On the eve of his 80th birthday, celebrated cricket umpire Harold 'Dickie' Bird caused a flutter among the cricketing cognoscente by picking an all-time great world XI. His team consisted of Sunil Gavaskar and Barry Richards as openers, followed by Vivian Richards, Greg Chappell, Graeme Pollock and Garfield Sobers in the middle order.
The custodian being Alan Knott, his tweakers would be Shane Warne and Lance Gibbs with Dennis Lillee as the tearaway pacer. Famed allrounder Imran Khan was appointed skipper by Bird.
His team is devoid of modern-day masters like Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting, Muttiah Muralitharan, Glenn McGrath and famed West Indians like Rohan Kanhai, Andy Roberts, Michael Holding and Malcolm Marshall.
Legends from the past, like Don Bradman, Len Hutton, Peter May, Wally Hammond, George Headley and their lot may not have been considered by the umpire as they came well before the time when he donned the white coat.
In the late seventies, the iconic Cricket Club of India (CCI) lawns had a special table reserved for cricketing romantics, including former Test and first-class players who discussed such topics as the sun gently sank into the Arabian Sea.
Once, the group was discussing their all-time great Indian team and reached a unanimous conclusion of India opening their batting with Vijay Merchant and Syed Mushtaq Ali. That team had no Gavaskar, G. R. Viswanath, Bishen Bedi, Erapalli Prasanna, B. S. Chandrasekar and Syed Kirmani among others, just the way Bird's team does not feature the top ten aggregators in Test cricket. It is obvious that each generation will have their favourites who will root for their flannelled heroes, much to the chagrin of people from other generations.
How seriously, then, can one take teams selected by such groups or legends of world cricket? When a team, purportedly selected by Bradman, featured Barry Richards instead of Gavaskar, Indian cricket lovers were up in arms.
In the mid-eighties when I was on a tour to the Caribbean, I was taken to the famous Queens Park Oval at Trinidad by my host and introduced to a motley group of people who were discussing cricket while sipping their rum punch. When told that I belonged to Bombay, they rose up - one and all and raised a toast to the 'master' — Gavaskar.
The topic then moved to who the best middle order batsman was — Kanhai or Richards? It was amazing to see people from two generations have a slugfest. To me, no one can ever select an all-time great team beyond their own generation.
While it was interesting to read the opinion of Bird why he picked the greats he did, it would be amusing to pick the best umpires of all time.
This generation may pick Simon Taufel and Aleem Dar, mine would probably go for Bird and David Shepherd, while the 'CCI selectors' would have picked Frank Chester to umpire at both ends!
The writer is a former Cricket Club of India captain and Bombay University cricketer. TAG: CYCSPL