Just as I was about to hit the sack last night, Sir Donald Bradman called me from heaven. It?s not everyday that I get a call from the great Don, so I asked him to what I owed this great honour. ?I always read your stuff on the BanglaCricket message board,? he said, ?and bunky, I?ve never seen someone bullshit with such authority before.? I didn?t know whether to take that as a compliment or an insult. The Don was just pulling my leg of course, and the real reason he had called, I was to discover, was to invite me to heaven to discuss the composition of his Heaven U-19 side to take on the Heaven XI in an upcoming Test match. The only criterion for selection to his side, he explained, was to have entered heaven in the last 19 years.
As promised, I ascended to paradise this morning to have breakfast with the greatest batsman that ever lived. Of course, my surroundings were a bit disconcerting at first, but as soon as I got used to the heavenly atmosphere, we got straight down to business. The Don needed to put together an XI for a Test match, and although he had a fairly good idea about who he wanted in his team, he asked me to provide suggestions on some of the key positions.
The Don told me that he was having great trouble in deciding on the openers for his side. Having taken a look at his shortlist of the players that he had in mind, I realized that this was indeed going to be a tricky call. I told him that I felt that Sir Len Hutton (entry to heaven: 1990) had to be in the side, and the Don agreed. But who would we partner with the great Hutton? We discussed two West Indian greats, Conrad Hunte (1999) and Roy Fredericks (2000), both superb openers. Although Hunte had the higher average, I was more interested in Fredericks because of his aggressive style of play. The Don had also short-listed Vijay Merchant (1987) and though I expressed my reservations about picking a player who has only played 10 Test matches, the Don was obviously impressed with his talent. He insisted that had the war not taken a decade out of Merchant?s career, he would have scored just as many runs as anyone else. In the end, we picked Denis Compton (1997) to partner Sir Len. After all, how do you leave out a player who scored nearly 6000 runs at an average of over 58?
The all-important number 3 also caused us a few headaches. Several players were considered but we managed to shorten the list down to Colin Cowdrey (2000) and George Hedley (1983). Hedley had a much better average at 60.83, but the Don was concerned about the fact that Hedley would only be eligible to play for another couple of months, and he was trying to build a team for the next few years. I understood the Don?s concern, but cautioned that it might be a bad idea to pick an all-English top 3. In the end, the Don saw the merit of this argument, and picked Hedley, even if only for this one match. He only wished that he still had the service of the great Ken Barrington.
Number four and five turned out to be straightforward picks, the Don himself at 4 and Peter May (1994) at 5. We did discuss having another Indian, Vijay Manjrekar (1983) at 5, but May ended up winning on sheer statistics, not to mention that he would have a much longer playing career with the u-19 than Vijay. The Don wanted his 1948 Dream Team teammate Lindsay Hassett (1993) at 6, and I could not think of anyone better to suggest. Having decided on the batting order, we moved on to picking the bowlers who would have to bowl to players of the calibre of W G Grace, Herbert Sutcliffe, Wally Hammond, Frank Worrell and Ken Barrington.
Picking the bowlers ended up being easier than the batsmen. We agreed that Malcolm Marshall (2002) and Ray Lindwall (1996) must share the new ball. One would not find two finer fast bowlers. And the spinner?s spot obviously went to Jim Laker (1986). Picking the third seamer was not so easy. I suggested Harold Larwood (1995). After all, even Lindwall had modelled his action after Larwood. But the Don did not seem too eager to pick the main perpetrator of the leg-theory tactic employed in the Bodyline Series. I guess it still gave him nightmares. Since he would be captaining the team and not I, I decided to let it go. We decided instead on Brain Statham (2000), who is of course a great fast bowler in his own right.
The only player left to pick was the wicket-keeper. The Don wanted another of his 1948 team-mates, Don Tallon (1984) to keep wickets for him. I couldn?t agree with this choice. I suggested Les Aimes (1990), who not only was a great keeper, but averaged 40 in Tests as well. Also, in keeping with the Don?s team-building aim, it made more sense to pick Aimes ahead of Tallon, who had only a year left in him. The Don felt bad in having to leave out his old friend, but agreed in the end with my line of thinking and picked Aimes. Neither of us wasted any time in picking Ben Holioke (2002) to be the 12th man.
The Don being satisfied, I was allowed to leave heaven, but not before the Don handed me a box ticket to the much-anticipated match. I felt rather pleased with myself for being able to help the great Don Bradman in picking such an awesome side. As I approached the gates, I saw a familiar looking tall fellow sitting by the side. On closer inspection, I recognized Raman Lamba of India and of course, Abahoni. I asked him what he was up to, to which he replied, ?Waiting man, waiting for that punk Opee to show up, so I can bash his face in with my bat!? I left without another word.