Eleven good men and true

Robert Winder selects his fantasy World Cricket XI

Of course, there is no such thing as an ideal cricket team, because it depends what you want. In the heyday of the fast men, Clive Lloyd would probably have picked 11 express-pace bowlers, while Geoff Boycott, in his fierce prime, might have plumped for 11 limpet-like opening bats. But most people like a bit of everything: the odd thunderclap of speed in the bowling, supported by plenty of guile, and a mixture of steeliness and virtuosity from the batsmen.

But for those who like their cricket acrimonious, the game might easily furnish 11 players guaranteed to run each other out. Lara and Richardson, who have given the world the spectacle of a West Indies captain and vice- captain barely on speaking terms, could open the batting. Salim Malik would have to drop down the order to support Shane Warne and Tim May, the Australians who have accused him of attempted bribery. Jonathan Agnew might have to be recalled to open the bowling with Philip DeFreitas, whose cricket bag he once, famously, chucked out of the pavilion window at Leicester; and it is hard to imagine a less chummy pair of back-up bowlers than Devon Malcolm and Ray Illingworth. Slagging it out in the middle order would be Ian Botham and Imran Khan, rivals for "best all-rounder" honours and opponents in an on-going libel action about racism. As it happens, this wouldn't be a bad side - but it might be the first time in history that a team has needed 11 dressing rooms.

It might be more fun to compile a team designed purely to twist the tongues of commentators. One of the more pleasant aspects of the summer was the way Colin Croft, the former West Indian fast bowler, insisted on referring to Atherton as Arthurton and vice versa. These two would, as it happens, make a fine opening partnership. They could be followed by Waugh and Waugh, Richardson and Richardson, Rhodes, Rhodes, Benjamin, Benjamin and Kumble (with Kambli twelfth man).

A serious selection is altogether trickier: the great players of the present day never seem so grand as the fabled performers of yesteryear. Still, not many people would argue with the front four batsmen: Atherton, Slater, Lara and Tendulkar, though there is a case, now that England's captain has proved himself the master of the rearguard action, for sticking him in at number 11, just in case. Nor are there many batsmen in the world who would fancy their chances against a bowling attack of Allan Donald, Waqar Younis, Curtly Ambrose, Shane Warne and Anil Kumble.

The wicketkeeper would be Ian Healy (if only because he has, as it were, been Warned), which leaves a single batting place up for grabs. Azharuddin gets "the nod" on the basis that he'd probably be captain.

Naturally, with all these maestros competing for the limelight, Mickey Stewart would have to be team manager. There'd be lots of work-outs in the gym, early nights and fines for unpunctuality. As all sports administrators know, the key thing with great players is to show 'em who's boss. If nothing else, that would take these so-called world-beaters down a peg.

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