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. 

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