
In cricket, as in life, you grow affiliations to certain players and you just want these guys to succeed. So today I have sat down and made a full Xi of the players who I just love to watch and every time they play (even against England) I want them to do well. I could happily sit through a full 5 days of a test and do nothing but watch this xi go about their business. Will it be the most competitive side in the world? No. Does that matter? No.
The rules are simple, with every player I am judging them at the peak of their powers and them working in full flow (this becomes very obvious very soon). An internal debate sparked up between whether this be a current Xi or an all time one, i eventually settled for a current team as i feel it just works better.
To start with I had to decide on a ground and I went for Newlands. Why? Just google it then you’ll see.
To face the first ball of this imaginary test match I have chosen Zak Crawley. Ever since Crawley made his debut I have been captured by his beauty. A tall lad good against the short ball and with a great elegance i have always backed my Kent boy but was only justified in my beliefs this summer. A Crawley check drive is not the most aesthetically pleasing shot but it is a satisfying one. His pull shot is often with disdain for a bowler who dares to challenge him there, and the flick of the pads is as immaculate as you will see. The rate at which he scores is handy as well and that’s why he comfortably slots into the number 1 spot.
Crawley's partner Crawley is Joe Burns. Now don't get me wrong Burns isn’t a fabulous player (like many on this list) but he is a good one. His test high score of 180 is impressive and the innings itself was great to watch. His drives are nice, his flicks good and his skip down the track to a spinner even better. An easy on the eye technique and a good scoring rate, he’s the perfect man to pair with old Creepy. Watching Burns bat is not a hundred miles an hour but it is nice. He makes my side.
At first drop I went with Pujara. Pujara is often down as a true test match batsmen and for good reason, but there is a slight fault in his description. People often have Pujara down as scoring slowly but this may not be totally true. Pujara sees himself in, feels the ball on bat and then starts to score. Dominic Sibley scores slowly and that’s why at the moment you can never see him posting the big big scores, but Pujara (as shown in Australia) has the ability to do this he can make the big hundreds. He’s the perfect number 3 for this side with his ability to steady the ship if an opener falls early, help build on a good partnership or just wear the bowlers down for the middle order. Watching Pujara is boring to the naked eye but once you understand what he is doing it becomes beautiful, seeing him fix his game to each bowler, target certain bowlers and just frustrate everyone; well it’s just fun.
Number 4 was the easiest choice, it's Joe Root. I think as cricket fans around the world we can all agree that to see Joe Root back in full flow would be beneficial to absolutely everyone. It doesn’t matter who you support a full flowing Root dancing all over the place and smiling is a wonderful sight. His backfoot punch behind square is a glorious shot, as is much of his backfoot game, but off his pads it's just wow. Truth be told we haven’t seen Root in full flow for over a year now with the last memory being his ton against the West Indies in the World Cup. Root is a generational talent, and England's best player and to watch Joe Root bat for a whole day at the peak of his powers, well it’s all anyone could ever wish for. (p.s. Would like to say one shot this summer was golden Root, stepping down the track to Mo Abbas and whipping him through mid wicket; genius)
Behind the England skipper is Babar. Ok so that's that then. Only joking but seriously can anyone argue with this. If you’re attempting too, then go watch the highlights of him vs Australia in the world cup then come back and apologise. The cover drive, the pull, the cut I mean everything, the Babar. Babar is one of the best in the world and can go down as one of the best ever and to be honest to see him and Root batting together taking apart bowlers, dissecting fielders just purely bullying an opposition. Just the thought of it makes me smile.
At number 6 and keeping wicket is Rishabh Pant. Pant is the best test match wicket keeper batsman in the world and it’s not even close. Anyone who watched his hundred at the SCG or the Oval will testify to my statement. He’s a true thrill to watch. Dominating against spin, having all the shots against pace and a pure attacking force with unlimited confidence. I could sit and watch Pant bat for all 5 days on a test and honestly I think we need to start respecting Pant and understand just truly how amazing he is. For some reason we seem to forget, as a cricketing community, that Pant is only 23; we treat Pant as if he’s 30 and played 100 tests. Yes he’ll have some failures but his successes will be a sight to behold. He’s also not a half bad keeper to be fair.
Number 7 is Jason Holder. Holder is a strange cricketer. One who, despite a very good record in test cricket, is often overlooked. The England batsmen will confirm how mesmerizing Holders bowling is and how little his line and length changes. The release point is also crucial as his lack of speed is made up for by his varying bounce that can climb on batsmen. His 6 for against England was one of the spells of the year. His batting, whilst hit and miss, is a good watch when on form. But Holder is in this side largely for his bowling and his bowling action, but also too add a bit of depth with the batting. Holder is also the captain of this side. He may not be the most tactically astute member of the team but i do feel he is the only one who possesses the quality that all truly great cricketers do, that when the pressure is on they embrace it, they ask for the ball, they dig in or counterpunch. On top of this he is also a good captain having dragged a down and out Windies side to become a genuinely ok test side with the foundations to be an even better one.
Coming in at number 8 is Ravindra Jadeja. Jadeja is a superb modern all rounder and his stats will back this up. A test bowling average of 24 and a batting average of 35 is no mean feat especially when you take 213 wickets and score nearly 2000 runs. He is a crucial part of the Indian test setup and a lot is banking on him. From a personal perspective I could watch him clean hitting all day and his bowling is, for some reason, mesmerising to watch. The way he works out as a batsmen is a great thing to observe. He can fulfill a holding role in the first innings and apply the pressure in the second. All in all Ravi is a truly great cricketer and also an excellent fielder, and he takes the number 8 role.
Slotting in at 9, and taking the new ball, is Tim Southee. So ummm Tim Southee is really good like really really good. The movement he gets both in the air and off the seam is exceptional, the control he has over line and length and his ability to adapt his game to the conditions and exploit whatever he can. Few sites bring fear to my eyes but the thought of Southee with a dark Dukes ball in his hand on a gloomy headingley morning is something that scares me to my core, of course the giddy joy of seeing Southee swing the ball around corners negates this fear and subsequently gets him the number 9 in this side. Southee is also handee enough with the bat to sit in at number 9 (he holds the record for the most sixes in an innings on test debut).
At number 10 is Stuart Broad. On his day Broad is hostile, aggressive, relentless in his line and length and rather quick. Having been, in a way, pigeon holded as a streaky bowler who gets on roles during games, Broad has slowly adapted his game to become, in my humble opinion, England's most important seamer over the past 12 months. Watching Broad bowl is exhilarating when he gets going, every single ball feels like a wicket is coming. But he also knows how to build pressure and dry up the runs. His movement away from the left hander is something different to his new ball partners, Southee, movement back in; meaning a batsmen has to change his game accordingly. On top of this he also is pretty handy with the bat. I could sit and watch Broad go about his work for hours and I most often will when England are playing.
And finally at number 11 and having to settle for first change is Kagiso Rabada. Not taking the new ball in this side and being used as more of a strike bowler, with Broad, Southee and Holder able to bowl for longer periods, Rabada will be able to do what he does best. Bowl pace, bowl fast. When we speak of getting into the fight with a batsmen Rabada is the epitome of this, his ICC points record has come out to confirm this statement. A true fast bowler who gets hostile, aggressive and relentless he is truly a scary bowler and one of the few genuine quicks in the world. To watch a full flowing, blood pumping Rabada run in and bamng it down is amazing and i encourage you to go watch his ball to Dawid Malan on Malans test debut. A full pace in swinging yorkers beating the best T20i batsmen in the world all ends up.
There we have it, the team I could sit and watch for hours on end. The team who when i see them play i just cannot help but want them to succeed. This was an extremely fun list to make. I would encourage you to do the same and let me know your lists either through email to @firstname.lastname@example.org or @therunoutblog on Twitter.