A mock draft to fulfill some mundane fantasies
A couple of things to mention before you begin reading this: first, this is a long piece, so I’d recommend you to stop right now . Second, this is the result of dozens of emails across September and October 2013, so it might feel a little dated (especially with respect to Jacques Kallis), so I’d like to request that you rewind back to that time and pretend that Kallis is still playing cricket, England have a working system, Australia are in the shitter, Irfan still hasn’t proven himself in Asia and India are the envy of the world. So, without further ado:
It is common to hear in reports and commentaries of Pakistan-India matches, as it was in most of this year’s Ashes: the idea that if only you could swap a player or two and you would have far better teams. Pundits from both sides of the Radcliffe line have written and pondered aloud how good a joint Indo-Pak team could be. And yet, as far as I am aware, no one has done such an exercise. I came to this idea thinking about how most national teams have better reserve batsmen than what Pakistan can offer, and teams like Australia or South Africa would kill for a spinner as good as Monty Panesar. So what would happen if Australia or South Africa were allowed to get Monty or Rehman?
The idea was pretty simple – what if rather than constrained by borders, international cricket was an open market, much like the American major leagues. Of course, it was open in the way that European football is, then India could just buy the best players in the world. Instead what was proposed was a partially ideal world where trades and drafts were possible. It is not a completely ideal scenario though; because in that case Pakistan’s bowling attack would have been Junaid, Ajmal, Aamer, Irfan and Asif fighting for three spots. But it’s not that fanciful a concept, because after all, the England cricket team pretty much ignores the nationality of players they select nowadays anyway.
Each selector would be allowed 3 draft picks, in addition to five Protected Players (players who can’t be traded – to make sure the spine of the team isn’t lost). Furthermore to avoid, say, South Africa being completely stripped of all of their players, the limit on the number of players a team could lose was five.
The order of the draft was based on the ICC rankings (in Tests and ODIs) as of September 2013 with the worst team allowed the first pick.
Each of the eight major Test playing nations had a fan/journalist representing them. The exception was the West Indies, who seem to have no one on the internet who covers them (or at least bothers to reply to emails sent to them); in their case the selections were made by the committee of the other seven participants.
In the great tradition of cricket administrators the selectors were selected less on how knowledgeable or esteemed they were, and more on who they knew. They were (in order of the draft):
1. Michael Wagener – New Zealand
2. West Indies
3. Vithushan Ehantharajah – Sri Lanka
4. Hassan Cheema – Pakistan
5. Matthew Wood – Australia
6. Antoinette Muller – South Africa
7. Freddie Wilde – England
8. Subash Jayaraman – India
As stated before, each team was allowed five players who could not be drafted by anyone else. The strength in depth of the teams could best be illustrated by this section: South Africa couldn’t protect Jacques Kallis, and England couldn’t do the same for Ian Bell, yet players like Darren Bravo and David Warner were protected, on potential rather than performance.
New Zealand – Ross Taylor, Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson, Trent Boult and Tim Southee.
West Indies – Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine, Kemar Roach, Marlon Samuels and Darren Bravo.
Sri Lanka – Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene, Rangana Herath, Angelo Matthews and Tillakaratne Dilshan
Pakistan – Saeed Ajmal, Misbah-ul-Haq, Junaid Khan, Younis Khan and Umar Akmal.
Australia – Michael Clarke, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle, James Pattinson and David Warner
South Africa – Hashim Amla, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, AB de Villiers and Graeme Smith.
England – Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann and James Anderson.
India – Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, Cheteshwar Pujara, Shikhar Dhawan and Ravichandran Ashwin
With the FIRST PICK of the draft New Zealand selected JONATHAN TROTT.
One issue that New Zealand have constantly had is insufficient top order batting strength. Ideally Taylor should be batting at 4, Williamson at 5 and McCullum at 6. The team needs a quality number 3, who can bat in tricky New Zealand conditions, but also succeed elsewhere. Trott has probably been the best ODI batsman in the world recently, and has also been consistent for the English test team over the past few years. He’s also a medium pace bowler, which is useless in most places, but can be deadly in New Zealand.
With the SECOND PICK of the draft the West Indies selected STUART BROAD.
While it seems counter intuitive to select a bowling all-rounder for a West Indian team filled with them, Broad’s selection makes sense. Beyond Roach, West Indies only have an army of third-seamers but no one to really partner him. Secondly, Narine hasn’t proven himself in Tests so why not select a man who can win you one Test in every half a dozen, and still has a decade of cricket left in him; and who, together with Roach, could create West Indies’ first quality new ball pair since Walsh and Ambrose. Finally, his inconsistency wouldn’t be that big an issue in a team where he might well be the most consistent player.
With the THIRD PICK of the draft Sri Lanka selected MORNE MORKEL.
The closest Sri Lanka have come to possessing a bowler of Morne Morkel’s physical attributes was Dilhara Fernando; it’s only in the hair department that Dilhara trumps our new recruit – Jonas Brother ‘fro over Backstreet spikes, any day of the week. But the more consistent Morkel, with his pace and bounce, give Sri Lanka some added bite that will have a knock-on effect to the productivity of the rest of the attack. His awkwardness and natural length will allow the likes of Nuwan Kulasekara and Shaminda Eranga to build pressure by settling for a fourth, even fifth stump line and not have to feel tempted by the stumps as much as they have been.
With the FOURTH PICK of the draft Pakistan selected SHANE WATSON.
Ideally the first pick would’ve been a keeper, but all the better ones were protected so Shane Watson is the obvious selection. Pakistan have been left behind in ODI cricket mostly due to not having a single world class top order player since Saeed Anwar. They also struggle with batsmen who can bowl, meaning Hafeez is a guaranteed starter. In two of the three formats, Watson immediately changes the batting mentality; in Tests Pakistan don’t have openers who score 50s, so someone who scores 50s but not 100s is an upgrade. His problems (selfishness, injuries, etc.) will also make him feel at home in the Pakistan dressing room.
With the FIFTH PICK of the draft Australia selected JOE ROOT.
I had targeted this pick throughout the first round and was elated to see a young player with a limited but impressive pedigree make it through to the fifth pick.
Since “the retirements”, the Australian batting has been as thin and brittle as Bruce Reid’s back. With Michael Clarke the nation’s only gun, a second one – and potentially his successor as captain – is sorely needed. Enter Root, fresh from a solid Ashes series. He opens in Test matches and bats down the order in One-Day matches, fitting perfectly with Australia’s areas of most concern. He should sit down and have another beer with David Warner, because hopefully they’ll be spending a lot of time together in the middle.
With the SIXTH PICK of the draft South Africa selected TIM BRESNAN.
Tim Bresnan is a pretty gritty bowler, he’s consistent and he can “bowl dry” – dry up the runs at one end while somebody attacks at the other end. Bresnan is also quite handy with the bat lower down the order and, if his injuries can stay at bay, he improves the team, especially with Morne Morkel swapped out. Bresnan is the kind of player any team would want in their side, a bit Siddle like, only he’s from Yorkshire and, as some would tell you, Yorkshire is God’s country, after all.
With the SEVENTH PICK of the draft England selected JACQUES KALLIS.
An easy choice really simply because he’s such a great player. I was surprised that South Africa didn’t protect him and more surprised no one nabbed him before I did. After losing Trott and Root in the first draft, a batsman was needed – and his technical efficiency and run-scoring proficiency make him an ideal replacement for Trott; what’s more his bowling will help with balance after Bresnan was also traded out.
With the EIGHTH PICK of the draft India selected STEVEN FINN.
This tall and quick pacer from Middlesex, despite an overeager right knee, has shown the ability to be a strike bowler and the nous to bowl in Asian conditions. Even as he struggles to find a regular spot as the third seamer in the England XI, it is, I believe, more to do with the fact that Bresnan offers England lower order runs than his bowling. England’s loss is India’s gain. Finn bowls in the 140+k range consistently and bowls a fuller length, which is quite unheard of in these parts, where Ishant Sharma is a 51 Tests veteran.
With the NINTH PICK of the draft India selected DOUG BRACEWELL.
Bracewell has shown his ability to be a match winner whenever his off field discretions allow him the time to be on the field. The ability to swing the ball at pace is not something every pacer is blessed with, but Bracewell has it. Any bowler that can make Ricky Ponting walk off the field without waiting for the umpire’s decision on an LBW appeal scores high on my book. Bracewell is a decent number 9 bat as well.
With the TENTH PICK of the draft England selected FAF DU PLESSIS.
Since Paul Collingwood’s retirement England haven’t been able to fill the troublesome number six position in the Test batting order, Du Plessis could do just that, and indeed, has the fielding to match Collingwood’s. He has a phenomenal Test record and has the ability to play attacking or defensive cricket, something a number six should be able to do considering the range of circumstances he could come to the crease in – either establishing a rearguard or dealing the hammer-blow to the opposition in a high total.
With the ELEVENTH PICK of the draft South Africa selected RAVI JADEJA.
Although not the first choice spinner to be a frontline spinner, South Africa has never really had a “proper spinner”. Robin Peterson is apt and he is much improved in recent times, but Jadeja is slightly more crafty and can really be a menace when the conditions are in his favour. Although inexperienced in Tests, the experience of those around him will ensure he can “just go out there and express himself”.
With the TWELVTH PICK of the draft Australia selected MURALI VIJAY.
It seems I’m a sucker for players’ performances against Australia – I still think too highly of John Crawley and Patrick Patterson despite their status as (at best) passable Test players.
That might be why I invested my second pick in Murali Vijay who, in the only consistent trend of his career, always manages runs against touring Aussies. However, the Skippy attacks against whom he’s scored three tons in eleven innings have typically been ill-conceived and over-matched, especially this year’s iteration. Like the man he’ll replace (Phil Hughes) he’s inconsistent, but is now charged with solidifying Australia’s troublesome top order.
With the THIRTEENTH PICK of the draft Pakistan selected JP DUMINY.
Watson made Pakistan go from a team scoring 250 to one scoring 275; Duminy makes them a 300 run team. He’s another batsman who can bowl; but more importantly he’s an exceptional rotator (as calculated by Shahir Ahmed, he has the lowest dot ball percentage of players that have faced at least 3000 balls since January 2001) and a good enough hitter that he won’t be a liability in the death overs. He’s also a cure for places like South Africa and Australia (in both countries he averages over 50) for a team that has always struggled in those countries.
With the FOURTEENTH PICK of the draft Sri Lanka selected MITCHELL JOHNSON.
Pace. Proper pace.
Of course, his internal compass couldn’t be more askew if he swallowed a bucket of magnets. But since Malinga decided that he couldn’t care enough to muster anything more than four overs at a time, Sri Lanka have been shorn of a strike bowler.
Our recent fast bowlers have all been discovered through pace camps and bowling competitions and, while we’ve never fetishized pace, it is something we have started to yearn for since Rangana Herath curbed our desire for unorthodox twirlers.
Speed is the new mystery.
With the FIFTEENTH PICK of the draft the West Indies selected GEORGE BAILEY.
With the demotion of Darren Sammy, the West Indies need a proven and successful captain. Furthermore, they also need someone who can consistently score runs, even in a crisis, without single-handedly bringing the run rate down. Bailey has been exceptional at both these things thus far in his international career. Going into the World Cup in the Antipodes, Bailey’s knowledge of the local conditions, together with a supremely talented team, should make the West Indies one of the favourites for the tournament.
With the SIXTEENTH PICK of the draft New Zealand selected ALVIRO PETERSEN.
Alviro Petersen is an underrated opener. He has been a solid player at the top for South Africa, but hasn’t been noticed as much as he would be in any other team because the rest of their batting line up is so good. He’s made it to the 10th over (effectively seeing off the shine of the ball) in over three-quarter of his innings, and made it past the 20th over in just under half of his innings. It means that if you had 2 of him, your team would get off to a good start in about 80% of matches. His one technical issue is against left armers, but as most NZ first class teams have 2 quality left armers, he’d have plenty of opportunities to sort that out.
With the SEVENTEENTH PICK of the draft New Zealand selected SHANE SHILLINGFORD.
Shane Shillingford is the spinner that New Zealand don’t have. New Zealand have a number of spin bowlers that dart the ball in and don’t really turn it. Shillingford takes most of his wickets in the second innings, and is an aggressive bowler. He’s good at removing batsmen, even when they are trying to defend him. New Zealand have recently had most top teams in positions where they’ve had to bat out the last day to save a match, and each time NZ’s lack of an attacking spinner has meant that the games have ended in draws. Shillingford fixes up a massive hole.
With the EIGHTEENTH PICK of the draft the West Indies selected MARTIN GUPTILL.
The West Indies have struggled with finding a partner for Chris Gayle. The likes of Johnson Charles and Devon Smith have come out to bat with him, mostly for not that long. Meanwhile Guptill has shone, especially in the shorter formats, as an opener. Here’s someone who averages over 40 (with a SR over 80) as an opener. He has been especially good in New Zealand and England, places that support swing bowling. Thus he gives West Indies with someone they can rely on – meaning that this will allow Chris Gayle more freedom. Not sure if that’s necessarily a good thing.
With the NINETEENTH PICK of the draft Sri Lanka selected CHRIS ROGERS.
The retirement of Tilakaratne Dilshan leaves a void that Chris Rogers is more than capable of filling. It’s certainly not a long-term fix, but it is one that adds steel and another wise head that can share the leadership burden. What is also does is prevent the need to re-engineer middle order batsmen, such as Lahiru Thirimane and Kaushal Silva, who would benefit the team by being allowed to establish themselves in their natural positions.
With the TWENTIETH PICK of the draft Pakistan selected SURESH RAINA.
Well I would have gone with George Bailey (as a successor to Misbah) but Raina isn’t a half-bad fallback option. Another player in the top-10 of the guys with lowest dot-ball percentage (see 13th pick), who has shown his ability to score boundaries at will as long as the ball is below chest high. Together with Dhoni and Kohli he is also the reason why India have become chase-masters, and thus helps Misbah in sorting out Pakistan’s chronic problem. Of course there’s the issue with his ability play anything above knee high but wiht all of Pakistan’s bilateral series in the next 3 years in Asia, this shouldn’t be a problem. There’s also the issue that he (or rather his nephew) doesn’t really like Pakistan, but we’ll beat that out of him soon enough.
With the TWENTY-FIRST PICK of the draft Australia selected DARREN SAMMY.
This selection came down to one of Shiv Chanderpaul (to play the Hussey role for Australia, for all the good it may do), Monty Panesar and Sammy. With George Bailey now captaining the short-format Windies, it was time to embrace another player who’s best with the white ball.
Sammy fits right in as a lower-order hitter and second-change bowler able to swing matches in both phases of the game; he can be the matchwinner and glue guy Australia lacks as it approaches a home World Cup in 2015. While Sammy isn’t likely to win or lose you a tournament, he does give Australia more X-factor than local alternatives like Moises Henriques.
Perhaps most importantly, Sammy is also reported as relentlessly positive in the dressing-sheds. After the past three years’ infighting, any happy soul is welcome beneath the Southern Cross.
With the TWENTY-SECOND PICK of the draft South Africa selected BRAD HADDIN.
Brad Haddin is a funny one. He’s so often as good as he is bad. He breaks wicket keeping records, but he still sometimes manages to mess up the most simple chances. Despite what many think, for the best interest of AB de Villiers’ back, South Africa could do with a specialist keeper who can take the pressure off him a little bit, especially in Tests. Keeping wicket certainly hasn’t had much of a negative impact on De Villiers’ batting, but for his well-being, an experienced keeper makes a good addition to the side. He’ll have to get stuck in with the batting, though, considering how many players have been drafted out.
With the TWENTY-THIRD PICK of the draft England selected UMAR GUL.
After losing Stuart Broad, Tim Bresnan and Steven Finn in the draft England were short of bowlers by the time the last pick came around. To compound my difficulties most of the top bowlers had been drafted. However, Umar Gul remained. Gul’s Test record is not as impressive as his limited overs one, but he is an enormously skilled bowler and in English conditions could be particularly threatening. James Anderson could pair up with the tall Boyd Rankin while Gul’s reverse swing could be a (very good!) replacement for Bresnan; Graeme Onions could also bolster the attack.
With the TWENTY-FOURTH PICK of the draft India selected MOHAMMAD IRFAN.
The beauty of these mock drafts is that they exist only on paper, and injuries and other setbacks do not figure in to the equation. Thus, Irfan with the ability to get disconcerting bounce, delivering the ball from high in the heavens, can bowl non-stop without his oversized frame and dodgy back ever giving away. Who doesn’t want to have a left-arm pacer opening their bowling anyway?
NEW ZEALAND – The idea of a draft is that the weaker teams are able to be stronger. I think the addition of Trott and Shillingford would certainly make New Zealand stronger, although swapping Guptill for Petersen probably doesn’t add much. I was glad to see that nobody took BJ Watling. He’s one of New Zealand’s true world class players, but I felt that there probably weren’t many writers who would have had the chance to see him, so they wouldn’t think to take him.
WEST INDIES – The West Indies came out of the draft better than almost everyone else in it. In Bailey they have an upgrade on Sammy, as a captain and a player. With Guptill, to go with Bailey, they immediately have a duo that can give stability to go with the explosiveness of Gayle, Samuels and the Bravos, and replace Chanderpaul in the long run. Finally with Broad, Roach and Narine (as well as an army of decent spinners) they have a better talent pool than at any time since the turn of the century.
SRI LANKA – Going into this draft, the tact was always going to be to cover any short-comings, naturally. Fast bowlers and opening batsmen were the main focus, with Test cricket given precedence through preference rather than schedule. But beyond that, it was important to find players that might – *might* – elicit a change in mentality of the country’s up and comers. That pace has become a dank skill in Sri Lanka owes much to the ordinary pitches on offer, but that in turn has produced opening batsmen of limited application.
As Andrew Fernando pointed out in a piece on ESPNcricinfo about the state of pitches in Sri Lanka, quicks open in the first innings of first class matches through habit before featuring as an afterthought (if at all) in the latter half of the three-day game. Seeing off the new ball is a pro-active, run scoring measure which creates the sort of slash-happy batsmen that are fodder at the highest level. Rogers, a product of more than a decade’s worth of trial and error, and Morkel – the most unsettling bowler available for drafting –will restore respect to the top of the innings.
Oh, and Mitchell Johnson seems to enjoy playing ODIs against India. No brainer, really.
PAKISTAN – Well I was trying to bolster my batting lineup, especially for the shorter formats. With Pakistan playing Test cricket exclusively on Asian pitches over the next three years, and the focus squarely on the shorter formats, it made sense to go for three specialist attackers than to try and find Pakistan’s first quality pure opener since Saeed Anwar. I was shafted right at the end though, assuming that at least one of Gul and Irfan would stay I went for Raina; otherwise one of the Aussie pacers were the obvious options. In hindsight, perhaps protecting Younis Khan or Umar Akmal was a mistake, especially now that Irfan has shown the ability to bowl in conditions that I didn’t think he’d enjoy; but I’m satisfied with any bowling attack that has Junaid and Ajmal– and I am sure a second seamer will come through soon enough; after all, despite the tears Pakistan has seen the debuts of Aamer, Junaid and Irfan in just the past five years. In the end, I am happy with my team – an ODI top six of Watson, AN Opener, Duminy, Misbah, Akmal and Raina is better than anything Pakistan can muster right now – especially with the way Pakistan’s fixtures are lined up over the next five years.
AUSTRALIA – The equation above sees two and two-half Test quality players exit the Australian setup and one and two-half players enter. Aside from the top five, there was little talent worthy of protecting – thankfully no-one thought Pat Cummins, Mitch Starc or Gurindher Sandhu worthy of poaching.
The real prize is Root, who is capable of batting in either of Australia’s three most problematic batting positions. Rogers and Watson hurt, but as with Bailey, Johnson and Haddin this might also be addition by subtraction and allow more clarity in a murky top-order. Sammy is just gravy – a quality ODI player who has, on occasion, turned in on in the Test arena. Vijay (sigh), is perhaps best described as a dark horse best employed whenever Australian opponents decide to trot out subpar bowling attacks on flat pitches. Australia fared well in the draft, but is slightly weaker on talent and better for chemistry as a result.
SOUTH AFRICA – SA were a pretty well balanced side before the draft. Some losses in the batting department were rather detrimental, but South Africa should have enough faith in their bowlers to make up the difference. It was so typical of England to pinch a bunch of the Saffas – no surprise really. South Africa are a far weaker side after the draft since everyone is under a bit more pressure. There’s still enough talent in the batting line, but they will have to perform consistently in order to make it work. Of course, Graeme Smith’s captaincy is of the utmost importance and if they’re playing in England, he should be alright with the bat, too and might even retire another skipper on his way. Losing Jacques Kallis, JP Duminy and Faf du Plessis is a big blow and, in hindsight, perhaps Kallis should have earned himself a protective spot. The selector, however, thought that Kallis’ greatness might simply have been forgotten, as it so often is.
ENGLAND – England were ravaged by the first section of the draft losing five players, two batsmen and three bowlers. But Kallis and Du Plessis are more than able replacements for Trott and Root, while England’s bowling depth is strong anyway, thus the one replacement for three losses sufficed. I chose to protect players from across the team (Cook, Pietersen, Prior, Swann and Anderson) as so to preserve England’s backbone. It was hard to not protect Stuart Broad – such is the match winner he has become in recent times, but Anderson remains England’s attack leader and could not be left to be taken. I was pleasantly surprised that Ian-Ashes-Hero-Bell was not selected by other nations. Fools!
INDIA – As much as India has been the batting powerhouse in the last 20 years, they have been held back by the lack of quality pace bowling. The one period when Zaheer Khan was operating at his best post 2006, the rode him to victories all over the world including Test series win in England, and of course Number one Test ranking and the world cup in 2011. A draft like this is an opportunity to indulge one’s self in daydreaming of what could be. So now we have a trio of drafted quicks to add to India’s strength in batting and spin; the only slow movers in the field are Ashwin and Irfan – and with Ashwin at first slip and Irfan at deep fine leg, rest of the crew can match the prowess of any other team. MS Dhoni is the captain of this side (well of course) with Virat Kohli assisting him. Life is good.
So there you have it, India goes out and gets three pacers, Pakistan gets three batsmen; all the stereotypes are true. And the cricket world is a better place altogether. An ever fairer option might be to have the reserves of these sides drafted by the second tier teams, but since equality or inclusion are not really something that cricket is aiming for right now, this mock draft is all we can do.