The recent retirement of Colly has provoked much bandying around of the phrase “Team Man”, a species as easy to identify as an elephant, but just as hard to describe. The Team Man is a cousin of the “Bits and Pieces Man” taking the field knowing, rather than hoping, that he’ll find a way to contribute. Unlike The Bits and Pieces Man, The Team Man can often be gifted, but unlike their rather more distant relation, “The Mercurial Genius”, The Team Man always squeezes the last drop of achievement from their talent – nevertheless, The Team Man never resents The Mercurial Genius’ successes. We know this because The Team Man is often the first to congratulate The Mercurial Genius – which is easy to do because The Team Man was so often batting or bowling at the other end. Here’s my highly personal Team Man’s XI – one I’d back to defeat any Mercurial Genius XI named.
I have just learned that today marks Makhaya Ntini’s last game for his country and so I hope this piece acts as one of many tributes to his career.
Alec Stewart – 28 times Alec Stewart opened, kept and captained England in ODIs, but that’s not quite as bonkers as opening and keeping in the cauldron of Eden Gardens, as he did in just his sixth Test. Had the superb physical fitness that characterises most team men and never failed to keep coming back for more, even when pushing 40.
Mark Taylor – In teams packed with lots of super egos (and rather fewer superegos) Tubby Taylor led by subsuming what little ego he possessed in the team’s cause. Demanded standards and discipline, of himself above all others, and displayed the good grace on the field that most Australian captains hold back until stumps are drawn.
Rahul Dravid – Not the one who created the New India (that was Ganguly). Nor the one who is on top of so many of Statguru’s sortable tables (that is Tendulkar). Nor the one who bludgeons the ball for double and triple centuries (that is Sehwag). Nor the one who caresses the ball to grab victories from the jaws of defeats (that is Laxman). The Wall is merely the one who constructed the stages on which those players performed. Has one of the all-time great batting records – but everyone is so statted out by Sachin’s numbers, Dravid’s are often neglected. Fittingly, he played one of the great innings of this century – at the same time that VVS was playing one of the great innings of all time.
Shivnarine Chanderpaul – The heir of Larry Gomes, but even better, he would crabbily accumulate while the pyrotechnic merchants blazed away at the other end (Gomes had the best seat in the house for Greenidge and Richards; Chanderpaul’s was reserved for Lara and Hooper). Unlike Michael Palin in the Monty Python sketch featuring a chartered accountant who longed to be a lion tamer, Chanderpaul did get his chance to show that he could do a Lara in making an extraordinary Test century off just 72 balls and blasting sixes off the two last balls of an ODI to earn a famous victory.
Colly – The Team Man’s Team Man, he willed himself into the ODI team through astonishing fielding, then into the Test team through, well, probably his astonishing fielding. Once established, he was the man for a crisis, whether getting under and then up Matthew Hayden’s nose early on the 2005 Tour, spiking the bully’s guns in an early ODI, or blocking and blocking as England secured the draw at Cardiff that proved so critical in the 2009 Ashes success. Like many a Team Man, he managed to project the feeling that he was the one of us who happened to be on the paddock rather than in the stands. Loved every minute and was loved in return.
Imran Khan (Capt) – It’s often said that the greatest of players make poor captains and coaches since they cannot understand why mere mortals cannot perform as they do. With the competent, they become frustrated; with the talented they become competitive. No such criticism can be levelled at Imran Khan, a man who identified and nurtured young superstars, led the team on and off the field with the power of his moral authority, maximised the outputs of great players and ordinary players alike and maintained his own extraordinary levels of charismatic achievement. Unlike most team men, Imran had a huge ego, but then Imran was unlike most men.
Adam Gilchrist (Wk) – Waited patiently for Ian Healy to retire before getting his chance and seizing it to redefine the role of the wicketkeeper. Never did anything but play the match situation, he embodied the Australian concept of mateship.
Andy Bichel – Would simply waltz into Australian Test XI now, but it was his misfortune to be born into a generation that bulged with international quality players. If he wasn’t bustling in hour after hour bowling his canny seamers, he was making runs down the order or pulling off catches with a coolness that you wouldn’t expect to see in an exhibition match.
Harold Larwood – Did exactly as he was told by his captain who did exactly what he said he would do to blunt the greatest batsman ever and deliver The Ashes back to Lord’s. Was rewarded with debilitating injury, the scorn of England’s cricket establishment and, later, the respect and love of an Australian public that recognised his work even in their own heroes’ darkest hours.
Murali – Bowled and bowled and bowled in his country’s cause and never even looked like complaining of “too much cricket”. Suffered the snipes and whispers directed at his action with good grace, though it was plain that they hurt him. Carried the additional burden of being a Tamil in the Sri Lankan team with dignity and rose to the challenge presented by the Tsunami with the vigour that carried him from his father’s sweetshop to an unassailable 800 Test wickets.
Makhaya Ntini – Like Murali, more than merely a cricketer through no fault of his own, he provided the cricketing rainbow in the Rainbow Nation’s team with a contribution that made one forget that there was anything unusual in a Black African representing South Africa (for it remains a rarity twenty years on from re-admission). Like Colly’s batting, it was hard to see how his technique and skills (wide on the crease fast-medium non-swinging seamers) would be sufficient to nail down a Test slot, but nearly 400 wickets tell their own story. Like most of his colleagues in this selection, he was supremely fit, presenting himself not just ready, but eager to play the toughest form of the game, no matter conditions obtained. Started out being viewed as an impressive Black African cricketer, became an impressive South African cricketer, then an impressive cricketer and has finished up being regarded as an impressive man – such is the additional pressure his country’s hideous history placed upon him.
The Tooting Trumpet, whom you can often find at Testmatchsofa.com and on Twitter at @garynaylor999 and @Fakeadil.