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DILEEP PREMACHANDRAN
FOOTNOTES

Dileep Premachandran is editor-in-chief of Wisden India

Picking an all-time XI is always an exercise in self-indulgence

ith the economy slowing down, there is a growth area that the government would do well to focus on. The taking-offence cottage industry is thriving in India, whether at literary festivals or in reactions to dream XIs chosen by former umpires. The thin-skinned Indian is alive and well, and the reaction to Dickie Bird's choice of his all-time Test XI indicates that there's no danger of the industry going into recession.

Bird was a fine umpire in his time, one of the very best. He started off as a Test umpire at the age of 40, and retired 23 years later – in a Lord's Test where Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid made their debuts – having stood in 66 Tests and 69 ODIs. His officiating was always marked by common sense, and a taste for the eccentric. Most players loved him, and appreciated the quality of his decision-making.

Bird loved the limelight, and has certainly not shied away from it in his retirement years. Whether it was a book that sold over a million copies, or a statue in his honour in Barnsley, he's probably better known than any umpire or referee that sport has ever seen.

The XI he picked on the occasion of his 80th birthday was as follows: Sunil Gavaskar, Barry Richards, Viv Richards, Greg Chappell, Graeme Pollock, Garfield Sobers, Allan Knott, Imran Khan, Shane Warne, Dennis Lillee and Lance Gibbs. It features only one Englishman, Knott, and none of the Yorkshire legends like Len Hutton that he must have grown up idolising. No place either for Fred Trueman, another Yorkshire great that he played alongside.

Bird loved the limelight, and has certainly not shied away from it in his retirement years.

he big hullaballoo here is because the XI doesn't feature Sir Donald Bradman or Sachin Tendulkar. Chandu Borde, who represented India with distinction in the 1960s, put it down to Bird's lack of cricketing knowledge, forgetting that such tasks as picking an all-time XI are purely exercises in self-indulgence.

"That's his opinion. He must not have seen Bradman playing," said Borde. "By this team, one can see how good is his cricketing knowledge. Statistics will tell you about Bradman and Tendulkar. One need not refer to his eleven. From my point of view, it's the English media which has made Bird an umpiring legend."

Bird was a fine umpire in his time, one of the very best

Ajit Wadekar, who led India when they won in England for the first time in 1971, questioned the balance of the 'side', as though it would actually turn up at Eden Gardens and play a game tomorrow. "And who will be the new-ball partner of Lillee?" he asked."It's also surprising there is nobody from among the famed Indian spin quartet of Bishan Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, B S Chandrasekhar and Venkataraghavan. It would also been ideal if Adam Gilchrist was there in place of Allan Knott."

Gilchrist was a superior batsman, but Knott was a markedly better keeper. In Bird's time, a keeper was judged on his primary skill and not what he did with the bat. As for the new ball, the name Imran should ring a bell or three. The greatest allround cricketer that Asia has produced was a magnificent swing bowler, more than capable of matching Lillee with the new ball. As for the Indian quartet, great as they were, few would argue against Warne being picked ahead of them. For the offspinner's role, Gibbs took 120 wickets more than Prasanna, at a better average.

It's impossible to leave personal bias and familiarity out of the equation when picking an XI. Mine would feature at least five West Indians, because they lit up my youth. Bird clearly watched more of Barry Richards than he did Tendulkar or Bradman. It's not as though any of the top six he chose are not bonafide legends.

At the end of the day, it was just an amusing exercise that illustrated one man's preferences. We all have them. It's just a shame that we can't respect someone else's.

 
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