December 14, 2006

Fantasy World XI comprising sumo of the heaviest!

By H Natarajan

Things are getting too hot in the world of cricket – Pakistan became the first team ever in the history of the game to forfeited a Test, then Darrell Hair was unceremoniously sacked, but what followed was Riplesque drama – Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif indicted and temporarily exiled for doping and, in a dramatic reversal, recalled honourably! Amid these are the strong reactions to the dismal show put up by England and India.

I think cricket fans would do well to savor the funny side of the game as well. So how about picking an all-time great “Heavyweight World ODI XI”? What should be the criteria for picking this eleven? They should not only be well-fed men but look well-fed so that the final XI tips the scale at 1,100 kgs plus! On a serious note, the XI should be of proven international class to merit selection. Not easy to find a ‘decent’ eleven in a format that has pushed fitness to new levels.

I guess the opening slot would go to David Boon. The Tasman who consumed 52 cans of beer on a Sydney-London flight. Boon of course is a boon in more ways than one. He formed a formidable opening partnership with Geoff Marsh, a partnership that looked Bud Spencer and Terence Hill. But the like the Hollywood duo, the Aussie tandem were a force to reckon with. For all his bulk, Boon was brilliant in the close-catching position.

Opening the innings with Boon would be another aggressive heavyweight – Ian Botham. “Beefy” is not unfamiliar to the role of an opening bat. In fact, England used him in that position in the 1992 World Cup where they ended up as the losing finalists. For all the generous layer around his waist, Botham was a fantastic fielder in the slips, taking some stunning catches with a capacious pair of hands.

At one-drop, would be Mike Gatting. The Middlesex man’s weight kept ballooning with the passage of time and was the butt of many jokes. In the 1993 Ashes series, when Shane Warne bowled him with a delivery that is famously called the “Ball of the century,” cricket writer Martin Johnson wrote in The Independent: “How anyone can spin a ball the width of Gatting boggles the mind." Graham Gooch, Gatting’s own team-mate, said of the same ball: "If it had been a cheese roll, it would never have got past him!" But the best of all the jokes came from another team-mate, Chris Cowdrey. In the 1985 Calcutta Test, captain David Gower asked his bowler Chris Cowdrey: "Do you want Gatt a foot wider? To which Cowdrey replied: "No. He'd burst!" But jokes apart, “Fat Gatt” did not allow his excess weight come in the way of his batting.

At No 4, would be ‘Lord’ Arjuna Ranatunga. The smiling, dimpled, baby-faced cricketer looks a perfect choice for an overgrown baby food advert. Ranatunga looks as if he never shed his puppy fat. He once called for a runner on a hot day in Sri Lanka without any apparent injury to be promptly told by Ian Healy: “Hey Arjuna, you can't have a runner just because you are an unfit, lazy, fat ****". Healy loved to rib the Sri Lankan captain. On another occasion, Healy advised bowler Warne loudly from behind the stumps: "Stick a Mars (chocolate) bar on a good length Warnie, that should do it". To which Ranatunga replied, "Boony (David Boon) will beat me to that from short leg!"

Though he was not the most agile of cricketers, Ranatunga was a dangerous batsman and one of the smartest generals in world cricket. He was mild and well-mannered but could throw his ample weight around, if the situation warranted. A guy named Mr Darrell Hair would vouch for that. Ranatunga was a master at conserving energy and would walk his singles if he could avoid running! The World Cup-winning captain of Sri Lanka would also be the captain of this team.

At No 5 would be Inzamam ul-Haq. His weight is the eternal subject of copious discussion - even ridicule. Otherwise quiet and unruffled, Inzi once lost his equanimity when taunts of “Aloo” (potato) from the stands became unbearable. He tried to settle scores physically and courted – literally and figuratively trouble. I remember him vividly talking to me about his ambitious weight loss program that he had successfully undertaken with his team physio. But as with many of the weight-loss success stories, it was not long before he filled out to his earlier girth. Whatever anybody may say against his weight or his lazy, leisurely approach, especially in running between the wickets, nobody can ever question his batting abilities. He can tear apart the best of attacks and, despite his charbi, the fact that he has got a triple hundred in Tests shows that it does not deter him from playing long innings. In fact, after an inglorious display in the 2003 World Cup, Inzi attributed the cause of his poor form to his weight loss. "I lost 17 kgs just before the World Cup. It was too much. "

The man at No 6 would be Duleep Mendis. He centre-spread was such that it would be fair to call it ‘wasteline’ rather than a waistline. Unlike many other captains of his time, Mendis had the option of the light roller, the heavy roller and himself! But like Ranatunga and Inzi, Mendis was a tremendous batsman who did not allow those extra kgs come in the way of his batting.

At No 7 would be the portly Darren Lehmann. He gives the side the necessary balance as a free-scoring batsman and a left-arm spinner.

At No 8, is a man who has been picked on his past reputation. Andrew Flintoff, till not too long back, was really huge. Anybody who has seen him stripping his shirt and waving it at the Wankhede Stadium in the course of wild celebration will appreciate the excess baggage he was carrying then. Flintoff, however, has come a long way since, though one would still not call him exactly thin.

Following Flintoff is the wicket-keeper of the side – Rod Marsh. I have a book in my personal library that has photograph of Marsh sitting in just his athletic supporter in the dressing room. Seated next to him is Sunil Gavaskar, who looks totally emaciated beside a man whose thighs resemble the trunk of a banyan tree.

At No 10 in the order would be Shane Warne, whose battle of the bulge is as legendry as his wizardry with the ball. Problems with weight saw him take to diuretics which cost him temporary exile from international cricket. Is Warne a careless eater? Well, Ian Healy once described Warne’s idea of a balanced diet is a cheese burger in each hands!

Taking up the final spot would be the “Incredible Hulk”, Merv Hughes. His imposing height, big-bellied physique, walrus mustache and free-flowing sledging made him a mean figure. In fact, his nickname is “Fruitfly” – the biggest pest known Down Under! A formidable fast bowler for Australia, Hughes, Flintoff and Botham will make a nice pace trio with Warne and Lehmann following up as slow bowlers.

A special team needs a special coach and the best man for this team would be Dav Whatmore.

And it should be fitting the occasion that the match involving such heavyweights should have David Shepherd and Darryl Hair as the umpires.

What a sight it would be to see this Dream Team filling a ground! As they say, when you want to dream, dream big!

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