My ultimate West Indies - the batsmen
By Imran Khan
August 25, 2003
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Had I realized the awful headache and mental anxiety involved in picking a best West Indies XI, I would have never committed to doing it.
I thought that it would have been as easy as a Sunday afternoon walk on the seawall. If ever I was wrong!
It is impossible to select an eleven, and give all the necessary explanations within a single article such as this one. What I have chosen instead, is to do it in two parts.
This week I will select the batsmen and next week the all- rounder, wicket- keeper and bowlers.
After much consultations and deliberations, I have short-listed twelve batsmen in total, four openers and eight middle- order bats.
This team is being picked with Test cricket in mind so only those statistics will be referred to.
My short- listed opening batsmen are Conrad Hunte, Roy Fredericks, Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes.
The eight who come into contention for middle order batting slots are Rohan Kanhai, George Headley, Viv Richards, Brian Lara, Clive Lloyd and the three W’s - Everton Weekes, Clyde Walcott and Frank Worrell.
Please, I urge you do not run to your telephones to call the police for my immediate arrest for neglecting to mention the greatest cricketer to have ever lived.
His absence from the above list will be explained next week.
Selecting the team based on statistics would be an untroublesome task. If we look at career averages then the six batsmen would have to be Hunte and Greenidge as openers and Headley, Weekes, Walcott and Gary Sobers in the middle.
If it were based on bulk of runs scored then it would be the legendary duo of Greenidge and Haynes at the top and Richards, Lara, Lloyd and Sobers.
For me Cuthbert Gordon Greenidge is the number one opener. He stood in 108 Test matches, opened the innings 182 times, blasted 7558 runs and retained an average of 44.72.
Add to that 34 half centuries and 19 triple figure scores, a highest of 226 in his penultimate Test on his home ground, Kensington Oval.
From his very first outing in Tests against India, Greenidge showed unstoppable skill in scoring 200 runs in the two innings.
In the first innings he was cruelly denied a century after he was run out for 93. He made immediate amends in the second innings by slamming 107. Greenidge assaulted fast bowlers like very few other opening batsmen can ever claim to have done. His fearlessness is what I want at the top, a man to create havoc before the opposing captain can set his field properly.
`Freddo’, though, with a faintly better average than Haynes and about one thousand career runs more than Hunte has got to be eliminated. Painful but true.
Hunte has a better average and Haynes has a superior all-round record. Fredericks’s relative lesser skill against the spinners is what counts most against him.
The dilemma is whether or not to retain possibly the most devastating opening combination in all of cricket. Was Hunte that much better than Haynes?
The statistics are in Hunte’s favour. The right hander scored 3245 runs from 78 innings in 44 Tests at an average of 45.06.
Had he played in as many Tests as Haynes (116) based on average score per Tests, he would have scored somewhere in the vicinity of 8832 runs. That is more than 1300 runs than the 7487 that Haynes’s career was ended on.
In 202 innings Haynes reached a hundred 18 times and 50 on 39 occasions. He never made it to a double though, his highest being 184. Hunte made a century eight times from 78 innings and at least a fifty 13 times.
In his first Test innings, Hunte made a ton at Kensington and in his third Test he plundered the Pakis for his highest career score of 260. In that, his first series, he totaled 622 runs at a bludgeoningly brilliant average of 77.75.
That 260 is possibly the least -remembered innings in cricket since it was scored at the same time as Sobers overhauled the world record with his epic 365 not out. There were many at Sabina Park who felt that had Hunte not been run out he too would have gone on to challenge the record.
Hunte was the complete opener. He was as aggressive as they came but he could have, and did, curb his natural tendencies with equally impressive results, in a responsible effort to give the team’s innings a safe and solid start.
Sir Conrad Cleophas Hunte will partner his fellow Barbadian Greenidge at the top.
There are those, including myself, who believe that George Headley MUST be selected in any West Indies all- time team. This is purely based on statistics of course as there is no other way of assessing him. His incomparable record speaks for itself. 22 Test matches, 40 innings, 2190 runs, 10 centuries, five half-centuries and an average of 60.83.
With that average if he had played as many matches as Sir Viv Richards he would have recorded something close to 11,000 runs. The man was a lone warrior when the West Indies team was still in its formative years and struggling against the established giants. There is no other man who can mount a challenge for the number three slot.
The Master Blaster also MUST be counted among the middle order, specifically at number four.
Eight thousand five hundred and forty runs from 121 Tests and an average of 50.23, two dozen centuries to his name and 45 half centuries.
Bowlers around the world will confess to buckling at the knees and not knowing what to bowl to the gum-chewing bravado of the man from Antigua, who was possibly the most feared human being to have held a cricket bat. No need to mention his individual feats, his place is secure.
Sir Everton Weekes, whose career average is 58.61 from 48 Tests, is another man who many Caribbean cricket analysts would pick without much consideration.
Not having seen him on a cricket field, and only having statistics, stories and reports at my disposal, he had to compete for his place like any other. He outdid Worrell and Walcott on the basis of his superior performance when they batted together.
One series in India is what gave him the edge to take the number six position. Weekes scored four centuries and two half centuries from seven innings. In the innings that he did not make a half century, he missed the mark by two runs. One of his fifties was when he was run out for 90. His scores in that series read 128, 194, 162, 101, 90, 56 and 48. An average of 111.2 from a series aggregate of 779.
By the time he hung up his pads the classy right- hander had 15 centuries and 19 fifties to his name.
Use any yardstick and Sir Everton will always come out in a class by himself and must be counted as among the top four of our finest batsmen ever.
With numbers 1,2,3,4 and 6 taken, there is one vacant batting position left. The contenders are Kanhai, Lloyd, Lara, Walcott and Worrell.
For me the decision is relatively uncomplicated. There is no way one man can be left out. That man is the world- record holder for the highest individual Test innings, destroyer of all bowling attacks he has encountered and the man who will end his career as the most domineering of all West Indies batsmen. Brian Charles Lara bats at number five.
Currently ranked by the PriceWaterhouseCoopers ratings system as the world’s best batsman, Lara makes the squad for the same reason Headley does.
Headley was nicknamed ‘Atlas’ for single-handedly carrying the West Indies batting in his day.
I contend that Lara is the modern day ‘Atlas’ for he has had no great batsman throughout his career to share the batting burden with.
Richards, Weekes and all the others had unquestionably great batsmen surrounding them in the bating line up and were at greater ease at the wicket. They demolished attacks, not as a one-man army a la Headley and Lara, but as a gang.
Add to the whole equation that two of the peerless Trinidadian left-hander’s innings were selected as the greatest ever played in the long history of the game. His 153 against Australia in Bridgetown was chosen by Wisden - that cricketing authority - as the finest innings ever fashioned by any man.
Any bowling attack that can dismiss the following batting line up for less than 500 twice in a Test match deserves a one- way ticket to cricketing-s heaven.
1. Gordon Greenidge
2. Conrad Hunte
3. George Headley
4. Viv Richards
5. Brian Lara
6. Everton Weekes
*All those who would like to abuse Imran for leaving out whoever you think should be included kindly do so at email@example.com