As 2010 approaches, the former New Zealand all-rounder Chris Cairns reflects on a decade of thrilling international cricket and picks his dream team of the past 10 years.
These galactico players are from another planet
It seems that, with the blink of an eye, a decade has passed. During this time I retired from the game that ran through my veins for 35 years. While I was sad to not be playing it meant no more training or warm-up sessions. The game has come so far in the noughties, more than at any other time. The next 10 years will hopefully see the game consolidate so it can go forward. I believe we will say goodbye to 50-over cricket, the IPL will be three months long and Test cricket will hold its own.
When picking the team of the decade I thought it prudent to select the real stars: the players who stood out from the crowd. When we find life on other planets who play cricket then these are the boys earth would send to bring back, in the words of the Beastie Boys, the Intergalactic Planetary trophy. Of course, the all rounder in the side has to be me. It's my side to pick, after all. Yeah right, a slogger and dodgy slow-ball bowler is not what this team needs so the only place I can find for myself is helping the coaches.
For opening the batting you have to have a combination of a right hander and a left hander. Taking strike is Matt Hayden. This bloke used to make you feel rather inadequate when he was facing up. The reason being is that he stood about three yards out of his crease and even if you thought you were bowling fast, he would swat you away disdainfully, giving the impression that you were indeed wasting his time. Equally comfortable against quicks or spin, the ferocity with which he would thump the sweep shot meant the fielder at short leg could actually feared the ball being hit through his abdomen at any some during a game.
Hayden's partner at the non-strikers end is the red hot Virender Sehwag. This man is pure, unbridled talent. He is the wild mustang of the cricket world and we love him for it. As much as his ridiculously quick scoring accelerates the game like nobody else, it's his appetite for big scores that amazes me most. Like Hayden he has that look of disdain as he nonchalantly dispatches the bowler to all parts of the ground. Never one to let the scoreboard dictate how he plays, he puts the blinkers on and has a very simple philosophy of play: see the ball then hit the ball. Sehwag is as pure a striker of the cricket ball as the game has ever seen.
Coming in first drop is Ricky Ponting. Early in his career I thought Ponting didn't have the goods. Just another bolshy young Aussie who was vulnerable outside off stump and so shutting his scoring down was not too challenging. He's slightly better than that now (good early assessment from myself there). The most complete player all around the wicket, off both the back and front foot, Ponting is very tough to tie down and he just seems to score at will. He's as tough as nails and will take any situation head on. The icing on the cake is that he is also superb fielder that takes lots of chances with his catching and brilliant run outs.
So we are at No 4 and there is only one choice - Sachin Tendulkar. The little genius who bats with the expectation of a billion people each time he straps the pads on. When I watch him play, the rhythmic flick of his bat makes it look like an extension of his body, as though the bat is a permanent appendage. He is the prize wicket of any international bowler. He seems to have a sense for where the bowler is going to bowl and his balance means that if he is slightly out of position he readjusts his shot and still hits you for four. All in all, a true gentleman and a perfect run machine.
No 5 sees Brian Lara strolling to the crease. I watched him stroll to the crease when I played against him in the Under 19 World Cup and he was whistling a tune, rather cool for teenager. You could see then that this guy was something special. His genius is different from Tendulkar's and I have never seen anyone play the ball as late as he did. Like Tendulkar he seemed to be in position earlier than most when the ball was delivered. His ability to gap the ball was unparalleled and that is something you can't coach, it was born with him.
This would have been my spot but there is no way I could have put myself in with a clear conscience. So the name on the sheet at six is Jacques Kallis. When he finishes his career I am certain the numbers he will post will mean only Gary Sobers could have any claim to be alongside him. With the bat he has a perfect technique based on balance and concentration. His bowling is delivered with a heavy ball and when he exploits favourable conditions he is a genuine partnership breaker.
The wicketkeeper is Adam Gilchrist. The man who single handedly redefined the job description. Everyone marvels at the power of his batting but it's his keeping that he prided himself on. Keeping was his job and batting his enjoyment. Whether it's standing up to spin or back to the quicks he was very agile for a big man. Able to change the course of a match in a session with his batting and, like Sehwag, the situation of the game didn't alter his style of play. So very dangerous.
Now we move onto the bowlers and in at eight is Shaun Pollock. He gives you depth in the tail because he can bat and post big scores. His bowling is built upon accuracy and perseverance. His early career saw him bowl with pace but, over time, he throttled back and examined the batsman with consistent deliveries in the right area. Not a swinger of the ball but gun -barrel straight meant the slightest bit of movement brought him into the game. Hellishly competitive and tremendously dependable.
Shane Warne is a must. A great team man and a great bowler. Even when you had hit Warney 10 rows back into the stand he thought you had nearly miss-hit it and should have been out. His flipper was what brought him the early success but it was the drift he generated that made him tough to play. His art is the hardest to master consistently but his belief that he could change what was happening in the game on his own meant he was a captain's dream.
There is a need to have pace in this line-up - someone who can create a mistake on all surfaces. Dale Steyn comes in at ten to do that job. 170 test wickets at 23 during this decade puts his numbers up there with the great bowlers. Can swing it at 150km which is a pretty clever trick. He will go on to take 400 Test wickets because of his ability to move the ball which will mean in later years he is not pace reliant.
In at 11 trudges the great Glenn McGrath. Along with Pollock he made a career out of getting the ball in the right area more often than not. Express pace was not the catalyst for McGrath's scalps but guile and cunning. In tandem with Warne he would strangle the oppositions scoring rate. He hated going for runs off his bowling more than anything else. Off the field you wouldn't meet a nicer bloke but, on the field, he'd bounce the heck out of his grandmother if needed to take her wicket. The leading wicket-taker in World Cup cricket and 563 Test wickets. Not bad.
So that's the XI. Good side, I reckon. The five back up slots go to Kumar Sangakarra as keeper, Graeme Smith to cover the top order batting, Kevin Pietersen, the middle order. Muttiah Muralitharan is the spin cover for Warne. The fast bowling back-up place is one I had to chew on the most. There's a few candidates about but the last spot, however, goes to Shane Bond, partly because I wanted a New Zealander in there. It was a pity his body could not stand up to the demands of international cricket, but he should huge courage in coming back each time. When he did play it was a pleasure to stand at mid off and watch, awesome.
The appointment of captain could be anyone, there are so many captains there. But the best thinker on the game is Shane Warne, so he gets my nod. With the team playing in all over the universe tabloid coverage would be sparse so Warney could relax. The management is Darren Lehman as coach, Chris Cairns helper and Sir Ian Botham, pictured, as manager. These three, plus the captain, would select the team and that would involve a long dinner to do so. I couldn't think of a better crew to sit round a table with.
Happy New Year to you all.