Selecting the All-Time Greatest India Test XI
India's history on cricket's international stage is as rich as it is colourful. A country which considers its national game as something bordering on religion possesses a passion for cricket like no other nation on earth.
Yet unlike England and Australia, India's time at the forefront of the game has been a far more recent occurrence, given that the nation didn't compete in its first Test until 1932.
Consequently, India's greatest XI is more heavily skewed toward the modern era than most. In fact, the rise of India's national cricket team has coincided with the nation's rise as a global superpower in the wider sense of the term.
Both economic and political power have concurrently risen alongside the fortunes of the Indian cricket team, which is now undoubtedly the most influential on earth.
So who are India's finest ever players? Who makes it into the nation's greatest ever side?
Those players and that team are presented on the following sides in batting order.
1. Sunil Gavaskar
Career Span: 1971-1987
Batting Average: 51.12
Arguably the greatest opening batsman of all time, Sunil Gavaskar was India's first true great with the bat.
His nation's third most prolific scorer, the right-hander owned the most classic of techniques, which was only enhanced by his incredible mental strength.
Gavaskar's defence was considered almost impenetrable, therefore making his wicket one of the most prized scalps across the globe.
The now 64-year-old was also a pioneer of professionalism in the Indian game, his work ethic and application helping to set new standards for India's players at the international level.
Certainly, much of India's recent success can be traced back to Gavaskar's unparalleled influence 40 years ago.
2. Virender Sehwag
Career Span: 2001-2013
Batting Average: 49.43
While Gavaskar is considered perhaps the finest opener in history, Virender Sehwag is undoubtedly the most destructive.
At his most fluent, Sehwag can reduce an opposition's bowling attack to rubble within an hour, such is the devastation caused by his vicious stroke play. In fact, no player in the history of Test cricket has accumulated runs at the same rate as Sehwag.
His highest score of 319 was reached in just 304 deliveries, while two of his other five 200-plus scores have been made at faster than a run a ball.
Although his technique, which features minimal footwork, can leave him susceptible at times, his unmatched aggression and penchant for boundary hitting has seen Sehwag become the most destructive Test batsman of all time.
3. Rahul Dravid
Career Span: 1996-2012
Batting Average: 52.63
There is good reason why Rahul Dravid was given the nickname "The Wall".
The owner of a virtually unbreachable defence, Dravid became a prolific run scorer, known for spending hours at the crease, often batting India's opponents out of the game.
Dravid, of course, never possessed the swashbuckling tendencies of Sehwag nor the classic flourish of Gavaskar, but his powers of concentration oversaw his rise to the pinnacle of the game.
His run tally is the second greatest mark in his nation's history, so too his collection of 36 Test hundreds.
The right-hander's 180 against Australia in Kolkata in 2001 will forever be remembered as one of world's cricket's defining innings, while his 233 against the same opponent in Adelaide in 2003 delivered India their first victory Down Under in 22 years.
4. Sachin Tendulkar
Career Span: 1989-2013
Batting Average: 53.86
The most obvious selection for this team, Sachin Tendulkar's career has transcended the sport in India; the little master perfectly representing India's seismic transformation into a global power.
From his Test appearance in 1989, when he was just 16 years of age, Tendulkar has been an international phenomenon, a man forced to carry to the expectations of a one billion-strong nation.
A finer technique could simply not be dreamed of. A perfectly side-on stance, impeccable balance and a delightful swing of the bat has made watching Tendulkar something akin to witnessing Mozart in action.
A delicate flick of wrists would see the ball fly through mid-wicket, while a graceful stride forward would see the red leather relentlessly scorch through cover. Yet it's Tendulkar's on-drive which is perhaps the most iconic stroke in cricket, a beautiful example of batting at its finest.
So simple, yet some dominant, Tendulkar is unquestionably the greatest of all those to represent India.
5. Vijay Hazare
Career Span: 1946-1953
Batting Average: 47.65
Relatively unknown amongst cricket's younger generation, Vijay Hazare was among the first Indian players to enjoy significant success in the international arena.
Prior to his arrival, Indian batsmen performed with little conviction against the world's leading sides, finding themselves regularly humiliated away from the subcontinent.
Hazare was among the first to change that. His dogged approach and gritty toughness made the right-hander an incredibly resilient batsman.
In Adelaide against the famous Australian side of 1948, Hazare compiled twin hundreds, which included a fine 145 in the second innings, when six of his teammates failed to score.
Hazare also held the highest score by an Indian at one point when he scored 164 not out against England in Delhi in 1951.
Had it not been for the second World War, Hazare's international record would have undoubtedly been even greater.
6. Vinoo Mankad
Career Span: 1946-1959
Batting Average: 31.47
Bowling Average: 32.32
One of the finest all-rounders India has ever produced, Vinoo Mankad is another Indian great relatively unknown to today's cricket fans.
A traditional left-arm orthodox bowler, Mankad was immensely influential in delivering India their first win over England in Chennai in 1952, where he claimed match figures of 12-108.
While Mankad was only a moderate turner of the ball, his control of pace and flight was exemplary. Combined with his strong batting technique and immense concentration abilities, Mankad became the leading Indian all-rounder of his generation, paving the way for others to follow in his footsteps.
7. MS Dhoni
Career Span: 2005-2013
Batting Average: 39.70
Undoubtedly India's most influential wicketkeeper, MS Dhoni comfortably finds himself amongst his nation's finest XI.
In making his ascent to India's national team from under-privileged surrounds, Dhoni arrived on the international scene with a swagger and confidence unlike previous Indian players.
Immediately, that mentality saw Dhoni make an impact at Test level, with his unconventional but destructive ways quickly gaining world renown.
The 32-year-old has also grown to become an immensely respected leader of the national side, with his captaincy leading India to one of their most successful periods in the game.
With the gloves, Dhoni has been equally as effective, able to retain a serene sense of calm despite the plethora of spinners he's required to keep to on the turning subcontinent wickets.
8. Kapil Dev
Career Span: 1978-1994
Batting Average: 31.05
Bowling Average: 29.64
Not only is he the greater fast bowler in his nation's history, but Kapil Dev is also the finest all-rounder ever to represent India.
Although his standing in the game internationally was somewhat lessened by playing during the same era as Sir Ian Botham, Sir Richard Hadlee and Imran Khan, Dev beat Gavaskar and Tendulkar to the honour of India's Cricketer of the 20th Century.
An incredibly disciplined performer, Dev could move the ball both ways in the air, most often away from the right handers. His haul of 434 wickets was once the best mark in world cricket.
Yet Dev could also bat with flair, his uncomplicated flourish delivering more than 5,000 runs in a glittering 16-year career.
9. Anil Kumble
Career Span: 1990-2008
Bowling Average: 29.65
A true warrior of Indian cricket, Anil Kumble defied conventional wisdom to become his nation's most prolific wicket-taker.
While Kumble's raw ability was somewhat limited, his will and determination drove the leg-break bowler to a national record haul of 619 Test wickets.
Quicker than traditional leg spinners, Kumble used his unusual pace to regularly deceive batsmen who were often unsure how to play his unorthodox deliveries.
Subtle variations in flight and spin added to his threat, despite the fact that a skiddy, straight delivery tended to be his stock ball.
While never the most thrilling cricketer, Kumble's heart and dedication made him an indispensable member of India's side for close to two decades, making him an automatic selection in his nation's greatest ever XI.
10. Javagal Srinath
Career Span: 1991-2002
Bowling Average: 30.49
While the 1990s were dominated by spin in India, Javagal Srinath shone as the preeminent Indian pace bowler of the decade.
Tall, strong and aggressive, Srinath defied the slow, lifeless pitches in the subcontinent to trouble batsmen with his impressive pace and bounce.
Yet when conditions didn't suit, Srinath could also use the old ball to great effect, extracting movement off the seam from back-of-a-length to trouble even the world's best.
Although Srinath's durability and stamina was arguably his greatest weakness, he sat behind only Kapil Dev for wickets as an Indian paceman when he retired in 2002.
11. Erapalli Prasanna
Career Span: 1962-1978
Bowling Average: 30.38
Regarded as one of the finest bowling tacticians in India's history, Erapalli Prasanna was perhaps his nation's finest ever off-spinner.
Opponents facing up to Prasanna were often dismissed in their own minds before facing a ball, such was his ability to out think and over work batsmen.
Yet it was his control of flight that was most impressive, relentlessly luring batsmen forward, only to deceive them with violently dipping deliveries.
While his record is one of India's best, it's hard not to believe that it would have been substantially greater had he not stepped away from the game for five years to complete his undergraduate studies.
Despite a plethora of other prolific spinners in India's history, Prasanna gets the nod over Harbhajan Singh, Bishan Bedi and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar to round out his country's greatest XI.