Posted by: tootingtrumpet | January 9, 2011

The Team Man’s XI

Andy Bichel - off the field, but still in the game

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 and on Twitter at @garynaylor999 and @Fakeadil.



  1. No love for AB here? He practically was the team, was Australian cricket, for about 7-8 years until others grew around him. Played some truly great innings (the twin 90s in the West Indies?), and remains an under-rated bat in some ways amongst the fellow greats. Largely because it was subsumed by a broader role and responsibility as the Grandfather to one of the greatest generations…

    • Japal – an excellent call and one I would be happy to endorse. It’s pleasing that there is so much competition for places!

      • Good topic. All blokes you would be happy to have a beer with.

      • Brian Close? Always batted to the match situation and put his body on the line time after time

        • Indeed Dirk. Close also backed youth to the hilt at Somerset and later at Yorkshire in the Seconds. It’s covered well in Rob Smyth’s book reviewed here –

          • Already own it :-)

            I’d also put a word in for Verity, his bowling on the 1932-33 tour was precisely to his captain and team’s plans and executed flawlessly, any bowler that Bradman admitted to never bending to his will must surely warrant an honourable mention, his biography by Alan Hill is well worth a read to IMHO.

            • Verity is one of those fascinating players that continues to yield more so long after his death. I must read the book. Thanks Dirk.

  2. Great post Toots, lovely stuff.

    “I’d back to defeat any Mercurial Genius XI named.”

    Ooh, challenge.

    Virender Sehwag
    Sanath Jayasuria
    Carl Hooper
    Kevin Pietersen
    Nathan Astle
    Brendon McCullum+
    Shahid Afridi*
    Freddie Flintoff
    Mitchell Johnson
    Steve Harmison
    Shoaib Akhtar

    That is a team I would bet on to beat and/or lose to your side by an innings. Picking a captain was tricky, have gone for Afridi due to comedy value.

    • My god, imagine Harmison and Johnson together on one of their numerous ‘bad hair’ days.

      I feel like throwing up.

      What’s that story about Imran Khan addressing the ‘troops’ before one of the big World Cup matches and threatening them with the law if they underperformed?

      Now that’s a skipper.

    • My lot to beat yours in a series as follows – Draw, W (30 runs), W (4 wickets), L (Inn and 240 runs), W (150 runs).

  3. Being the big Dravid fan that I am, I have read a number of tributes to him (and written a few myself as well). But never have I come across a more precise description. It’s almost nature’s wish that he gets neglected due to some other players acheivement. Be it the 180 knock as you mentioned, or reaching 12,000 run mark in tests, which he recently did on the same day Sachin scored 50th ton.

    Also, have a little request for you. Do check out my blog and if you feel it is worth it, please add it to your blogroll list. It sure will help an individual blogger like me get some clicks :)

  4. Thanks for the kind words Mayank. You’ll see that you’re on the blogroll and I look forward to reading your thoughts soon.

  5. Back in 2003-04 when India were touring Australia, I happened to be at the Indian practice session before the Adelaide test. A middle-aged lady standing next to me was trying to get autographs for her eager grandson. Dravid walks by and the first thing she asks him is: “Are you Sachin Tendulkar?” Dravid smiles and says: “I wish I was.”

    Clearly the other trait common to Dravid, Murali, Ntini, Taylor is humility. I still remember when Taylor chose not to break Bradman’s HS. Note that Hayden didn’t have any such qualms.

    • Lovely story Sunny – I guess Dravid has heard that a few times over the years. Humility is such an under-rated element of successful individuals – we tend to notice those who lack it and then think they are the norm. They are not.

  6. A delightful read, Toots.

    And I think Anil Kumble should be in this XI instead of Murali. Not saying Murali is not a team man, but his (Murali’s) talent and hunger is akin to Sachin’s for run making. Anil is the person who has extracted every ounce of talent from his cricketing bones.

    And typical of the man, no one noticed it last week when Kumble announced that he won’t be playing the IPL, effectively retiring from all forms of cricket.

    A tribute by a blogger I just discovered:

    • Thanks Kumar. Kumble is another very good call, but Murali had to carry the bowling so often with no complaints, that I had to give it to him. Anil certainly maxed out his results from his talent showing the benefit of hard work and a shrewd mind.

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