This post is a response to a comment my friend Vinish Garg made on my recent blog on Test Cricket in India. Today’s post is about those Cricketers whom I idolize. They are those Hall of Fame Cricketers who have become a part of cricketing ballads; those, whose galore of perseverance, talent, and the sheer ability to turn the table is much like an embroidery on the fabric of the game.
But, before I begin with my list of the all-time favorites, let me tell you that I’ve not gotten back much in time to look into the statistical history or for those names that are unheard off by the most of today’s generation. I, for one, am not much of a watcher of the game, myself. To make the job easier, I have selected from those names whom I have seen play: Basically, I am looking at a list of players from roughly 1995 to the present decade.
That’s because, in the years and decades before that, things were a bit different. Not much interaction and analysis happened on Cricket. Not a lot of players – except for the likes of Sir Viv Richards, Richard Hadlee, and Kapil Dev – played as names that represented the game. On most occasions.
But, there’s more to my choice than just that. Based on the statistics, it seems that with us tiptoeing into the twenty-first century the percentage of Test matches ending in a definitive result (neither Drawn nor Tied) has increased. That may be on various grounds (no pun intended), such as the change in techniques, change in the player’s and team management’s mindset, and change in the sporting gears and equipment. So, here are my all-time favorites:
Wasim Akram: Perhaps the best bowler I’ve seen. He could control the ball the way he wanted to. At times, he could swing the ball both ways in one delivery… no kidding there. Although he lost his luster to the match-fixing controversies in the 1990s, but he continued playing at the international level unit the 2003 Cricket World Cup.
Waqar Younis: The short description for him is: The King of the Reverse. Well, the long description better be left to those who batted against him. He debuted at a time when the real prowess for fast bowlers was their ability to bowl fast and short. He had the balls (No pun intended – he was a bowler, after all.) to change that. And how? The real ability lies in bowling fast and full, and moving the ball right at the toes of the batter.
Sir Curtly Ambrose: True that you must let only your success make the noise for you. No better example than him. He was the most devastating bowler of his time. I can only imagine how would it be to see a fast ball bowled from as high as 10 feet. His 7 for 1 against Australia remains marked on favorites list on YouTube. Lexicographers should consider replacing the word “consistency” in dictionaries with his name. I know, I know. The list would never be complete without his mention.
From those who spin themselves yet bowl straight to those who genuinely spin the ball, we’ve seen a lot of spinners experimenting and delivering on the 22 yards. But, those who I respect are truly a class of their own.
Anil Kumble: On field, he was amongst those who didn’t spin the ball too much, but did so sufficiently enough to create doubts in the batters’ minds. And, that’s enough. A snick, a leading edge, or a trajectory and bounce miss was all it took for him to create wicket-taking opportunities. And, to keep the statistician inside you happy, he happens to be the only Indian (I believe the only person in the world after Jim Laker) to take all 10 wickets in a Test innings.
Muttiah Muralitharan: Most part of the magician spinner’s career was beset by the controversy over his bowling action. But, that didn’t stop him from taking as many as 800 wickets in the Test format of the game, which is the highest by any bowler to date. It was perhaps his elbow flexion that got his bowling action into questions. But, the magician spinner spun enough for others to think that he created an “optical illusion of throwing”, and finished his career best with 9/51 (an unfortunate drop-catch for the otherwise tenth wicket in one innings).
Shane Warne: He was one of the most iconic and greatest Test spinners of all times. He, the second-most wicket taker, got Gatting on the “ball of the century”. The wicket of Gatting as much officially marked the revival of the leg break bowling in modern day Test Cricket as it helped the newbie Warne make his mark in the game. I conclude that one’s only limit is their own imagination.
Jacques Kallis: Talk about focus and talk about blows; here is an all-round batter who can bowl (and bowl well). He is that broad-shouldered Cricketer who you would love to see score (or take wickets) even when you are the one he is playing against. A gentleman-looking Cricketer, much like Rahul Dravid. Critics view him mostly as a soft player who often underplayed his talent by scoring slow. But then there are players who put their country’s and team’s interest before their own. Isn’t that true?
Steve Waugh: Here is an all-round batter who mastered playing the spin. I’m told he suffered from severe back pain, and hence he quit bowling. He played for his country for close to two decades during which he helped Australia see 15 Test wins in a row – Actually 16, but he captained in only 15 of those.
For this category I would choose to include the names of Virender Sehwag and Matthew Hayden. None else. The reason is simple. The format of Test Cricket is boring by the nature of it. Let me give you a little background here: You have plenty of overs by your side and you don’t really have to bend your back and stretch and dive to keep the scoreboard ticking; The runs come by not as the primary goal in themselves but as by-product of this five-day journey called the Test.
That’s much like the slow life of the weekend, where you rock on an armchair in your porch, watch dusk set in, enjoy slow music as you sip over wine occasionally, listen to the mild breeze that flows by, and watch the evening hues right through to the void that lies beyond the horizon.
With that background, most batters would slow down on their run rates – relaxed. Most, except for these two. Their styles match to the extent of commanding (if, for a change, not influencing) the bowlers’ mindsets. They are the ones who bring colors to the otherwise dressed-in-white game. They are the ones who can stand and deliver; thwack even some of the most accurately-bowled deliveries out of the Cricket grounds; and make even good bowlers feel poor about their existence. What else is otherwise equally exciting in a Test Cricket, anyway?
But, let me tell this to you honestly. The Test Cricket is all about technique. Not that these two batters didn’t have a technique, it is just that their focus was not on facing balls and bowlers to improve on and discover the best of their techniques. This is the reason I am including that one batter, who I think deserves a mention in this section of the list: Rahul Dravid.
Some of us don’t need any introduction. When on the pitch, he would be one such player. Everything he did was everything about him: his signature style of defense and his signature style of keeping the wickets. I’m told that it was his wish to push his limits that he chose to keep wickets when India was in dire need of a wicketkeeper. So, when all we needed was a wicketkeeper who could also bat, in him we found a fantastic batter who could also keep wickets. And how! When I look at the statistics, I see that his batting average, while he kept wickets for India, was more than that of Kumar Sangakkara and Adam Gilchrist. True that your attitude determines where your talent takes you.
But, that was all in the ODIs. What about the Test format? Did you know that he holds the record for facing 31258 deliveries, the most by any batter? Given that his technique was at least as strong, IF not better – assume for the sake of it – he could have scored the highest number of runs a lot earlier than any of them. True that the Test Cricket requires a different mindset.
Special mention: Virat Kohli. He has had a wonderful 2016: two double centuries in Test, more than 900 runs in T20s, and lots of accolades and match-winning innings in the ODIs. He’s also proved to be a leader and an expert finisher. But, I will choose to not include him in here, because he is not like neither Sehwag or Hayden not like Dravid. He is a lot more adaptive. Remember the time he had issues with inswing deliveries? That’s history now.
Special mention: Also, Ricky Ponting. He, like the other Australian on our list, is someone who’s made his mark with his own style. Another dominator, he could have made it to our list of specialist batters. But, for his batting woes toward the end of his Cricket career, which he couldn’t find the scope to get out of.
Adam Gilchrist: I feel short of words to talk about someone who happens to be on the list of Martin Crowe’s all-time dream XI for Test. At the order in which he batted, he played his role ever so successfully. So, as a batter, he was explosive. But, as a wicketkeeper, he was even more devastating. Imagining a combination of the likes of Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist is enough to send shivers down to the spine of even the top quality batsmen.
Kumar Sangakkara: This legendary match winner happened to be one of the most run-scoring batters for Sri Lanka, and still holds the most wicket keeping dismissals of all time.
Special mention: MS Dhoni. I would love to include Dhoni to the list. But, his signature wicket-keeping techniques are more suitable for the other formats of the game.
Despite how odd some of us think of Test Cricket to be in today’s context, I believe Cricket has always been (and will always be) a game of twenty good deliveries. It is just a matter of how quickly can your bowlers bowl them. So, irrespective of what you choose to play/watch, your intention is to understand and enjoy the techniques as you become a part of the sport.
The Future? Day-night Tests. Yes. Pink ball? Probably. Changes? Well, somebody suggested that the toss be replaced with the guest taking the call to either bat or bowl. That way, we negate the local advantage – take luck in winning tosses out of the way – and hosts get to test their prowess when they get to bat on the fifth day. After all, that’s the Test Cricket about, anyway. But, will Tests continue to be played? From where I can see, Yes. That’s due to the better sporting equipment, more use of technology, more support team, more cricketing opportunities, and more followers of the Test format.
Are you game?
PS: The credit for the supporting statistics, and cross opinion, in some cases goes to Pranav Kunte, my brother in law, who is the biggest Cricket follower I know.