Athletes Talk XI
It’s that time again. The Cricket World Cup is coming to an end and the official debrief is underway. And the most important part of that is “experts” all over the world are picking their team of the tournament. So if they’re having a crack, why can’t we. Here’s the Athletes Talk XI:
He didn’t score a tournament ton. Nor did he finish in the top 10 run-scorers heading into the final. But McCullum was one of the key reasons behind the Black Caps’ unbeaten run through to the final. He took down England with the fastest ever half-century at a World Cup. He tried to do something similar in a thriller against Australia and took a giant chunk out of small target in an almighty hurry. But it was a masterpiece against South Africa in the semi-final that paved the way for a mammoth Eden Park run-chase. Overall statistics don’t tell the full story of McCullum’s influence. His leadership was inspired and tactically creative and astute. He is the logical choice to lead this Athletes Talk XI.
India were very much the team sailing under the radar at this World Cup. Away from home, they were given little chance but they pieced together an unbeaten run up until the semi-final stage. Leading from the top was their left-handed swordsman Shikhar Dhawan. He was the fifth highest run-scorer for the tournament and peeled off twin tons along the way against South Africa and Ireland. The McCullum-Dhawan opening combination would have every ticket-holder making sure they wouldn’t be late to their seat.
The Black Caps opener commands a place in the side on the back of his World Cup record 237 alone. Problem is, with three openers in the side, someone has to bat at three. Guppy has done it before and appears to be the most suitable fit. He was the rock that held the New Zealand top-order together, but that doesn’t quite do justice to his own strike-rate of well over a run a ball. They’re pretty handy traits for the man due to come in at one-down.
We’ve shuffled the great Sri Lanka away from the number three position as well but he’s good enough to handle it we think! In his final tournament as an ODI cricketer, Sangakkara bid farewell with one of the great series of all-time. He hit four consecutives centuries – the first man in history to do so at one-day international level. He finished on top of the run-scoring list and did it at better than a run a ball. He’ll also take the wicket-keeping duties in this team.
He’s the man you would desperately want in your side and fortunately, the stats support his selection. Between a mix of middle-overs responsibility and late innings carnage, de Villiers proved in front of the world he is the most complete batsman in the modern game. His unbeaten 162 off just 66 deliveries against the West Indies may just be the greatest individual performance in the history of ODI cricket. An absolute superstar who even chimed in with some handy overs for the Proteas. He shouldn’t be needed to roll the arm over in this team, but it’s good to know it’s there if required.
It’s hard to believe this is the same player who was so publicly and unfairly named and shamed through the early part of the Australian summer. Maxwell showed signs his time was nigh on the eve of the World Cup and clearly hit the tournament primed to deliver. His run rate was bettered only by McCullum, but there was more to it than that. Maxwell was measured yet brutal. Responsible yet instinctive. It was “see ball, hit ball,” in the moment cricket at its best, without jeopardising team needs. None more so than against Sri Lanka at the SCG when Maxwell used attack as his best form of defence to single-handedly hit Australia out of trouble and into a commanding position, en route to his maiden ODI ton. His ability to shift through the gears and his handy off-spin bowling gets him in the side just ahead of his Australian teammate Steve Smith. We love his fielding too. Imagine Maxwell, de Villiers and McCullum patrolling the inner circle. Sneak a single at your own risk!
The allrounder berth is so crucial to the balance of any limited overs team. There were a few options but Anderson gets the nod primarily based upon his performances with the bat. Ironic really because he finished 12th overall on the most wickets leaderboard. He consistently became the Black Caps go to man to break a partnership and he regularly delivered for his skipper. In this team, he would be more than likely required to provide 10 overs to the cause. That said, there are few more destructive hitters of a cricket ball in the world and Anderson showed off those skills in a finishing role when required. But it was his calm under pressure half century in the semi-final against South Africa which showed there is more to Anderson than just brute power in happy hour. His batting gets him the nod ahead of the West Indies allrounder Andre Russell.
Don’t underestimate the value of a quality spinner in any side. We could have gone for India’s Ravi Ashwin or perhaps South Africa’s Imran Tahir. But when things got tough for the Black Caps, Brendan McCullum consistently turned to his veteran tweaker to turn the tide. Vettori delivered with 15 wickets at economy rate of less than four runs per over. His performance in the pool game against Australia was vintage Vettori and the turning point when the visitors were in complete control.
The bowler of the tournament and the first quick selected. Starc has developed into the most destructive white-ball bowler in world cricket. Throughout the tournament he showcased his ability to trouble the top-order with the new seed, but he was at his damaging best when brought back into the attack with the old ball. His 6/28 against New Zealand to almost snatch an impossible victory will live on in the annals of cricket world cup history.
There were several contenders for this fast bowling spot but few could question the Proteas seamer winning a call-up. His height and bounce consistently gave batsmen headaches and squeezed the opposition run-rate. He finished the tournament as one of its most economical bowlers, to add to a haul of 17 wickets. India’s Mohammad Shami, and to a lesser extent Umesh Yadav could easily have won their way into the team. Morkel edges them both out in a perfect complement to the rest of the fast bowling brigade.
The tournament’s leading wicket-taker and the main attacking weapon with the ball in the Black Caps artillery. His impeccable line to the new batsman gave New Zealand early ascendancy, while his second spell against Australia at Eden Park tore the game away from the men in gold.
Steve Smith is unlucky not to be in the starting XI. His century in the semi-final against India was pure class. He wins a spot in the 12 just ahead of Sri Lanka’s Tillekeratne Dilshan and Bangladesh young gun Mahmudullah Riyad who both belted two centuries for the tournament. In this instance, Smith’s fielding conquers all!