The rude reality in picking a mythical eleven from the vintagers who never played one-day cricket for India is that I have to jettison two southpaws I would have very much liked to be in the team. I leave them out simply because Gul Mohammad and Abdul Hafeez Kardar (each batting and bowling left-handed) later went over to Pakistan. We do not want any identity mix in such an all-time eleven. Quite a few stalwart Indian performers came to be eliminated, from the listing, on the handy ground of fielding. So, beginning at the beginning, which two open?
For one, Vinoo Mankad as a multipurpose performer who batted from No 1 to No 11 for India. Vinoo, remarkably, could adjust his spin trajectory to any form of cricket. As the acme of accuracy, Vinoo rendered Len Hutton (86), then the world's best opener, strokeless for a full 20 overs during the mid-August 1952 Oval Test. Rivalling, in his prime, Keith Miller for the mantle of the world's best all-rounder, Vinoo Mankad needs, as partner, an opener who would, like him, utilise the first 15 overs to the max. My preference here (Sachin style) is for promoting the Junior Nawab of Pataudi to opener as India's finest player of pace almost all through his international career. Vijay Merchant noted that Tiger Pataudi, in the dull-dogged 1960s, was the first Indian batsman of breeding consistently to lift the ball over the infield. Maybe that is the reason Merchant voted Tiger out as captain, since Vijay, in exemplarily hooking Keith Miller, invariably struck down the ball halfway between himself and the square-leg umpire!
Lala Amarnath, not C K Nayudu (yes, I saw the Man of Ebony!), I rate as India's best captain of all time. So the Lala comes in at one-drop, as skipper, CK as the Brown Blaster at No 4. The Lala -- resourceful enough as a bowling medium to hold the most aggressive of batsmen on a tight leash even on South African wickets -- was a fine outfield who doubled as a super slip. The Don Bradman-admired Lala at No 3 has all the shots and the bravura to unfurl them. The Lala would pick fours all round the wicket, while CK, from the other end, would conjure those Rajabai Tower-high sixes. Just the blend of Oriental idioms you need after the openers, Vinoo and Tiger, have set the torrid tone against quality pace.
The problem in picking such an Indian eleven is that they all look Cavaliers, not one of them is a Roundhead! So I here opt for Rahul Dravid's superior as a batsman and wicket-keeper alike: Vijay Manjrekar. I saw Manjrekar 'keep scientifically on an England tour; plus Vijay was a thinking strike rotator until his knee gave way. Vijay Manjrekar is the floater in the batting order. As of now at No 8, but always there to be pushed up or down. Vijay M was a superb driver, cutter, puller and hooker at his zenith. But let us get back to C K Nayudu at No 4. After CK, who if not Salim Durrani, another who, as a fresher, was athletic enough in the field as a willowy fixer of high catches. As for Salim's batting and bowling, could there be any doubt about his class?
Polly Umrigar I came to view as the best captain in India after Lala Amarnath. I lower Polly to No 6 only because this is the juncture, in the one-day innings, when Umrigar (labelled by me as 'The Palm Tree Hitter') would encounter the calibre of bowling to yield runs by the shoal to one of his aptitude. Polly just murdered anything short of peak pace; dismissively lifted the spinners out of the ground; and fielded like a lion in the deep -- with an arrow throw to round off some greyhound chasing and catching. Only one bouncer an over means Polly is peerless at No 6.
At No 7 is Chandu Borde whom Australia's meanest captain ever, Bill Lawry, singled out as superior to Brisbane Test centurion M L Jaisimha in innovating the strokes to get after a target of 395 on the final day. Lawry pointedly noted that, so long as Borde (63) was daredevil driving, he feared the blade of Chandu rather than that of Jaisimha (101). What is more, if the Junior Pataudi was Tiger at cover, Chandu Borde answered to the tag of 'The Panther' at extra-cover. Add to that Borde's waspish wrist spin -- Chandu even took over from Subhash Gupte for a spell -- and you have the complete one-day all-rounder. One who, by fearlessly standing up to Gilchrist and Hall, earned selection in the Rest of the World team.
At No 8, as eminent enough to elevate any time, do I put down Manjrekar as the wicket-keeper who donned the gloves with distinction for India in the March-April 1953 Sabina Park Test, while not letting his batsmanship suffer (43 & 118). It distresses me no less to downgrade Dattu Phadkar to No 9, while envisioning him as the nearest thing to Kapil Dev we have. With a century (123) against Lindwall and Miller in the January 1948 Adelaide Test; with the ability to use the ball, new and old, with the same inventiveness as Kapil Dev; with a pair of hands that pouched any shot within handshaking distance, Phadkar is my man.
Rusi Surti, sadly down to No 10, is another who, as a southpaw, the skipper could imaginatively move around in the order. Imagine, Pataudi was against Rusi's choice for the 1967-68 tour of Australia and New Zealand. But Surti proved his captain wrong, all the way, with his all-round skills. From bowling Sourav-style medium, Rusi could double, tellingly, as a left-arm finger spinner. Place him anywhere in the field and Surti would flamboyantly turn the nimble spotlight on himself. Send him up or down, he would stroke the ball with punchy fluency.
Another all-rounder to savour, L Amarsinh -- as the one to share the shine with Dattu Phadkar -- completes the eleven. 'Amu' was Amarnath's peer in every respect as an all-rounder. Indeed. A savage striker of the cricket ball, the way he pulled off sixes. As a bowler, 'Amu'' was verily world class at lively medium pace. His pick-up and throw make Amu' the quintessential one-day performer. That he is No 11 is a pointer to the range and depth of the eleven I have picked. How do you draw a rational balance from among Vinoo, Salim and Rusi as left-arm spinners? Where do you fit in Borde as a Shahid Afridi mould of wicket-taker? At which point does Amarnath come on to bowl after Phadkar and Amarsinh, before Vinoo and Salim? Where does the Lala fit in the off-breaks of CK and Polly?
It is, in fact, the dimension of team in which Cover Boy' Tiger Pataudi cannot dream of displacing Borde at extra-cover and vice versa. I name Hemu Adhikari (over that man of oak, G S Ramchand) as 12th man only because, like Jonty Rhodes, The Hawk' could take aim at one stump, from anywhere in the field, and throw down the wicket. Manjrekar as wicket-keeper would, with his ultra-natty collection, make Rahul Dravid squirm. Here then is the only Indian team I see winning the World Cup after Kapil Dev:
1 Vinoo Mankad 2 Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi 3 Lala Amarnath (captain) 4 C K Nayudu 5 Salim Durrani; 6 Polly Umrigar (vice-captain) 7 Chandu Borde 8 Vijay Manjrekar (wicket-keeper) 9 Dattu Phadkar 10 Rusi Surti 11 L Amarsinh 12th man: Hemu Adhikari.