Is there room for Beefy, Freddie, and Stokes in the same XI? What about KP and other existential dilemmas? New writer Adriraj Chakraborty names his best post-Packer England white ball XI …
The reigning World Champions are spoilt for white-ball player choices right now. But that was not always the case (although Beefy in his prime could have walked into any ODI or T20 squad after a big night of pounding his favourite beverage and least favourite Chappell). This XI rewinds the golden years without losing focus of present-day greats to pick the most battle-ready white-ball England players active since the Packer era.
These buccaneers revelled in wearing coloured clothing, doing mad dashes between wickets, unveiling outrageous airborne fielding stunts, slapping carefree hoicks over cow corner and slipping in audacious slower balls. Post-Packer era also means that we consider players who have played at least a reasonable number of ODIs so their selections are not a complete stretch of my pedestrian imagination. As much as I would like to include the likes of Sirs Hutton and Cowdrey (latter did play a solitary ODI in 1971 wherein he scored a solitary run) my crystal ball is a bit hazy on how their talents would unravel in what has become a pursuit very different from Test Cricket. So here is the XI with a bonus 12th man:
1. Dennis Amiss: He got the inaugural match of the first ever World Cup off to a rousing start with almost a run-a-ball hundred (ok his S/R was 93) in a match better remembered for Sunny G’s all-consuming 36 not out from 174 balls. That match is a testament to Amiss’ vision and understanding of the new format that had been thrust upon the cricketing world only a few years ago. The only batsman to score a hundred in his first and last ODI other than Desmond Haynes, Amiss waltzes into this XI without a shadow of doubt. His ODI century conversion rate after going past 50 was 80% which is better than Bradmanesque. His courage and comfort against the West Indies pace battery and skill through covers and mid-wicket made him a very difficult batsman to contain once set.
2. Graham Gooch: The Essex run-scoring giant and the most prolific batsman the game has ever seen, Gooch is also the highest run-getter for England in World Cups. He swept India out of its own World Cup in 1987 and captained England to a final, four years later in Australia. Gooch knew how to score runs everywhere against all attacks and is an all-weather statesman lending solidity at the top of the order.
3. Joe Root: England’s highest run-scorer in their victorious 2019 World Cup campaign, Root remains one of the Fab Four of his generation alongside Kohli, Smith and Williamson in ODIs. His impeccable batting pedigree saw him top the England batting charts in the 2016 T20 World Cup as well where they were only undone in the final by an over of maniacal hitting by Carlos Brathwaite (remember the name?!). A man for big moments (scored a hundred on his England captaincy debut) – Root is the middle-order bulwark that is every Captain’s dream.
4. Kevin Pietersen: Few men polarise opinions like KP, but few would argue that he could bat with a panache bordering on arrogance not seen since Viv Richards. Part of the 2005 generation that turned the tables on the Aussies, KP’s irreverent and explosive style saw him knock the best around the park right from his debut series against Zimbabwe and his native South Africa. His inventive and flamboyant stroke play (the flamingo flick and switch-hits) and prickly gimmicks (called Yuvraj Singh a pie-chucker) were made for the white-ball formats and KP enjoyed immense popularity in the IPL. While not a captain’s delight, a lone KP hand could seal the fate of most opponents.
5. Eoin Morgan (Captain): That England came into the 2019 WC as hot favourites topping ODI rankings along the way was in no small measure due to Morgan’s determined and fearless approach to build a team in likeness of Brendon McCullum’s street-fighters of the 2015 edition. Always composed, Morgan’s astute marshalling of his troops coupled with his effortless big hitting (just ask the hapless Afghans who witnessed 17 maximums from his blade) earn him the captaincy of this legendary XI. He will have his task cut out though trying to manage a KP rebellion.
6. Ian Beefy Botham: Gooch once asked Beefy “who writes your scripts?”. That about sums it up for the most charismatic Englishman to have ever played the game. In his prime, destructive with the bat and lethal with the swinging ball, Botham was monstrously talented and sometimes the only man in his own league. One of the four great allrounders of his generation (Kapil, Imran and Hadlee completing the quartet), Botham reached stratospheric heights including winning an entire Ashes with his solo efforts in 1981. A genuine match-winner if there has ever been one, this is probably the least debated selection of this XI.
7. Jos Buttler (WK): The soft-spoken, athletically built Buttler is a modern-day white ball specialist. Adept at conventional shot-making as well as at audacious ramps, laps, scoops and sweeps Buttler is the ideal man at the crease in the last 10 overs of an ODI or the last 5 of a T20. No required rate is too steep if Jos is in his element. That he can keep wickets is a huge bonus.
8. Ben Stokes: Currently the best world cricketer on the circuit, Stokes embodies the spirit of a heavyweight boxer beneath his England Blue which he wears with so much pride. Sweat, blood, guts and every ounce of superhuman effort – nothing is too much for this natural athlete and consummate team man to conjure up as the desperate Kiwis discovered during the bitter dogfight in the 2019 WC final when he took England over the line.
9. Andrew Freddie Flintoff: Yes he is batting lower than he would like and has a penchant for falling over pedalos during World Cups, but Freddie remains one of the most talismanic players to have graced the game. Capable of working up frightening pace with his open chested action, Freddie batted with the loose-limbed abandon of a prodigal son who had many gifts to share. Walks into the team on the sheer weight of his considerable talents.
10. Bob Willis: Genuinely quick with an intimidating run-up, Willis was one of the premier fast-bowlers of his generation. Determined to the point of being obdurate, Willis enjoyed a long career despite enduring what could have been career-ending injuries for most fast men. His ODI bowling average of 24 and economy of 3.3 are easily world-class for any generation.
11. Jimmy Anderson: The second-easiest selection in this line-up, Anderson is simply the best bowler to have worn England colours. His longevity, mastery of swing and tactical nous to smell a batsman’s weakness (just ask Virat Kohli) make him an irresistible force with the new ball.
12. Honourable Mention: Paul Collingwood: The best English fielder to have played the game, his stunning, one-handed, completely airborne and parallel to the ground grabs were a regular feature at backward point. Add to that his level-headed batting, hare-like running between the wickets and few overs of smart seamers – Collingwood makes a handy 12th man in case Beefy and Freddie disappear for a nightcap or KP decides to rebel.