S. SOORAJ | 3rd November 2021

As far as I can remember, cricket has been my companion through every stage of my life, constantly toying with my emotions and making me fall in love with it, over and over again.

My XI consists of the players that have a habit of making me realize why I love cricket as much as I do.

While the football writers came up with their all-time XI’s last week, it’s time for me to do the same. Here’s yours truly presenting my all-time all-format cricket XI.


– The writer can ONLY pick 4 Indian players in this XI.

– The writer can pick only those cricketers he has ENJOYED watching the most.

– This is supposed to be the writer’s all-time XI of his FAVORITE players and not a GREATEST XI.

Opener: Sachin Tendulkar

Even if I had to write this list after my grandkids were born, Sachin Tendulkar would be the first name that I would put down without a second thought.

The Master Blaster was the reason behind two things:

1) Why I started watching cricket

2) Why I fell in love with the gentleman’s game

To call Tendulkar the greatest player ever to grace the sport would still be an understatement, given what he has achieved in the game.

He was a true champion who carried the dreams of a billion people on his shoulders and he delivered more than any batter could ever even dream of doing so.

And much like one out of those billion, constantly expecting to witness greatness from His godly self, Tendulkar not only rose to my expectations, but he ensured I was enamored at all times.

Rushing back home from school to watch Sachin play the cricketing shots that well and truly belong in an art gallery, every time you freeze frame the genius in action is one of my favorite memories of my childhood.

To me, Sachin was cricket and cricket was Sachin. And looking back, despite him calling it a day almost a decade ago, that sentiment ceases to change.

Opener: Matthew Hayden

Very rarely do we get to feast our eyes on a batter who has the courage to back the caliber of a stalwart like Matthew Hayden. The concept of fear was foreign to a batting behemoth who was merciless from ball one.

Alongside Gilly, Haydos had the ability to not just dominate but make one of the greatest bowlers the sport has ever seen seem like amateurs on his day. There was an unavoidable aura of terror that the Aussie carried that always absorbed me.

I’d always get the impression that the goal wasn’t just to score runs, but to send the message to a bowling attack that he was out there to bully them out there.

In a sense, Hayden was the very embodiment of the untouchable Australian side of the 2000s.

Just In: A Matty Hayden memory has popped up in my head.

During the first-ever IPL auction in 2008, when my hometown was over the moon with the coup of MS Dhoni as the captain of the Chennai Super Kings, I was more thrilled to see Matthew Hayden don a different yellow outfit.

A ruthless phenomenon who dominated every format without breaking a sweat.

Captain: Kane Williamson

Kane Williamson is my second favorite ever captain behind the greatest ever of course, MS Dhoni.

Since I could only accommodate four Indians into this line-up, the legendary keeper-batsman had to sit this one out, letting another Captain Cool take over.

On paper, Williamson is not exactly captain material. He rarely gets aggressive. He doesn’t have a habit of commanding his authority on the pitch. But when it comes to results, he always delivers.

Ever since he took over the helm as the Kiwi captain, New Zealand have been flying, with only sheer misfortune stopping them lifting the 2019 World Cup while bringing home the first-ever World Test Championship mace.

Even though it involved them vanquishing India, it was still as good as it gets to watch Williamson smiling and on the winning side of things.

And apart from his captaincy, Kane Williamson has always been Mr. Dependable with the bat. Truly one of the greatest batters of his generation and a shoo-in for anybody that’s as much of a sucker for textbook cricketing shots like I am.

All-rounder: Yuvraj Singh

As a child, Yuvraj Singh was my hero. There’s no question about it; I used to idolize this man like nobody else.

The flamboyant left-hand batter coming in at No.4 would make me jump out of my couch in sheer excitement.

Yuvi was an embodiment of every fan’s passion, being as animated as we were when the good times came and as gutted as we were when they didn’t; putting everything on the line with bat, ball and especially in the field.

Being a World Cup hero, not once but twice for India, there aren’t many reasons for an Indian to claim he/she has affinity with the sport and not Yuvraj Singh. As national treasures go, this man is right up there.

Battling through a World Cup of all tournaments with cancer and that too in India of all places and ending up as the tournament’s best player is his lionhearted self-summed up.

The effort alone was a ridiculous feat but to dominate when his very life was up in the air is Yuvraj Singh.

If you want to be inspired, just revisit the life of this legend right here.

Wicketkeeper: AB de Villiers

The phase between 2012-2016 was a period where AB de Villiers reigned supreme, cementing his position as one of the best on Planet Earth. Primes don’t get better than Mr. 360’s.

Only a select few in the history of the game could match ABD’s unparalleled genius during this period. A cricketer that ticked every box to the extent that even opposition fans would resign to his magnificence and initiate a round of applause.

Any bowler, any length, any pace, nothing mattered to a force of nature who would smack the ball to all parts as if he was programmed to do so. I can’t stress this enough.

His brilliance was effortless to the point where it seemed pre-planned; that’s what used to bewilder me the most.

Just like how his 149 off 44 balls against the West Indies in 2015 was perhaps one of the most outrageous pieces of batting I have ever witnessed.

It’s a shame that the AB de Villiers show was short-lived, seeing as he took the route of an early retirement; but the greatest hits he left us with will be replayed for centuries to come.

No.6: Kevin Pietersen

Speaking of short-lived careers, if there is one example of a “what could have been” career, Kevin Pietersen would top the list.

Bursting onto the scene as an Ashes hero in his debut Test series, KP turned the fortunes around for England, taking home the Man-Of-The-Series and from there on, he was genuinely unstoppable.

Kevin Pietersen is the kind of cricketer that makes you want to sit and enjoy the art of batting.

As elegant as the greats in playing the classic cricketing shots while being the innovator behind the ‘switch hit’, Pietersen was a batter that would dominate any and every era.

For me, if Pietersen truly lived up to his potential, he would certainly be up there with England greats of the standing of Sir Ian Botham and Alastair Cook.

All-rounder: Irfan Pathan

Another rare talent who didn’t enjoy a long, fruitful career is Irfan Pathan. Pace-bowling all-rounders have always been a rare commodity in Indian cricket.

After Kapil Dev, we didn’t even witness one of them take the cricketing stage. However, Pathan had everything that it took to become number two on this list.

The boy from Baroda looked like an all-time great in the making, with his swing-bowling abilities making him unplayable on his day. Pakistan could attest to this when Pathan became the first bowler to take a hat-trick in the first over of a Test match on 29th January 2006.

And who can forget how he led the Indian attack in the 2007 T20 World Cup-winning campaign for India?

He certainly deserves his flowers and while he did receive them aplenty was a bowler, his batting prowess was certainly underrated.

Irfan Pathan could not just go big once in a while; his technique was sound enough to hold the fort in Test cricket.

Alas, his career was defined by the highest of highs as well as the lowest of lows but when Irfan Pathan was on song, he was devastating.

Fast bowler: Mitchell Johnson

Mitchell Johnson was the stereotype of the old-school fast bowler: menacing, bloodthirsty and lethal. His mere sight could make any batter’s knees start trembling. His eventual mutton chops-moustache certainly didn’t make him look friendlier. And it’s safe to say that I loved to see it.

The Aussie was always the prime aggressor for the side and only played the game on the edge. Johnson had every trick up his sleeve- from lightning pace to inch-perfect swing and towering boucers that were injurious to any and every batter’s safety.

And most of all, he was a certified gamechanger.

The 2013 Ashes and the 2015 World Cup instantly spring to mind when Mitch Johnson was as unplayable as a fast bowler could ever be.

Leg spinner: Rashid Khan

Let me get something out of the way- I haven’t seen much of Rashid Khan when it comes to international cricket. But every time I watch him play, he has stepped up to a standard that makes you wonder if his national side would even be amongst the big boys in his absence.

After all, Afghanistan was a direct entry into the Super 12 stages of the 2021 T20 World Cup, ahead of heavyweights like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

This not only is an indicator of how much Afghanistan has grown as a cricketing nation but Rashid Khan’s unimaginable influence.

What makes me in awe of this leg-spinner is how consistently tremendous he truly is. Keeping this in mind, it’s even more baffling to witness how even after 3 complete seasons in the IPL, even the best of the best batters wing it when they face Rashid because his mystery spin remains a mystery.

When it comes to the shortest format of the game, Rashid Khan is one of the most valuable players in the world and his unique bag of tricks have mesmerized me from day one.

Fast-medium pace bowler: Zaheer Khan

I always looked up to left-arm pace bowlers as a kid; which brings me to the third left-armer in my XI- Zaheer Khan.

Zak was India’s pace-bowling spearhead for ages and was perhaps the only ray of hope for the side during a time where the Men in Blue weren’t as stacked in this department as they are today.

All eyes were always on Zaheer Khan and instead of succumbing under the constant pressure, the bigger the occasion, the better Zak would get.

The 2011 World Cup is a prime example of this theory.

Khan ended as the tournament’s joint-highest wicket-taker, bagging 21 wickets, with his spell in the final against Sri Lanka possibly being one of the most devastating pieces of bowling I have ever witnessed.

And what I always admired is that Zaheer never relied on pace, but his mastery of the art of the swing was second to none.

His entire bowling action, from the run-up to the jump and the release was something you could record and watch over and over again.

A legend of the highest order and a man I will always consider an icon.

Fast-medium pace bowler: Glenn McGrath

I started my All-Time XI with the best-ever batsman and I’m ending it with the best-ever pace bowler. Glenn McGrath was the Sachin Tendulkar of bowling for me.

The ‘Pigeon’ and off days are like New Delhi and snow; impossible. Throughout the era of Australian domination, McGrath was lonely at the top because simply no paceman could lay a glove on him.

Much like Khan, the towering Aussie wasn’t known for breaking pace records. Instead, he was a master of the basics, the perfect example of mastering one’s line and length should be the bread and butter of every bowler.

You could place a coin instead of the stumps and McGrath would be on the money 11 out of 10 times.

The miscalculation was done on purpose, as was the highest wicket-taker in World Cup history with his accuracy; the greatness was never just a coincidence.

For any aspiring pace bowler, if studying Glenn McGrath isn’t a part of your curriculum, the syllabus might as we be thrown in the bin entirely.