My ultimate West Indies XI - the bowlers
By Imran Khan
August 31, 2003
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The world’s greatest all rounder, the greatest cricketer to have played the game will perform his miracles with the bat at number seven or wherever else he pleases in the batting line-up. His three dimensional bowling (fast medium, left-arm spin and wrist spin) makes him the ultimate variety bowler and utility player, although he is capable of making the team even as a mere fieldsman. Such was the inordinate extent of the talent of Sir Garfield Sobers.
Any man who is crass enough to question that choice should be catapulted in a north-easterly direction from the corner of Camp and Durban streets. He should remain there to rot.
A total of 8032 runs from 93 Tests at an average of 57.78. Twenty six three figure scores, one a triple century which was, for 36 years, the world record. A total of 235 wickets at a 34 average, Sir Gary, we welcome you, oh King of West Indies cricket.
And now for the man to block the byes, to snarl the snicks and stump the stumbler. The Jamaican Jackie Hendriks is considered by the old timers to have been the finest glovesman to wear maroon. His batting though was not up to the standard of others who were more gifted. Hendrik’s Test record was not as outstanding as the tails of his wicket-keeping class.
The dapper ‘keeper managed 47 dismissals from 20 matches. Figures though, relate no true story of how good a wicketkeeper one was.
There is a plethora of other names that can come up for discussion here. Each will find favour with those who have either seen them in action or heard of their exploits. One stands out as a keeper/batsman extraordinaire. I select him, not so much for his batting capabilities - I hardly need another batsman - but for his sheer scintillating brilliancy to fast bowling.
I apologize to Dereck Murray, Clyde Walcott, Ridley Jacobs and the others whom I sadly have to leave by the wayside. Jeffrey Dujon, with 272 dismissals and 3322 runs does it for me. Only Australians Rod Marsh and Ian Healy have more numbers to their names than Dujon’s 272. The high flying, Dujon cannot be ignored, or bypassed. But whose bouncers will he collect? A friend said it was the easiest of choices for him. He would put the names of the dominant fast bowlers in a hat and pull any three. Forgiveness may not be mine if I choose that path, even though it may be among the wisest of options.
Malcolm Marshall, the man who could make ashes of any mountainous batting line up on any surface takes the new ball from one end. Before Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh overhauled him he had the distinction of being the West Indian with the most wickets.
It did not take much longer than an over for ‘Maco’ to determine where lies the shortcomings of the man with the blade at the other end. More often than not, as his 376 wickets show, he rendered his blade useless in exploiting those inadequacies with an unerringly swiftness.
His steep bounce, his away swingers, his vicious pace, his analytical mind are those things which wins him the new ball.
Here’s another little interesting fact that may tickle you. The second most successful wicketkeeper/bowler combination in the game is Dujon/Marshall. Dujon gloved 71 of Marshall’s edges, only Dennis Lillie and Rodney Marsh (95) did better.
‘Maco’ needs a partner. Of Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Colin Croft, Wes Hall, Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Joel Garner, who will it be?
Walsh, that ultimate ambassador, Croft and ‘Big Bird’ Garner are the easiest of the lot to eliminate. Some would think I have stumbled into the realm of insanity by virtue excluding Walsh, the man who holds the record for the most wickets in Test cricket. However, for the bulk of his career he operated in the shadows. From the shadow of Holding to Marshall to Ambrose, only towards the very end did he enjoy the acclaim of an independently great fast bowler. His longevity and superlative fitness are those factors which gave him the record he now holds, not so much demonic skill as a bowler of cricketing incomparability.
Croft still retains the best figures (8 for 29) of any of the fast bowlers but did not have the consistent pace of Holding or the graveyard viciousness of Roberts. Though he bowled with menace and ferocity, Roberts is unmatched in those categories.
Garner would be a shoe in for any One Day team but like Walsh having suffered from not getting much of the new ball in his day he is nudged out. It should be noted though, that only Walsh, Ambrose and Marshall have more wickets than that giant Barbadian paceman’s 259. Holding has 249 and Roberts 202.
Wes Hall was the pioneer of the great West Indian fast bowling batteries. In tandem with Charlie Griffith, Hall shouldered the daunting job of dusting out opposing batsmen and made the task frighteningly facile. 48 Tests gave him 192 wickets at an average of 26.38. He made his greatest impression with numbers when he made England stay at the wicket a brief one with 7 for 69 at Sabina Park in 1960. Against India in his second Test Hall mastered the sub-continental track to take his first and only 10 wicket haul with 6 for 50 and 5 for 76.
Hall, by virtue of being the pacesetter, the original banger, shares the duty of taking off the shine from the ball.
There is one more slot and among the pundits are those who believe that no all time West Indies team is complete without Lance Gibbs. Gibbs is, without question, the regions standout spinner having culminated his career on 309 wickets. The Guyanese was the first spinner to 300 wickets and in those days of Test matches being few and far in-between the feat is indeed double what it is recorded to be.
But the burning question for me is whether Gibbs was a more devastating, more match-winning, more wicket-taking bowler than one Antiguan beanpole named Curtly Elconn Lynwall Ambrose. Would I want to pick Gibbs ahead of the searing pace of Michael ‘Whispering Death’ Holding? Is Gibbs worthy of a spot in front of Andy Roberts who one English newspaper declared “could kill.” And of whom Sir Viv Richards wrote,” I have never seen any individual in world cricket who could hit the batsman at will as he did.”
I mulled and muddled, miffed and maddened myself over this issue. And in the end none, can I pick over Ambrose. He takes the final bowling spot. He was a fast bowler that was closing in on perfection when he left the game. 405 wickets from two matches short 100.
Ambrose started his career with punching pace and delved into the furniture of many a batsman in this manner for the most part of his career. Then as the clock took its natural toll on his body he slipped himself in a bout of fast bowling preciseness which is yet to be equaled.
Ambrose in his later days was ever reluctant to let a batsman score even a single to his detriment. He dug a hole on one spot around the off stump and with a hint of movement, one way or the other had another victim within short time.
His career highlights came when his 6 for 24 had England sinking for 46 in Trinidad and his 7 for 1 spell secured a series for the Windies over Australia.
Ambrose and Lara are the only two players who played the better part of the last decade of the 20th Century to have made it into my ultimate West Indies:
1. Gordon Greenidge
2. Conrad Hunte
3. George Headley
4. Viv Richards
5. Brian Lara
6. Everton Weekes
7. Garfield Sobers
8. Jeff Dujon
9. Malcolm Marshall
10. Curtly Ambrose
11. Wes Hall
Of this team of greats who will lead? This, more than any other issue may bring a nasty controversy. When the story is over of Sober’s infamous declaration in Trinidad which gifted the English an unlikely win, the moral of his thinking was always to play cricket at its exciting best. It is the way the game should be played. It is for this same reason, among others of course that Lara, to my mind will always be a batsman on a higher plateau than the sure Indian master Sachin Tendulkar. Let us leave that issue though for another article.
Sobers for his daring captaincy, his desire to pursue the game not in the interest of security but of flair and passion, captains my team. In a few year’s time I may replace him with Lara, but for now the equally daring, but probably more intuitive Prince of Port of Spain will advise Sobers as vice captain.
We will never agree on who should make the final cut. These men, all West Indian legends have gotten into my 11. Excluding the dozen or so who would make your team with ease brings pain aplenty. Two more Ibuprofens please, extra strength!