A delicious anticipation surrounds the World Cup about to be staged in the UK. All the old, classic questions are being floated again should we fill our side with all-rounders? Should we send in pinch-hitters to open the batting? But international selection boards really should have no problems about the composition of their sides. Surely our countries play so much one-day cricket that everyones mind is made up. For a game thats played over just fifty overs, it is simply a matter of getting the right balance from the available talent.
Remember how we saw New Zealand in the early 90s open the batting with Greatbatch, the big left-hander who came out whacking the ball over the ring of fielders who were not allowed out of the circle until fifteen overs had been bowled. Then they had the effrontery to open the bowling with slow off - spin ! Dipak Patel trundled off - spinners and did it very economically too. Lets go back further to India at Lord s in 83. Everyone left the g round that day claiming to have discovered the Holy Grail of one-day cricket the medium pacer who could bat. The Man of the Match on that occasion was Mohinder Armanath, for his 26 runs in the face of the fury of West Indies fast bowling and his 3 wickets for only 12 runs off 7 overs. The other all-rounders were Kapil Dev, Madan Lal, Roger Binny and Kirti Azad. Compare that with the demon quartet they beat: Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding.
Then came the theory that you must develop a side of 11 top fielders. Australia and South Africa have led the way here. They have applied serious diagnosis to fielding techniques, working out how to shorten the body movements before the throw, how to be balanced enough to make countless direct hits on the stumps in run-out situations. The best batsmen in the world were suddenly left stretching frantically for the crease as a throw winged its way into the middle stump. The third umpire has only compounded the batsmans problems. The cameras prove that a direct hit almost always finds the batsman short of the crease.
I have spent 20 years as a television commentator for the B B C, watching the one-day game shift its emphasis. One finds that teams which are stuck with theories instead of talented cricketers usually lose. Talk about pinch-hitters if you like but the fact is, if you want a barrage of strokeplay to take advantage of the early-innings fielding restrictions, then send in a Tendulkar, and if you want intelligent, frugal bowling, try Glenn McGrath. For fielders in any position look no further than Jonty Rhodes. The point Im trying to make is that talent, real talent, beats formating. Every time Graeme Hick gets a few wickets, as he did in Sharjah recently, the headline reads Hick fills Englands slow bowling role. Yes, he is an attractive pro-position because he bats well, but he is not going to be a Saqlain Mushtaq. He fits the description of an off-spinner but he is not talented enough in that craft.
So Im persuaded to think that proper players should always get into a one-day side even though their style in Tests appears to make them unsuited. Kumble is a good example. Only the talented cricketer can extend his game with skill to match. The recipe cricketer is usually trapped in the pre-match role to which he has been appointed. On the other hand, the genuine all-rounders will be the magical glue which holds the side together: people like Akram, Afridi, Kallis, Shaun Pollock. Class will tell.