September 22, 2013

The Phenom

"Are you crazy?" inquired the twenty year old woman I had just met at a friend's birthday bash. I had been speaking to a childhood buddy on the phone, and as with any conversation we have, the topic of Wasim came up. His war cry of Wasim is the best bowler ever was met by my Not even in the top five put-down. This is the most difficult, banging-my-head-on-a-wall argument I can have with my friends, all of whom consistently rate Wasim as the best fast bowler of all time.

Firstly, and this is something they refuse to acknowledge, I loved Wasim Akram's bowling and respect how he, along with Waqar, brought reverse swing to the center-stage of the world. It was a wonderful advert for fast bowling which was being criticized for becoming too ruthless and malicious. Even though Sarfaraz and Imran, not to mention Malcolm Marshall, had been proponents of reverse swing, the Ws really brought it to the forefront. Imran's bowling went on a decline (not in terms of stats, but amount of bowling) after his injury in the mid-80s, and Marshall had too many other tricks up his sleeve to really zero in on reverse swing. And so it was Wasim-Waqar who cultivated the fine art. 

With Lancashire, 1990
In the early 90s, Wasim was unstoppable (From 1990-94, he picked up 150 wickets @ 19.52 and SR of 44.7). He was brilliant in every way possible, swinging the ball left, right, center at all stages of the day, on all sorts of pitches. Waqar was even more devastating during this phase, primarily due to his great pace, and ridiculously unplayable yorkers (Picking up 184 wickets @ 18.49 and SR of 35.3!!). After the two had lost some of their pace, however, Wasim emerged as the more versatile of the two, and even though his stats declined after this period, they were still outstanding. It was also the first period of great turmoil in Pakistan cricket with respect to match fixing, and the politics of the side took a heavy toll on his motivation levels. 

My principal problem with rating Wasim as the greatest fast bowler comes, as might be expected, from his peers of all eras. He keeps company with the following set of people -

Windies: Marshall, Curtly Ambrose, Joel Garner, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts, Courtney Walsh
Australia: Dennis Lillee, Glenn McGrath, Alan Davidson, Ray Lindwall
England: Sydney Barnes, Fred Trueman, Harold Larwood
South Africa: Allan Donald, Dale Steyn, Shaun Pollock, Neil Adcock, Mike Procter
New Zealand: Richard Hadlee

Not to mention Imran Khan himself. Some of them have better stats than Wasim does. Four of them, Marshall, McGrath, Garner and Ambrose (Hadlee and Donald come close as well) have near perfect records everywhere in the world. Waqar himself out-bowled his partner during their prime years. Imran Khan's peak, though short, was breath-taking. Sydney Barnes, the fast-medium spinner, is considered by many to be the greatest bowler of all time with his wide range of skill set. In terms of strike rate and average both, Wasim lags behind most of these bowlers. But... I am well aware that statistics are the guiding light of only a blind man, and they cannot bring to words the phenom the left armer was. 

Wasim is, without much doubt, the greatest left-arm pacer, though Alan Davidson would cough a bit at that. He, more than anybody including Imran and Waqar, symbolized what an art form bowling can be, how a ball can be made to sing, and how a pacer can dominate without resorting to cruder tactics. The beautiful incoming swerve on the late out-swinging delivery left one gaping for a second. Imagine what the batsmen felt. Then there was the in-swingers which came out of nowhere to trap an unsuspecting willow-holder plumb in front of the stumps. For all this, I salute Wasim Akram, and if it was a question of just aesthetics, he would perhaps be my number one too. 

But... it is not. Let us go deeper into the numbers. Of Wasim's 414 test wickets, 35% came from tail-enders (batsmen from 7-11). That is much higher than anybody else on the above list. Obviously, the genius of Wasim was impossible to decipher for men not skilled with the bat, and he would clean up the tail quickly. Also, his record around the world is uneven, and not truly consistent as the names mentioned above. As mentioned above, after his peak, his record becomes less-than-great. 

Lest the reader may think of me as being too harsh, I have a few points in his favor as well. I am absolutely certain that had Wasim had better catching support in his career, his stats would have been better. Second, I am absolutely certain that if the Pakistan dressing room was a calmer and more united place than it was in the 90s, Wasim would have done better. Lastly, I also think, but on this I am far less certain, that the umpiring of the day was just not up to speed with Wasim's talents, and a lot of LBWs were not given to him which would have given to a right handed swing bowler. 

All in all, I rank Marshall, McGrath, Ambrose, Barnes, and Lillee ahead of Wasim, with Hadlee, Garner and Trueman on an equal footing with him. Curse me if you like. 

May 13, 2012

Into The Heart of Fandom

The street, the local ground, and my living room - the three places I think of when I think of cricket. 

More than anything else, for me, it has been about watchability, players who I would skip meals for. My peers included a friend who loved spinning the ball a huge amount, a batsman who would be pissed if he did not get to hit a boundary of every loose delivery he faced, and a pace bowler who would forever be frustrated with the 'umpire' for his reluctance to give an LBW in his favor. And the same somehow spilled on to the international scene. I loved players in the same mold for some reason. My idea of watchability has remained more or less the same since my first remembrance of the game (at the age of 7, the 96 WC). For me, elegance, class, and a joy celebrating the spirit of the game are the most important features of the players I enjoy; aggression and explosiveness come later, almost as a by-product. That said, I will acknowledge a few prejudices - I do not enjoy T20 too much, I adore the 50 over game, find the 1st and 4th innings of test matches to be fantastic to watch, and think that the post 2003 era has been much less enjoyable than the period before that. 

When a close friend asked me to rate the best players of our era, I was slightly conflicted about the route the analyses should tread. Should I just give my favorites, with all the prejudices, or go for a more nuanced argument. For a lot of what I love about cricket comes from little special niches. These special niches give me some blind-spots, but more often, they provide a lens for viewing the cricketing world through the eyes of fandom; a unique fandom which I refuse to sacrifice as I understand the nuances and expertise of the game better. So try as you may, you can never convince me that Steve Waugh is a better batsman than Mark, even if you go back in time and invoke the spirit of Border and Barrington. I would concede Steve to be a more useful and match-winning middle order test batsman, but that's as far as I will go. In the same vein, in the spirit of full disclosure, I want to make known all such notions I have on cricketing lore.

I have always been a huge South Africa fan, although in the last few years, they did become a tad bit tedious. No worries, however, Steyn, Morkel and Philander have put things back on track finally. The team which had Cullinan, McMillan, Donald, Pollock, Jonty, Kallis, Klusener, Symcox and Cronje will forever be my favorite ODI team. Daryll Cullinan's batting was a sight of exemplary splendor, something to be savored even after he got out, and I looked forward to his innings every time SA played. Rhodes' fielding was uplifting, a thing of beauty. Pollock was so reliable, skilled and accurate, from a gene pool of Graeme and Peter Pollock. And Allan Donald. What A Bowler. A beautiful classic action, a wonderful shape on the ball, and a spirit to match the best batsmen in history. Kallis can be cumbersome to watch, but his sheer grit and technique are highly praiseworthy, not to mention that cover drive, with a posture fit for a classical Greek statue. He is quite easily the second greatest batting all-rounder of all time, and that is no mean feat. Graeme Smith has also been a revelation as an opener, one of four modern great openers. 

I had a soft spot for the Australian team under Mark Taylor, admiration for the Steve Waugh side, and quiet contempt for Ponting's champions. Ponting himself I do not have much time for as a sportsman. He is a man who has no qualms about taking the grey road if it leads towards victory. That, in itself, signifies a certain lack of the stuff immortals are made of. I would never term him an equal to Lara or Tendulkar in my head.Call it prejudice maybe, but I don't think so. I usually like winners very much - Waugh, Warne, McGrath, Sachin, Sehwag, Dhoni all of them and many more. But Punter does not enter their range. He is a very good batsman, of course, quite splendid in fact. For much of the 2000s, he was supremely dominant, displaying a purple patch better than anybody else in history apart from Bradman. His pull shot is probably the best I will ever see, and nobody trumps him when it comes to making a match-winning first innings century. But he won't make my greatest XIs.

On the other hand, Warne will always be a favorite. He had a kind of gypsy flavor in his bowling - slight bits of magic, mystic, and always tantalizingly bold. McGrath was the only fantastic pace bowler after Ambrose-Wasim-Donald-Waqar, and in effect he has surpassed all of them with his brilliance. His awesome accuracy sometimes hid his immense range and diversity. His wicket taking abilities are matched only by his match changing ability. A point to that effect, the greatest defeat Australia suffered with him was the 2005 Ashes, both in the tests he didn't play in. Mark Waugh, though, was my first Aussie favorite. A wonderful leg side player, almost sub-continental in his elegance there. The only other who ever came close to Mark in my opinion was Damien Martyn, whose grace was enthusiastic and easy to watch, though Michael Clark is doing a fine job as of now. Matthew Hayden has been a colossus of opening in these uncertain times. Bevan, one of my blind spots, was the finest finisher of the game, and his sheer class shone through in a relentless quest for victory. Langer, Lehmann, Slater, Taylor have all been poor cousins of their more illustrious peers. 

India has been an average test side throughout the years. I was a big fan of Azharuddin's batting, but never thought much of him as a captain; for Ganguly the exact opposite thought comes to mind, while Dhoni I admire for his courage, confidence and composure. Azhar's leg side play is the best of any batsman I have seen along with VVS Laxman and Mark Waugh. Then Dravid captured my attention with some of the classiest, gutsiest, and most integral innings in Indian test history. With his cover to mid-wicket drives he could be a delight to watch. Laxman is someone I regularly skipped meals to watch, particularly in the 2nd innings when he seemed to be at his best. What elegance, what poise, what a touch. His strokes seemed to strike colors onto the cricketing canvas like an eccentric genius who only comes to the party once in a while. In Kumble, I truly found a czar of his art, exciting with the bite of each testing delivery, carrying the torch on from Bhagwat Chandrasekhar. Sehwag came like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, a once in a lifetime master of madness. An enigma who dispatches Murali and McGrath in the same vein as Panesar and Hoggard. It is time to acknowledge his greatness as a product of extraordinary vision and unique temperament. He is also a weak link when it comes to juicy pitches, as the eyes betray the beholder.

For Sachin, there are no words except a 'Thank you, sir'. He defined batting in the 90s, and has redefined the meaning of genius at the age of 39. The man with genius and joy in his soul is the embodiment of what a truly great player is, and can be. The only question which remains is whether he is the greatest ever. For the love of all that's good and pure, I adore Sachin. And if the day comes when he no more strides the cricketing pavillions (I refuse to believe that day will ever arrive. In fact, I bet global warming will end civilization before that happens), something will change, something will break. 

Of Pakistani teams I have had a poor opinion ever since Wasim Akram slipped off the top of his game, somewhere around 1998. This especially holds true for their batting, where even classy batsmen like Inzy and Yousuf have been patchy and uninspired through the last decade. Previously, I had felt a distaste for the Ijaz-Malik-Anwar era. They seemed to play with a frisky, shady attitude rather than one which celebrates the game. Inzy could be sublime when he really put his 'weight' on it, and he is the one I most enjoyed, also the classiest guy of the bunch. Bowlers seem to turn out of their under-19 teams like honey out of a beehive. So many talents - Akhtar, Asif, Tanvir, Amir, Sami, Kaneria, Saqlain and Ajmal. Razzak's fighting spirit through the last decade has been wonderful. Saqlain was a quite marvelous bowler until he self destructed. Amir was all set to become my favorite bowler after that glorious, enchanting, marvelous summer in England, where he swung the pants off the home team. Alas.. And of course there is Wasim Akram, the man himself. The best left arm pacer in history, the master of reverse swing. He was a joy, a gem who gave his best whenever he played. It was only after he faded did Pakistan become such a lawless mess. His strike partner Waqar was slightly past his prime when I started watching, but he was brilliant at his peak. His yorkers are still the deadliest deliveries in cricket history. The only thing I have against him is that he looked too consumed by the hunger for victory to totally respect the opposition players, something that was never an issue for Wasim.

I have never given much thought to Sri Lanka - as in I know they are a good team, but I don't really care about their brand of cricket - it has been too functional and uninspired. They seem to do things just to get to the winning post, and at most times it does not seem to be borne out of elegance and beauty. The two big exceptions being Murali and Aravinda De Silva of course, who were geniuses in their own right, and sometimes Jayawardene when he is at song. Murali has been a smiling assassin, a genius of wicket taking and foxing batsmen all over the world. Perhaps the toughest bowler to face in history. Aravinda was the one Lankan you could never take your eyes off. With a punchy style and fresh aggression, he rose to new heights in a manner which was similar to Cullinan, with panache. I was always highly disappointed with Jayasuriya for placing too little prize on his wicket, especially with his weakness at point. That kind of behavior shows an insufficient sense of love for the game. Sangakkara again exemplifies the functional aspect of Sri Lankan cricket though his cover drives are quite wonderful. Dilshan is too error prone to be considered too highly. One unusual career was Attapatu's. A string of ducks in his first few tests left way for a glorious career. But again, nothing to really speak about when it comes to greatness. Chaminda Vaas was of great service to a nation starved of good pace bowling, but stripped of that, there remains a good bowler, not a great one.

It has been neither possible nor fair to judge New Zealand because the quality of players they produce is not the best. If anything, they have massively overachieved in these times, thanks to some fantastic fighting spirit and heart, which is sometimes in a class of itself. Given that, the all out attitude of Astle, McMillan, Cairns, and Harris was very endearing and massive fun to watch. Shane Bond has been a pacer of huge pedigree, a terror on his day, and brilliant to watch. He is the only one of the trio of Akhtar and Lee who has remained true to the spirit of the great pace bowler, who runs in and wants to tear apart the wickets, and excepting that, the pads.

Of English cricket I have the lowest opinion among the lot. They have insisted on being so conventional it has made me want to grab them and shake them hard. They do not seem to be able to produce players who think out of the box. Their bowlers have been extremely piteous throughout my life, including the likes of Gough, Caddick, Tudor, Hoggard, Harmison, Giles, who can only conjure figments of magic on grassy seaming pitches. The non existence of their spin options has been mortifying and their batting has been insipid, lackluster. Testament to the fact is that their best batsman before Pietersen was the temperamental Vaughan who seemed at sea against quality spin bowling on most occasions. Of course the current crop of players are an exception. Cook and Pietersen can be quite brilliant sometimes, although still very suspect against spin, and an inspired Flintoff was indeed a joy to watch in that Ashes. Swann has been a bit of a savior, and Broad, Anderson and Bresnan are good to watch. So maybe there is hope for them after all. 

Lastly, the sorry tale of the Windies. Considering that they had the magic of Ambrose, Walsh and Lara, it is a shame what happened thereafter. Ambrose is my favorite pacer. He had a presence magnifique, his bowling skills were awe-inspiring and his attitude was full of integrity, and class. He was brilliant to watch thundering in and making the ball move and spit off the pitch. Walsh was a very worthy support to him and later took up the mantle after Ambrose took leave. Lara... is there anybody else who can light up a boring test like Brian Charles Lara. The most stylish batsman I have ever witnessed, he put a smile on every face when he was batting, even the bowlers and fielders. What grace and elegance. I just wish he was a little less temperamental, because then he could have been the greatest.  

My first memories of player awesomeness were captured by Aravinda de Silva, Daryll Cullinan, Allan Donald, Curtly Ambrose, Brian Lara, Jonty Rhodes, Mark Waugh, Azharuddin, and yes, Sachin Tendulkar in the aftermath of that WC. Almost immediately followed Warne, Wasim and Murali. Then Bevan, Dravid, Bond, McGrath, Laxman, Martyn, AB de Villiers and Amir. More than anybody else, though, Tendulkar has left a defining memory and my fandom bows to him, for the memories. So many dreams, so many heroes, so much style, so much courage. 

Now that some of the more brazen opinions are out of way, I hope that my views on the best players of this era are more clear.

April 29, 2012


"Oh the weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful. And since we have no place to go, let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!"

As it beautifully snowed outside while the cozy fireplace crackled in my room on a wonderful March evening at the gymkhana lodge in Darjeeling in the year 1996, my first memory of cricketing drama unfolded at the Eden Gardens. While I can never forget the sight of Vinod Kambli crying, and the spineless Eden crowd, the world cup semi brought a moment which would bring a semblance of profound clarity for me later in life. 

The Indian run chase was going smoothly ahead, and the air was abuzz with excited expectations. And then, out of nowhere, Sachin Tendulkar was out stumped off Sanath Jayasuriya. Even to a young fellow's eyes, it was obvious the massive change that happened thereafter. Not only did the Indians unfold, even the fans deflated, the cheers got lower, and the Lankan bowlers seemed twice as menacing. As a child, seeing my elders deflate because of one man's dismissal seemed peculiarly strange.

For a while, then, I struggled to understand the phenomenon of Tendulkar. It was only in 1998 after the twin Sharjah centuries did I understand: When you can have Sachin win you matches in that classy style, why would you want victory any other way?

That is the essence of India's fascination with cricket and Tendulkar. The prospect of winning not through grinding stubbornness, but in style. That is the essence of the devotion of every sports fan when it comes to the superstar, the maverick who can turn it on, who revels in glory, who smirks in the face of adversity, and whose audacity knows no bounds. Why else would Warne be loved so much? Why else would Messi and Ronaldo be fighting like two crazed roman centurions in a fierce race for the biggest honor? Why else would Lara play those incredible shots and take just six months to snatch back his record from Hayden? 

From that World Cup, I still have memories of Aravinda de Silva waving a private middle finger to the Indians and Aussies in the final, I still have memories of Jayasuriya's eyes lighting up as he hit those wristy sixes, and I still have memories of a proud captain lifting the trophy. Through all these years, such memories flash in bright lights in my head. Sachin's Sharjah twin centuries and the Chennai masterpiece, Lara's Bridgetown 153, the Ponting 140, and so many more. Michael Bevan has been one player who I have massively enjoyed in the one-dayers and that 180 he scored against the Rest of the World was incredible. 

It's the reason sportspeople become sportspeople. To play and to win in a manner befitting the vision they possess, befitting their talent, befitting the grandest stage. Why does the world need them?

Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive - Howard Thurman 


April 21, 2012

Best Spinners of All Time

The great art of spin was lost and dying with the ouster of Abdul Qadir. Gone were the days of Tiger O'Reilly and the great Indian spin attacks. Then, gloriously, out of nowhere, the modern brigade came with a bang. With the advent of Shane Warne, spin got it's mojo back, and then Muttiah Muralitharan completed the renaissance. We were gifted by a second wave of two great spinners, and we have been very fortunate indeed as they have turned out to be the two best of all time. 

I won't be making a list here. It seems rather futile in the sense that spinners are the most difficult to rank in my opinion. Perhaps I am mistaken, but that might only be because I do not have the knowledge set required to make all the essential arguments here. 

If asked for a rough opinion, I would rate 

- Bill O'Reilly
- Clarrie Grimmett
- Hedley Verity
- Subhash Gupte
- Erapalli Prasanna
- Anil Kumble
- Abdul Qadir
- Bishan Singh Bedi
- Wilfred Rhodes
- Jim Laker
- Derek Underwood as the great spin bowlers from all ages. 

Grimmett was the base on which the great Australian side functioned. Verity was outstanding as a left arm bowler. Gupte is regarded by Sobers as the best leggie ever. O'Reilly has similar claims with a brilliant record. Prasanna was a classical off spinner, with plenty of flight and guile. Kumble was quicker through the air, relying on bounce and pace for wickets. He is the third highest wicket taker in history, clearly putting him up there. Qadir again was a class act for Pakistan. Bedi was, some say, the most aesthetically pleasing, using a beautiful action and lots of flight to deceive the batsmen. Rhodes' first class record is impossibly good, with 4200 wickets at 16 apiece. Wow! Laker, too, had a fantastic record, and of course that 19 wicket extravaganza to his name. Ritchie Benaud, Chandrashekhar, and Saqlain Mushtaq miss out.    

So what I will do here is talk about Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan, the greatest leg spinner and off spinner of all time. Hope you forgive me and enjoy it. 

Shane Warne

Golden Boy

That Shane Warne, along with Tendulkar and Lara, was the most beautiful thing about the 90s is plain fact. That Warne is in the top 10 players of all time is to state the obvious. That he bowled the most marvelous spells of wide, soaring, brilliant leg breaks is the reason we cherish him so much. From his first Ashes delivery, Warne announced to the world that he would be taking over the mantle from the great Windies 'Pace Quartet'. And he has passed them all perhaps. 

To watch as Warne carefully plans each ball of each spell in an attempt to fox the batsman is as joyful as watching Barcelona play every small pass one after the other before netting the ball past the keeper. Warne against England was extraordinary, and did much to enhance the stature of the Ashes in the years that they lacked great superstars. Not until the arrival of Glen McGrath and Ricky Ponting did anyone look to be anywhere near the class of Warne in the great rivalry. 

From 1993-97, Warne produced the most spellbinding bowling saga of spin history. The plump boy with the grinning face took much of the world's heart away. The only slight blemish on his record has been his performance against India. A real match-winner. A man of all seasons. The zenith of classical leg spin bowling. For in spite of his unique deliveries, Warne really just perfected the art of classical leg spin more than anything else. Yes, the flippers, zooters, googlies were all used well and honed with time, but his greatest strength really was the stock leg break which was exceedingly accurate. 

To return from the drug ban and to perform at the level he did in the 2004-05 and 2005-06 was indeed remarkable. He held the world record for most wickets until Murali caught up. He took 96 wickets in a calendar year in 2006, still a record. The wonder-boy from Australia has been included in every great XI team made by most experts, and is considered by many to be the best spinner in history. Suffice to say, were it not for Murali and O'Reilly, there would be little doubt. 

Muttiah Muralitharan

Smiling Assassin

As good as Warne was, Murali's bowling as well as his numbers are extraordinary. He and Wasim Akram are easily the best ODI bowlers of all time. In tests, Murali began his incredible ascent from 1996-97, it could be said. It was no small thing for a boy from Kandy to attract the attention of selectors hitherto convinced that Colombo was their country's cricketing stronghold. It's no small thing for a skinny kid determined to bowl fast to switch to spin and to triumph. It is no small thing for a Tamil to prosper in a time of turmoil and torment and trouble. Nor is it a small thing to become the first great cricketer that your country has produced, to help it to lift a World Cup, to win a series in England, and to remain humble through it all.

At his best, Murali has often been unplayable, and always spiffing dangerous. An extraordinary turner of the ball, he extracts a lot of juice from the cricket surface. His wild swingers have entered the bat-pad gap of many unwitting willow wielders. The bulk of Murali's magic was to be found in his exceptional fingers, wrist and arm, and his naturally different shoulder. His performances against every team all over the world have been quite superlative for these years. The only exception being his record in Australia. 

Over the years, Murali has provided some bamboozling spells to run through many a batting line up. In total, Murali has 67 five-wicket hauls. Yes, 67!! Warne's second with 37. An issue is that Sri Lanka got very few test appearances compared to India, Australia and England and that is a huge shame. To illustrate my point, Murali played a total of just 56 tests between his debut in Aug 1992 and Dec 2000 and not too many more in the next decade. We should have seen a lot more of the bowling virtuoso. 

It was in 21st century that Murali rose as the most dangerous bowler in the world as Sri Lanka became more prominent on the test scene. He took 568 test wickets @ 20.92 in the decade. Playing his best cricket when his side needed him became such a habit with this diminutive genius that it was not considered something out of the ordinary. Hats off! 

Some Conversation on Both

Murali has taken 800 wickets in 230 innings @ 22.72 at a strike rate of 55, while Warne took 708 wickets in 273 innings @ 25.41 at a strike rate of 57.4. 

Some say that Australia had better bowlers alongside Warne to take wickets, so he had lesser opportunities. On the other hand, it has been shown that having a good supporting cast can also make it much easier for bowlers to take wickets. It also means that Murali had to take more top order wickets than Warne did.

The thing is that before Murali's emergence as a great bowler, Warne had been placed on a pedestal so high by the cricketing fraternity, it was difficult to undo it. It was not without reason, of course. Then came the controversy with Murali's action. It took a few years to clear the matter up. For the record, his action is clean, and he does not chuck. He just has a naturally different shoulder which moves incredibly fast to give him what he requires. He even modified his doosra on the advice of ICC. He was still as effective.

Another myth is that Murali's wickets came majorly from the minnows. But even if you remove those wickets, he has a better record than Warne in terms of averages and strike rate. At the same time, Warne took a lot of wickets against England, who are poor players of spin, while Murali did not get to play a lot of matches against England, and anyway his average against them is better than Warne's. Murali's record against India too is much better than Warne's. 

I would also take this moment to say that Warne's drug test failure at the 2003 WC does not lessen his stature, nor does it constitute as a real black mark against his character. But I really do wonder what would have happened had Murali been involved in something like that. Would the cricketing world have been as benevolent towards him? Maybe. Maybe not.

Warne is beautiful to watch and the master of leg spin. Many feel that leg spin is more enjoyable to watch than off spin; I am not one of them. In fact, sometimes I think that Murali's magic balls are not taken notice of as such. His turner to get Butcher bowled out was similar to Warne's ball of the century in many ways. 

To rank them is, to say the least, a challenge. Warne is a wonderful performer on the field, always gives his best and uses every trick in the book. Murali is slightly more modest, and reserved in his showmanship, though no lesser a competitor, not even by an inch. In terms of quality of bowling, too, there is little to separate the two greats. In the end though, the result must appear in the form of  wickets on the field. In that respect, Murali outdoes Warne. 

For me, Murali is the best of all time. Ahead of Warne and everybody else.

April 20, 2012

Best All Rounders of All Time

I value those all-rounders the most who are capable of winning the game both with the bat and the ball at the same time. What this means is, someone like a Shaun Pollock is not ranked too highly by me as he could not win you matches with his batting. Being a good supporting role is not enough when talking about the greatest ever list. Similarly, someone who at one point in his career was great at bowling, but mediocre at batting, and at another time later, great at batting but mediocre at bowling, is not considered at the highest level either. I hope that seems reasonable because I can't pick 1951 you and 1957 you at the same time now, can I? I can only have one, not both. At last, there is the unenviable task of comparing batting all-rounders with their bowling counterparts, which seems nigh impossible. But.. what must be done, must be done. 

Taking the above into account, I am sorry to say the following gentlemen didn't make the cut for the discussion: Shaun Pollock, Andrew Flintoff, Trevor Bailey, Alan Davidson, Richie Benaud, Wasim Akram, Chris Cairns, Lance Klusener, Mushtaq Mohammad, Asif Iqbal, Edgar John "Eddie" Barlow, Ravi Shastri and Warwick Armstrong. Flintoff primarily because just two and a half years of awesomeness in not enough. One has to be more consistent. Bailey because he was not exceptional in either field, especially with the bat, managing just one century - almost like a Collingwood of his day. Wasim, Davidson and Benaud, although brilliant bowlers, were not good enough with the bat. Cairns because he was not really a match-winner with the bat, in tests that is. Klusener again because of the test record. Mushtaq's bowling record is too much of a lag for this list (although he has an overall decent record), and the same goes, much more strongly, for Asif Iqbal and Eddie Barlow. Barlow, by the way, has a fantastic batting record as a stonewalling opening bat. Ravi Shastri could be included here, as he played a variety of roles during his time in the Indian side, but one gets a strong feeling that he would not have been used as a bowler in any other side as much as he was used by India, and his record is not great, with a strike rate of 104, and average of 40 as a spinner. Armstrong, too, bows out because of his quite inferior bowling record during a time when his peers had much better figures, but he was a fantastic bat. 

Now, coming to the contenders. 

Wilfred Rhodes is a special case. He is quite easily in the top league of all-rounders. The anomaly is that when he opened the batting with Hobbs, he primarily gave up on his bowling, and when he was bowling well, he wasn't batting well enough.

Michael John "Mike" Procter might have finished in the top 5 here had his international career not been cut off. Destroyed Australia in 1970, and finished with a test bowling average of 15. Wonderful, fast, swinging bowler, and a batsman with 48 first class centuries to his name, including a best of 254. He made Gloucestershire his own personal fiefdom, and when called on for the ROW and WSC teams, performed admirably as expected. Procter was the wasted all-rounder of the wasted dream team. 

Then there is the pair of Trevor Leslie Goddard and Mulvantrai Himmatmal "Vinoo" Mankad. They are both quite eligible to be on the list. Both of them were opening bats (although Mankad sometimes played down the order, especially against the Windies, for some reason). Goddard's batting record is quite decent with 2516 runs scored at 34.46. As a bowler, he was a proven match winner with his left arm medium pace, picking up 5 five wicket hauls in the course of 123 wickets @ 26, but a very low strike rate of 95. Vinoo, on the other hand, is the spin version of Goddard, it would seem. Very similar records. More hundreds than Trevor, but less scores of above fifty. Almost identical bowling record when taken into account that spinners usually have a higher average that medium pacers. He also has a better strike rate en route to his 162 wickets in 44 tests. I have no idea how to separate them, and thankfully, I don't have to. They are both on the cusp to making the list, but not quite.

Frank Woolley and Charlie Macartney are the two people who are also hard done by not getting their names on their list. Woolley was as elegant a left hander as came by during his time, and was a caressing murderer of the ball. His bowling record, however, falls short of the superlatives heaped upon him as an all-rounder, perhaps for sentimental reasons. He, did, however get 4 five wicket hauls in his test career, no mean feat, and is therefore a serious contender here as well. Macartney was one of the best batsmen of his era, an attacking, unorthodox and hard hitting technician, who would have been proud of modern batsmen such as Tendulkar, Hayden and Sehwag. His bowling (45 wickets of 35 tests) I have doubts over, although his FC record is quite smashing.  

Enjoy the list. 

The Masters of both disciplines

10. Anthony William "Tony" Greig (England)
This was the toughest choice to make. Greig wins it over the above contenders by whiskers. He is the man who, after foolishly talking the talk to the Windies, had the temperament and courage to walk the walk against their fearsome bowling. His teammates, however, failed to display the same, and England were comprehensively beaten. But Greig had made his mark. In 58 tests, he made 3599 runs @ 40, with eight centuries. As a bowler, he picked up 141 wickets with 6 5-fers and 4-fers each. He was a very strong batsman down the order, and his pairing with Botham would have made a daunting prospect for oppositions in the late 70s had he not joined hands with Packer in another display of professional acumen and a vision which would be glorified in later years.  

9. Richard John Hadlee (New Zealand)
The best bowler on this list, without a shadow of doubt. Through the late 70s and 80s, the finest bowler in the world along with the likes of Marshall, Holding, Garner, and Lillee. With an extraordinary average of 21, he surpassed many of them throughout the decade. Led a mediocre side to new heights along with Martin Crowe, Chatfield and others.  The only reason Hadlee is not higher up is that he was not really special with the bat, but the left hander could play some flashy innings down the order, and managed to average 32 with the bat during the second half of his career.

8. Montague Alfred "Monty" Noble (Australia) 

Monty Noble first captured Australia's imagination with a 116 in his first match on his first English tour in 1899. Thereafter, he went on to become its greatest all-rounder bar one. Noble's bowling exploits were famous, especially when pitted against A.C. MacLaren's English side. With his off breaks, and medium pace, Noble managed 121 wickets in a career spanning 42 games, at the same time pounding 1997 runs @ 30. To top it all off, he was one of the better captains Australia has had, his field placements specifically being ahead of his time. A true cricketer, he gave up him banking career and took up dentistry to keep up with the game.

7.  Kapil Dev Ramlal Nikhanj (India)

The Haryana Hurricane
Extremely good bowler, and a match winning, albeit careless, batsman to boot with 8 test centuries playing in the lower middle order. The tenacity he showed in leading an otherwise mediocre bowling attack was praiseworthy. The fact that he took most of his wickets on the placid Indian pitches which were prepped for his spin mates makes it even more special. Held the world record for most number of wickets till Courtney Walsh came along. He should have probably hung up his boots at the end of 1990. The 175 against Zimbabwe in the '83 WC is still one of the greatest one day innings of all time.

6. George Aubrey Faulkner (South Africa) 
Humbleness and effeminacy are not things that a great cricketer can afford to have, said Faulkner, and the saddest thing was that it so singularly applied to his life, culminating in a suicide at the age of 40. Faulkner was a pivotal part of the early 20th century South African team. A very capable batsman, averaging 40 in an era when Victor Trumper's average of 39 was celebrated as being very good. He was one of the most reliable batsmen in the world. At the same time, a more than handy bowler, his brand of legbreaks gave him 82 wickets in 25 tests at 26.58. A man of many seasons.

5. Ian Terence Botham (England)
From Ashes to Ashes
On his day, could turn the match around easily with either the bat or the ball. A powerful, technically gifted batsman and a tearaway bowler. "Botham's Ashes" is still remembered fondly by the English - a single handed effort to bring back the little black trophy. Looking at just the first half of his career (an incredible run of 8 centuries, and 12 five wicket hauls), I am sorely tempted to rank him in the top 3. Sadly, he suffered a considerable decline after 1984, and even before that as well. The fact that he was rather poor against the great West Indies tilts the balance against Botham slightly. Also, a large portion of his incredible run was achieved during the phase when Packer had visibly reduced the standard of test cricket around the globe.  

I am of the opinion that given the proper motivation (and fitness level), there could scarce be a better match-winner than Ian Botham.

4. Jacques Henry Kallis (South Africa)

Atlas Who Never Shrugged

What a batsman. The fourth highest run getter in the history of tests, the second highest century maker (44), and an average of 56.05, with still some time to go. In his younger days, he was a bowler who would knock out line-ups after Donald-Pollock had finished their spell, and is still quite a handful as a bowler, especially as a partnership breaker, a role he performs quite admirably. The only issue with Kallis is that his bowling peaks and batting peaks have come in slightly different periods of his life, although in the early-to-mid 2000s, he was remarkably good in both the disciplines. A precious player to have at your disposal, a man who provides so much flexibility to the Saffers in every game that his absence becomes a stuffy third person in the room during a test match.

3. Imran Khan Niazi (Pakistan)
The Rockstar

The best bowler on this list after Hadlee, and a considerably better batsman, especially during the later part of his career, when he averaged 50 with the bat in his last 52 tests, while at the same time averaging 20 with the ball. This happened after his bowling peak, where he averaged 15.92 with the ball and 31 with the bat during 1980-85. Now that is called being an all-rounder. An inspirational leader, and a man with huge amounts of will and determination. One of the first proponents of reverse swing, he fashioned a revolution in his home country which produced the likes of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, and gave Pakistan their first true cricketing heritage. A hero. A rockstar. Simply amazing. A must in any all time team.

2. Garfield St Aubrun "Garry" Sobers (West Indies)

The Man Who Could Do Everything

The best batsman on this list with an average of 57, and a bowler of extreme variety. Although his bowling record is not special, on his day, he could wreck some havoc with both spin and medium pace. Sobers the batsman is the best left hander after Brian Lara ever, having a marvelous technique and attacking instincts. He could bowl both orthodox and chinaman spin on the dusty subcontinent pitches, as well as some lethal medium pace on more lively pitches. He even opened the bowling for West Indies sometimes, and regularly bowled 30+ overs in an innings. His strike rate of 92 and average of 34 with the ball may seem slightly mediocre, but not if you factor in his versatility with the ball, and the fact that initially he was chosen as a bowler in the Windies team. If you look at his peak years in the early 1960s, he averaged 27 with the ball. That is quite good. 

The reason Sobers is at number 2 here is that, except for the odd match, he could not really win tests with the ball, and that's why loses out to my #1. That said, it is extremely close. Most people would rank Sobers at #1. Certainly almost all the experts do. Perhaps me too in another year. For now, though, this remains. Yes, I know, bring on the screws and nail me to the cross.

1. Keith Ross Miller (Australia)

The Enigma

The antithesis of Faulkner, Miller, along with Lindwall terrorized many a batsmen during their prime opening the bowling. When asked about Miller's bowling, one English batsman just shook his head in wonder. An average of 23 with 170 wickets , and a batting average of 37 with 7 centuries makes it ridiculous to suggest that Miller didn't care enough about reaching statistical milestones. But Sid Barnes, his Australian team-mate, accurately summarised Miller's sheer talent and his attitude to cricket, "If Keith had had the same outlook as Bradman or Ponsford, he would have made colossal scores. He could, if he desired, have become the statistician's greatest customer." Miller perhaps fell short of becoming the statisticians' greatest customer, but nevertheless he visited them often enough, achieved significant numbers, and did it all with a flamboyance that was thrilling to watch.

What is most awesome about Miller was his maverick nature. Having been in the war, he never took cricket too seriously, and found officialdom to be petty. He was never made Australian captain on account of official wrath (esp Bradman's). All his life, he managed to rise to a challenge. In his first Test against England - Brisbane 1946-47 - he followed his 79 with a first innings 7 for 60. What we know for sure is that he loved a good night out on the town, and once as captain of New South Wales, came in late to the ground for a match, and ordered one of his teammates out of the ground. Sometimes, just for fun, he bowled googlies and off spinners of a full run up. Sometimes, he even outpaced the more illustrious pacer Lindwall. He produced much of the most exciting first-class cricket of his generation - batting to beat the bowler; bowling to defeat the best of batsmen on good wickets; and plucking unbelievable catches out of the air.

Miller's bowling is inferior only to Hadlee and Imran on this list, and he is a better batsman than everybody apart from Sobers, Kallis and Faulkner. Not only that, he really did manage to excel in both at the same time on a consistent basis for Australia, even more consistently than Sobers and Imran. A natural leader of men, and his era's finest athlete. If only he hadn't lost 6 fine years due to the world war.. With his immense self belief and indomitable spirit, Miller is the greatest all rounder Australia ever had, and for me, the best all-rounder of them all.

P.S. WG Grace has not been considered for any of the lists, because I have not much idea as to the manner in which I should judge his achievements, which were as great, if not greater, than those of Bradman and Sobers. 

April 18, 2012

Best Middle Order Batsmen of All Time

In making a comprehensive list of the best middle order batsmen, it's incredibly tough to compare across different generations, and the varied styles. I found the best factor to focus on primarily is the level of dominance a batsman was able to achieve through a sustained period of international cricket (sustained means both in terms of number of years and number of tests). After that, the style of playing and their statistics come next. Let's hope that I am able to do justice to the great batsmen over the ages.

What I decided to do was make 5 brackets. So, I would not be actually ranking batsmen from 20 to 1, but putting them together in different brackets with 5th being the lowest. This is necessary because it is ridiculously difficult to decide who out of Viv, Hammond and Lara should be ahead, or to distinguish between Waugh, Dravid and Border. It is a task that is best accomplished by putting them under the same bracket. I am not going into details here. We all know what these players have achieved, and it would be a waste of space to just list their accomplishments. I will just be giving some personal opinions (which are based on facts).

Timeless Greats

5th Bracket

Stanley Joseph "Stan" McCabe (Australia)

The maverick of the great Australian side under Bradman. A maestro who could pay such extraordinary innings as to make the Don himself sigh with envy. Perhaps there had never been a finer innings played in test history than the run-a-ball 232 he scored against England in the first test in 1938 as the wickets tumbled about him on a dreary pitch. Len Hutton said that he possessed qualities than even the Don didn't and was the batsman to watch. Somehow, he couldn't manage to be as prolific as his talent foretold, but the very essence of the man was that he didn't much care about the stats, but more about enjoying batting and rising to the occasion. This was at its best display in the Bodyline series when he hooked and pulled Larwood and Voce on his way to a 278-ball 187 in the first test, thus giving a befitting reply to Jardine's tactics. McCabe is in the pantheon of the greatest Aussie batsmen, and will not bow before any of them.  

Mohammad Javed Miandad Khan (Pakistan)

A touch of genius in the Pakistani line-up of the 80s, Miandad, along with Border, was the world's leading batsman after Viv's and Gavaskar's peaks had withered away. His away record was slightly worse than he would have liked, but an overall record of 8832 runs @ 52.57 does justice to a talent whose angular glances, square cuts and reverse sweeps (surprise!) were a joy to watch.. His exploits in the 1987-88 series against the Windies finally put paid to years of doubt over his mettle in difficult conditions, although extensive home umpiring in his favor will probably stick in a lot longer. His performances against India were as successful as might be expected, and when asked to hit four off the last ball of the Australasia Cup Final, he walloped Chetan Sharma for a six. For Miandad was a man to watch out for, especially when you least expected it.   

Clyde Leopold Walcott (West Indies)

In terms of panache, perhaps the best of the 3Ws. With Weekes and Worrell, the Windies line-up averaged 47 during his reign, much more than any of their contemporaries in world cricket. He was a prolific run getter with an average of above 56. That he was a big occasion man is evident in the fact that he scored an awesome 168 in Windies' first test win on English soil at Lord's. At his peak, like Viv Richards later, he was one of those rare power-packed batsmen to whom bowlers preferred not to bowl on a long afternoon. Walcott gave up his keeping after having a torrid first tour against Australia against Lindwall and Miller. After that, though, he managed to have some extraordinary outings, especially against the returning Aussies as he scored 5 centuries and averaged 82 in the Caribbean. His love of laughter was well known, not to say that he wasn't menacing on the field. After finishing his career after 44 test matches, he worked for his native Barbados and Antigua. An unforgettable mix of silk and gently rolling thunder was one Sir Clyde Walcott.

Rohan Bholalall Kanhai (West Indies)

Perhaps the most underrated Caribbean batsman of all time. Kanhai was the driving force in the Windies' middle order in the 60s, and a pivotal member of the 1975 World Cup winning team. It would be difficult to imagine a more entertaining batsman from his era. Kanhai played with Sobers, Weekes and Worrell in his first test, and Lloyd and Kallicharran in his last. His first century was a smashing 256 at the Eden Gardens, and he never looked back. He was somewhat daring and quite sublime in stroke-play. Another player who believed in using a good defense in positive, run-getting ways. Some very formidable people rate him as high as Brian Lara, and Sunil Gavaskar claims to have learnt a lot about his technique from watching Kanhai.

Frank Mortimer Maglinne Worrell (West Indies) 

The Classiest Captain Ever

The ease with which this man took the immense pressure on his shoulders as the first black captain of the Windies was remarkable. Frank Worrell batted with an elegance so superb as to set an example for his fine side. Ever the gentleman, he never let any controversy upset either his side, or his crafty batting. His partnership on the field with Sobers was fantastic @ 76.93, and their relationship off field helped Sobers become a future leader for the Windies. In their first series down under, he was the only of the batsmen to stand tall against a rampaging Lindwall-Miller, thus paving the way for future invasions. Worrell could bat anywhere, and sometimes opened the innings to great effect as well. A truly world class batsman. The man to unite Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad; the man respected and loved by everyone. 

4th Bracket

Kumar Chokshanada Sangakkara (Sri Lanka)

When it comes to Sangakkara, perhaps the most unfortunate fact is that he is automatically ranked below some of his contemporaries like Kallis and Dravid. This despite the fact that he has a better specialist batting record than both of them, indeed better than anybody including Ponting, Tendulkar and Lara during his reign as the pivotal block of the Sri Lankan team. After giving up the gloves, as a specialist bat, Sangakkara has averaged 69 in 63 tests. That is a remarkable feat. The only blemish, by no fault of his own, against his stellar record is the fact the Sri Lanka have played very little cricket with Australia, South Africa and England and hence he hasn't really got a chance to prove himself against them. The other most obvious reason for underrating him is that as a keeper, Kumar was not as successful with the bat and hence may have gotten pigeon-holed early. Also, he is not as aesthetically pleasing to look at as good left handers usually are (Border excluded), but his cover drive can be a thing of beauty. It is high time to acknowledge that he happens to be a major cricketing colossus, and the best batsman Sri Lanka has ever produced by far and away.

Stephen Rodger "Steve" Waugh (Australia)

The lower middle order giant of the 90s where he went toe-to-toe with the likes of Ambrose-Walsh, Wasim-Waqar and Donald-Pollock. Not a hint of backing down in him, especially when the going got tough, which it did quite a number of times in the early to mid 90s.

In Fine Flow

Waugh rose up the ranks by shedding his attacking outlook for a constrained approach. Mark might have been the poorer brother had Steve's initial devilry produced consistent results at the highest level. There came a point when dislodging Steve Waugh's wickets was the toughest job in test cricket; this during the rise of Tendulkar and Lara.

After taking over the captaincy, Waugh became more intensely associated with grooming the side to become the champions that they would eventually go on to. His tenacity with the bat was a major factor. I always admired the way he would milk runs through singles and twos, especially through the off-side. The mid-wicket was another favorite region of his, and the sweep a glorious stroke.

He scored runs by the bountiful, almost 11000 @ 51. At last count, you would always find Waugh battling at his end for the Aussies. 

Allan Robert Border (Australia)

The Atlas in a line-up which was ordinary for too long. Border is the undisputed king of the modern fight back. Too often, his crusade ended before reaching the century mark, but the crusades never stopped. Even after the blossoming of Boon, the Waughs and Deano, he continued to puddle runs away. If Border ever seemed too strict, it probably had something to do with how the Australians went from being kings of the hill in the 70s to down in the mud-pie by the early 80s. It was a tough era, with Imran-Miandad's Pakistan, Hadlee's New Zealand, and Gavaskar-Kapil's India presenting unique challenges at the world stage, let alone the Windies. With a lack of majestic match-winners, I always felt Border felt himself unable to instill the charges with the required amount of pep talk.

What is most telling of the man is that he averaged 56.57 in overseas tests, almost 11 points higher than his home record. Runs made during Ashes in England came at 65. Incredible stuff. Barrington is perhaps the only bat who can hold sway over Border in this respect. As an artist, he possessed a brilliant hook shot, and one of the punchiest cuts in the world. In the mid 80s, the best bat in the world along with Miandad.

Kenneth Frank "Ken" Barrington (England)

A colossus in the middle, Ken Barrington is surpassed in English middle order history only by Wally Hammond. He was a stonewaller of Boycottian standards. He started out as an attacking batsman, who then completely changed his playing style to suit the requirement of the team (seems to happen a lot, doesn't it?). The revised method cost him his place once, by way of punishment for taking 435 minutes to score 137 against a humdrum New Zealand attack at Edgbaston in 1965, but overall it served him brilliantly. When the chips were down, he was the one who could be relied upon to give his best, his uttermost. He was much loved by everyone in England, and served English cricket brilliantly for 82 tests, averaging 58.67 and scoring 20 centuries. The man's greatest feat was perhaps, that he averaged around 69 with the bat in overseas tests, a feat of titanic proportions. 

Everton DeCourcy Weekes (West Indies)

The third of the Ws is Everton Weekes. Weekes' career was a fine one, coinciding with those of Worrell, Walcott and Sobers. He was quick-footed and possessed an admirable variety of strokes, almost all of them attacking. In England in 1950 his rich form amassed him 2310 runs at 79.65 on the trip, including a triple hundred against Cambridge, although in the Tests he made 338 at 56.33. With an average of 58..61 after 48 tests and 15 centuries, he once scored five hundreds in consecutive tests in India, following a debut in which he scored 141 while being booed by the home fans in the Caribbean who wanted to see John Holt play instead of him. Nobody ever made that mistake again. Very fine indeed.  

Rahul Sharad Dravid (India)

Rahul Dravid is difficult to place on this list, to be very honest. I could have him lower and not many would complain. I , though, remain firm in my opinion that Dravid is as classy, as technically perfect, as proud and ambitious as any other batsman you will ever meet. With the integrity of a Supreme Court Justice, Dravid made the number 3 position all his own for India in their finest ever team. So bright did his star shine in the 2000s that he even eclipsed the great Tendulkar through the decade. His overseas performances against England, Windies and Australia were the base on which India built its finest victories. 

Nobody valued his wicket more than Dravid, whose reservoirs of concentration and determination seemed limitless. He was a team man through and through, opening when they needed him to, keeping when he was asked, and what not. Probably one of the last classical test batsmen, Dravid ended his career with more than 13000 test runs at an average of 52.31 with 36 centuries. More than the numbers, he was a man who would not submit to defeat, most notably showcased in his defiant partnership with VVS Laxman in Eden Gardens in 2001. With him gone, cricket has lost something special, something from a bygone era, something which is worth preserving.

3rd Bracket

Jacques Henry Kallis (South Africa)

That Kallis is a great batsman is widely acknowledged. That Kallis is the bedrock of the most solid South African team since 1970 (or perhaps ever) will never be denied. That Kallis is the most dependable man in world cricket will also scant be questioned. Then there is the fact that he is the fourth highest run getter in test history, also the second highest centurion with 44 test centuries to his name, with a batting average of 56.10 after 162 tests having scored 13,128 runs. Still, Kallis is routinely and regularly kept away from discussions regarding the best batsman of modern times. He is held behind Tendulkar, Ponting, Lara, as a matter of course. As much as I hate saying it, it may be somewhat justified.

Although Kallis is an imperious batsman, he is pretty much the Ken Barrington of the modern generation. He scores at a strike rate of just a little over 45, and can seem to be more of a defensive player. Add to that, he plays great shots too infrequently to draw an adoring admiration from the cricketing fans. Having said that, Kallis' upright booming cover drive is a thing of beauty from the shadows of the past generation, just like him, and I make room for him at the upper echelons of batting greats.

Ricky Thomas Ponting (Australia)

The batsman of the 2000s with an awe-inspiring record during his peak. A very attacking batsman with the most brilliant pull shot I have ever witnessed. Perhaps Australia’s greatest in the modern era. Slightly suspect early shuffle tended to get the better of him sometimes, but aside that, not much. Quintessentially modern, and an uncompromising plunderer of runs, Ponting has hit 41 test centuries, bringing him third on the all time list. Between 2002-06, he was in phenomenal form, averaging 70.93 in 2002, 100.20 in 2003, 67.13 in 2005 and 88.86 in 2006. The only issue is that outside of this purple patch, his numbers ob both sides are quite less daunting. He is the most successful test captain in history, a three time world cup winner, and one of only four batsmen to have scored 13000 test runs. At his best, he was like a thunderstorm, gathering everything in his wake. At his worst, not too bad either.

Robert Graeme Pollock (South Africa)

Even a career cut short could not diminish the greatness of this man. A master craftsman, an artist in the super league of left-handers. His profound command and aura at the crease were unmistakable. Bradman certainly thought him to be the best left hander he had ever seen along with Sobers. He destroyed Australia in 1970 along with Barry Richards. In 23 tests, he scored 2256 runs @ 60.97 with 7 centuries. Pollock was an extremely powerful batsman, very positive in his outlook, although his timing was perhaps his most obvious natural asset. He would probably have been regarded much higher on this list had he played more.

In Port Elizabeth, where he played the finest years of his first-class career, you can still almost picture people dashing off to see him play at “the Pollock position” at the Old Grey. If you need any confirmation of his greatness, look at the freaking gene pool, Peter Pollock and Shaun Pollock.

Gregory Stephen "Greg" Chappell (Australia)

The Silky Aussie

Beautiful to watch, very elegant with a great technique. His record is very, very good (average 53.86 and 24 100s), but more than anything else, Chappell was, aesthetically, the best batsman to watch in the 70s. He dominated Australia's batting for more than a decade in a show of supreme batsmanship. Never played ugly shots, never will. As time went by, he became better defensively, and imposed more self discipline upon himself. He influenced the side in other positive ways too. Ian, his brother, seemed twice the batsman with Greg in the team than without him. A master of the leg side, with his wristy upward flicks and a wonderful driver of the ball. Laxman would come close as a modern equivalent, but not close enough.

George Alphonso Headley (West Indies)

The Black Bradman. For some, he is the greatest West Indies Batsman of all time. Playing at number 3 in a modest Caribbean side, George Headley shone like a bright diamond. George Headley was unstoppable at every level of the game, making runs with a style and brilliance few have ever matched, and setting the standards for generations of West Indian players to follow. Headley's average at the outbreak of war was 66.7; among team-mates who played as many as five Tests, the next highest average was Clifford Roach's 30.7. Headley scored 10 centuries with a high score of 270. The unassuming genius comes across when he asked questions like, "Why doesn't he want to bat?", referring to a fellow batsman who got out playing a foolish shot. The first black superstar.

2nd Bracket

Walter Reginald 'Wally' Hammond (England)

The Man Who Liked a Shag

But for Jack Hobbs and Len Hutton, Hammond would have an automatic claim to be England's best batsman ever. He could still lay claim to be its best cricketer ever. A great slip catcher, and a useful medium pacer, and a colossus with the bat. He had established himself as the best batsman of his era, when suddenly the title was taken away by the boy from Bowral. He lived his entire career in the shadow of the Don, but was instrumental in English triumphs in that era. It is a truly unfortunate that Hammond never truly got the adulation he would have definitely received in any other era.

Supremely skilled on sticky wickets, and a marvelous exponent of the off side, Hammond scored runs in heavy showers, finishing with a staggering 36 first class double centuries and the highest test score of 336, then a world record beating Bradman's 334. His 7249 test runs came at 58.45 with 22 hundreds in 85 matches. Till his 77th test, though, he averaged 61, again quite incredible.

Brian Charles Lara (West Indies)

The Michael Jordan of Cricket

On his best days, the most watchable batsman in history. It is as simple as that. If I was told to pick between him and Tendulkar if both were going to be at their best, I would probably know who to pick on an outright basis. He was absolutely marvelous to watch. Extremely attacking. He knew the art of scoring huge centuries while keeping his wicket safe, as showcased in his innings of 277, 375, 501 and 400 and the awesome 153 in 1999. But then came some days when he was uncharacteristic, especially during 1998-01, and looked extremely unmotivated. His constant squabbles with the Windies Board didn't help his cause either. His final 3-4 years were quite glorious as he averaged nearly 57 with 14 centuries in that period. 

He was an entertainer par excellence. Eloquently graceful, divine in stroke-play and a god against spin bowling. The fastest bat to reach 11000 test runs. Once called the "Michael Jordan of Cricket" by the most powerful man in the world. Lara was rated as the best batsman they saw by his great contemporary bowlers : McGrath, Murali, and Waqar. The best player of spin bowling in history. Wonderful, wonderful cricketer, and a very proud man.

Sir Isaac Vivian Alexander "Viv" Richards (West Indies)

Smokin' Hot!

Viv was a cross between Mohammad Ali and Barry Richards. What swagger, what a will to dominate, and what a player to watch. His hooking and pulling are up there as perhaps the best of all time. He feared no one, and was at his most fierce when antagonized. Oppositions quickly learned not to do that. Between 1976 and 1981, Viv was in a universe of his own, the way he dismantled attacks. It was always awe inspiring, and frequently he made the bowler want to hit the showers early. 

He could deflate oppositions like no other batsman in history. His overpowering theatrical displays of domination would really take over the entire game as long as he was there. He transformed West Indies from a good team to a world dominating side with his attitude and ambition, completing his career in 1991, though he was past his great days by '87. An overall test average of 50 falls woefully short of his real achievements. He walked the walked better than anyone else in the history of the game. A fighter to boot, with a huge will to succeed and win and dominate. When you have him in the batting line-up, you know the other side has a little bit of fear in their heart. That. Is. Dominance.

Sir Garfield St Aubrun "Garry" Sobers (West Indies)

Sir Garry Off-Drives!

A cricketing genius, Sobers was first and foremost a great batsman more than anything else. His exceptional Test batting average of over 57 tells little about the manner in which he made the runs, his elegant yet powerful style marked by all the shots, and most memorably his off-side play. Barry Richards once observed that Sobers was “the only 360-degree player in the game”; that is, his follow-through ended where his pick-up began, swinging “right through every degree on the compass”.

Sobers kick-started his batting career in 1957-58 against Pakistan with three fifties in a row, then made his first Test hundred at Kingston - the little matter of a world-record 365 not out. Two more hundreds followed at Georgetown, and he ended the series with 824 runs at 137.33. He was a very fine captain for the Windies side in an era where they found their first great team. Sobers could bat anywhere, and he did just that, alternating with the 3 Ws, even opening in a test once. Perhaps his best innings was the 254 in a WSC test against the Australians armed with a young, fiery Dennis Lillee.

Almost all his contemporaries rank him as the greatest batsman they ever saw after Bradman. Same goes for most people who played with or against the likes of Viv, Pollock and Chappell in the 70s and 80s. 

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar (India)

I will let BBC Sports summarize for me:
Beneath the helmet, under that unruly curly hair, inside the cranium, there is something we don't know, something beyond scientific measure. Something that allows him to soar, to roam a territory of sport that, ...forget us, even those who are gifted enough to play alongside him cannot even fathom. When he goes out to bat, people switch on their television sets and switch off their lives.
The Glorious Master

First came the Prodigy. In 1988, when he was 15, Sunil Gavaskar was quoted as saying in a Sportsweek interview, "The two best batsmen in Bombay today are Dilip Vengsarkar and Sachin Tendulkar." Full stop. Everyone knew he was going to be one of the greatest, including, in a strange way, he himself. In 1992, at 19, he played those innings in Perth and Sydney.

Next came the Master Blaster. Partly because of the one day game, he became an unstoppable force. He changed the face of Indian cricket single handedly. I will always say, like Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards, Bradman, Viv and countless others, that the best batsmen attack the bowling even if it is not there to be attacked. Enter Sachin. From 1996 to 2002, he was in imperious form. The Sharjah whirl-storms, the Chennai masterstroke, the dismantling of Warne all came in that era.

Last came the cerebral genius. Sachin Tendulkar has donned many personas in his awe-striking career. He has reinvented himself again and again. He is almost as good a player now as he was when he started, but in a radically different way. If longevity were the most important criteria here, Tendulkar would have a real shot at the first bracket. In fact, with overall judgement in terms of technique, success, temperament and dominance as well, Tendulkar is the one, along with Sobers, who really knocks strongly at the first bracket's door. 

The best aspect of Tendulkar is that he is a purist's delight. He possesses all the best features of batting: compact technique, minimal footwork, aggression, instinct. He is a joy to watch, and he possesses the knack of finding joy in every outing on the field. Where he ranks above Lara and Richards is as a technician. 

His record is, well, you know. 51 Test Centuries, 15470 test runs, average 55. 44, 49 ODI centuries, 18426 ODI runs, average 44.83. In one area, though, Tendulkar suffers when compared with other greats is his inability to make really big scores. He has never made a triple century, and "only" made 6 double centuries. Tendulkar played in a weaker side for the first half of his career, often being the knight in shining armor. His excellence in ODI cricket is better than any other batsman in the format's history bar Sir Viv, and it only adds to his legend. To the man who loves scoring runs, and winning matches, it's cruel that he has played many a great innings in losing causes, although some find it a flaw in him rather than his team. But he has never complained. He has never even given a hint. He marches on.


1st Bracket

Sir Donald George 'Don' Bradman (Australia)

The Invincible

99.94. The single most mind boggling number of cricket history. Home free. Bradman, the inexplicable phenomenon, had a technique which he himself has likened to being close to that of Tendulkar's. To be honest, I think he was flattering Sachin. Bradman mastered the art of scoring runs on uncovered and sticky pitches. He was the central point of the first  "Invincibles" side cricket has ever produced. He was hero worshiped during his entire career, as people flocked to the cricket ground to watch him score one of his great knocks, and he was made the brand ambassador of almost everything. The gold standard. The platinum standard. The einstenium standard. 

An attempt to bring forth some achievements of his: He once averaged 201 in a 5 match test series against South Africa. Another series against India, he averaged 178. He scored 29 centuries in 80 innings, 12 double hundreds, 2 triple hundreds and one 299*. His lowest point was averaging 56 in bodyline. Once scored 270 batting at number 7. Once scored 309 runs in a single day (a record). Bradman is (still) the fastest player to reach 2K, 3K, 4K, 5K, and 6K runs. He once made centuries in 6 consecutive tests. Averaged over 100 in seven different calendar years.

It is not just the dominance with the bat either. It is the context of those runs too. His Australian side destroyed England in all except the 'Bodyline' series, and he completely overshadowed one of history's great batsmen in Wally Hammond. His hunger for runs and victories led him to a point of intense rivalry with Hammond, who fought tooth and nail to best him. His incredible knowledge of cricket is admirably summarized in his book 'The Art of Cricket'. Read that properly and you can score a fifty in any Sunday league in any country. As a batsman, his technique can only be likened to Tendulkar by his own admission. 

No other athlete has dominated an international sport to the extent that Bradman did cricket, perhaps Michael Phelps and Jahangir Khan are the closest. That is why he is the only one in the 1st Bracket. If not for him, the 2nd bracket would have been the 1st Bracket. Want more? To end this, I will just write those few words again as I shake my head in wonder: ninety nine point nine four. Fetch that!

Batsmen who just missed out: Martin Crowe (New Zealand) - Dennis Compton (England) - Inzamam ul-Haq (Pakistan) - Neil Harvey (Australia)