I’ve been watching test cricket since I was about 8 years old. It was the first game to ever capture my love and dragged me happily into the world of sports fandom. I used to cover my room with home-made A4 posters with witty remarks like, “Big Merv oughtta curb…his temper!” Lord knows what I used to write about Mike Whitney.
Recently I’ve been dwelling on the retirement of Sir Ricky Ponting. No misprint. And it’s got me considering who the greatest Australian players of my lifetime. And THAT led me to think on who were the greatest International players of my lifetime.
Cricket’s a fantastic game for considering the big picture. For the most part, it’s not a young man’s game. Ponting was just on the short side of 38 when he traded in the willow. His contemporary and fellow recent retiree Rahul Dravid was 39 when he finished up. So over the course of a long career we get to see those players that have lasted the distance and made a significant impact over time.
To determine this XI, I put a timeframe on it of 21 years, 1991-2012 (since I was ten and could have some understanding of skill), put it into the semblance of an actual cricket team (had to have a keeper of some sort, at least 5 people who could bowl a bit), took records into account and – most importantly – made sure that when I saw my team facing these players, they scared the living daylights out of me.
And of course this is cricket. REAL cricket. Test cricket. One-day and 20/20 stats hold absolutely no bearing here
Firstly, the players who missed out of any of the teams due to age:
Allan Border (Aus)
Jeff Dujon (WI)
Imran Khan (Pak)
Graham Gooch (Eng)
Gordon Greenidge (WI)
Malcolm Marshall (WI)
Viv Richards (WI)
Gentlemen – I salute you all, but by the time I started watching you had passed your peaks. Nevertheless, amazing players all.
Without further ado, my International XI
1. Desmond Haynes (WI) and
2. Alastair Cook (Eng)
There has never been a team and never will be a team that terrified a young Mike Wardrop like the West Indies of the late 80’s through to mid-90’s. It bears noticing that FOUR of the above ‘past it’ players are from that West Indies team. Another two come later down this list.
When you grew up as an Australian cricket fan in the 80’s there was no guarantee that Australia would always win. I’ll pause now so the 90’s children can gasp in anguish. This was pre-Steve Waugh’s Unbeatables and it was during the time of the Calypso Kings. The batting line-up usually looked something like this:
Haynes, Greenidge, Richardson, Hooper, Richards, Logie, Dujon, Despair, Hopelessness, Misery. But they never got down to the last three because Desmond Haynes never got out.
Batting alongside longtime opening partner Gordon Greenidge, they formed history’s most intimidating and devastating partnership, second in volume only to two other dynamic players who feature later on this list. Greenidge, who arrived on the scene a few years earlier, was the more brutal shotmaker and runscorer (he ended up 70 runs clear of Haynes on the all-time list), but it was Haynes, the great smiling cat, who simply stuck around and refused to get out. 11 times this pair managed to bat through an innings together, partly because their bowlers used to devastate the opposition and partly because they were just too darn hard to dismiss. Apocryphally, on a tour of England one of the English batsmen started to get a bit mouthy at the great Viv Richards.
“We’ve got a great team,” he sneered falsely, “what makes you so good?”
Richards eyed him off in mild amusement.
“We’ve got Haynes and Greenidge…do you want me to keep going?”
It was the late 80’s when Haynes started to devastate me with sorrow. In the Australian tour of 88-89 Haynes had a century in Perth, an 83 in Adelaide, an unbeaten 30 in a West Indies Brisbane victory and, in maybe his toughest but most stunning innnings, 143 & 75 in Sydney in a loss. In extremely related news, the West Indies crushed Australia 3-1 on tour. The 3 wins were the first 3 games, then they took their foot off the pedal.
At the tail end of his career, on a difficult tour of Australia in 93-94, Haynes scored a gritty 45 off 146 in the first innings on a surprisingly tough Adelaide pitch that set the West Indies up for a classic 1-run win. I’ll never forget 11-year old Mike weeping in the car as I heard Craig McDermott get caught behind off Courtney Walsh after the greatest 10th wicket stand of my lifetime with Tim May.
Desmond Haynes broke me.
His opening teammate here is the young Brit Alastair Cook. Is it too soon to put him on a list like this? I’ll admit it’s possible. But I’d like to present my evidence
2010-11 Ashes tour of Australia:
Brisbane: 67 & 235*
Perth: 32 & 13
That, my friends, is ridiculous. But let me continue.
5th most prolific partnership total of all-time? Cook & Andrew Strauss, 5253 runs
Highest score? 294 against India in Birmingham, 2011
Most recent tour? India. 6 innings. 3 centuries (2 of which were 150+). Average of 109.6
40th most test runs in HISTORY. In 7 years.
Here’s the thing: in 7 years, Alastair Cook has scored more runs in his career than players like AB DeVilliers, Don Bradman, Herschelle Gibbs, Andrew Strauss and…are you ready for this one Australians?…MICHAEL CLARKE. And he’s not even 28. All Tendulkar’s records may still be up for grabs here. Watch this space.
3. Brian Lara (WI)
By the early 90’s, the world was starting to catch up to the West Indies. Greenidge, Richards and Dujon were all eyeing off retirement. Desmond Haynes was past his prime. They started employing ‘serviceable’ replacement batsmen like Philip Simmons and Keith Arthurton, guys that wouldn’t have sniffed a bat five years earlier. Into that void steps Brian Lara. Part movie star, part sports icon, definitely a product of the Michael Jordan era of sports stardom where the image of success reigned.
Lara would go on through his relatively short career to obliterate numerous records. His legendary countryman Sir Garfield Sobers had held the batting record since 1968 with his colossal 365 not out against Pakistan in Jamaica. In 1994, Lara set a new world order by smashing 375 vs England. 9 years later, Matt “The Bat” Hayden would top that with his 380 against Zimbabwe. This did not sit well with Lara. He responded six months later with an almost unfathomable 400 not out against England at St John’s, the same ground that ten years earlier had yielded his 375. Lara was the best since Bradman at racking up enormous scores in short time and eventually retired in 2006 with almost 12K runs to his name, fifth on the all-time charts, with nine scores of 200 or higher.
Part of Lara’s surprising legacy was the way he alternated between genius captain and fading star, oscillating back and forth with as much frequency as his big scores. But he always returned to those massive double hundreds, his charm and charisma ensuring he would never stay out of the public eye or record books for long.
THE MIDDLE ORDER
4. Jacques Kallis (SA)
5. Sachin Tendulkar (Ind)
6. Rahul Dravid (Ind)
If the keeper and openers were slightly tricky to pick (they were), then the middle order and bowlers were absolutely not. The middle order is vital. Two quick wickets is always a possiblity, but three quick wickets is a nightmare.
Luckily for South Africa, they’ve spent almost twenty years without that problem thanks to the pugnacious bulldog that is Jacques Kallis. Kallis is the sort of batsman that, due to low public profile and defensive demeanour, can often slip under the radar. In fact, he’s so wooden at times that I often joke he seems like a robot out on the pitch.
Jacques Kallis, initiate late cut! Jacques Kallis, engage with forward blocking motion! Jacques Kallis, enter ‘rest’ mode. Jacques Kallis, humiliate spinner!
But this is a loving homage. There is a VERY strong case that he’s the greatest player of the past twenty years.
Kallis is 30th all-time in sheer volume. You may be thinking, “so what – I’d expect him higher!”
30th all time…on the bowling list.
Kallis has taken 282 wickets, putting him ahead of bowling luminaries like Bishan Bedi, Danish Kaneria, Jason Gillespie, Michael Holding and Richie Benaud. Career best figures of 6/54 and 9/92. A fairly high economy of 32.57 but unquestionably the best genuine all-rounder since Shaun Pollock and Steve Waugh, and maybe really since the halcyon days of Botham, Khan and Akram.
In batting, Kallis has few equals. 12980 career runs with a surprisingly low high score (for him) of 224, and an average of 56.92 that betters anyone in the top 25 all time. Kallis’ wicket is a rare and treasured prize for any bowler.
That and he’s an elite fielder. Few players are more feared on the world stage than Jacques Kallis.
Personally, I wouldn’t say he’s the best player of the last twenty years.
That honour belongs to the next batsman.
“I have seen God. He bats at number 4 for India” – Matthew Hayden
I am a 31 year old man with a wife and 2 kids. I’ve got a uni degree and am working on a second. I’ve worked in numerous fields over the last 10 years.
However, when I was a boy of ten I was on local kids TV show ‘Guess What?’ It was a fairly ordinary show that specialised in making kids look awkward. They succeeded. However, at the start when I was interviewed by the hostess and I informed her I loved cricket, she asked, “ooh, what players are your favourite?”
My answer? “Dean Jones, David Boon…and Sachin Tendulkar.”
Leaving out the obvious early promise I showed by naming Deano and Boony as my two faves…Tendulkar! When I was 10! 21 years later and HE IS STILL PLAYING!
The Little Master is clearly India’s greatest talent, but in all probability he’s also the world’s greatest. He’s gone from child prodigy to elite athlete to national treasure to world champion to, I believe, The GOAT – Greatest Of All Time. There’s even a genuine chance he’s not just the GOAT of cricket, but of all sport. Who has pulled more fans over more years than Sachin? What other player in world sport elicits articles like this, receive honorary doctorates in Health & Science while he’s still playing and is allowed to be an honorary Group Captain in the Indian Air Force (the only person in history without an aviation background to receive this). And he’s now a member of Rajya Sabha, the upper house of Parliament in India and a member of the Order of Australia to boot. And HE IS STILL PLAYING.
As a 15-year old, he was involved in a 664-run partnership that reduced a bowler to tears and made the rest of the opposition unwilling to keep playing.
His Cricinfo bio says, “There are no apparent weaknesses in Tendulkar’s game”
He’s taken 45 test wickets. Just for kicks.
Sir Donald Bradman said, “Tendulkar reminds me of myself.”
I’m not even going to do Sachin the disservice of listing numbers.
In my mind – no disrespect, Sir Don – he is the GOAT*.
“Playing in the same team as Sachin is a huge honor. His balance of mind, shrewd judgment, modesty and above all his technical brilliance make him my all-time hero… You can’t get a more complete cricketer than Sachin. He has everything that a cricketer needs to have” – Rahul Dravid.
Dravid came to prominence at about the same time that Indian cricket did, enjoying a glorious few years in a top order that boasted Sachin, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, the under-rated Navjot Sidhu and sterling Indian captain Mohammed Azharuddin. But coming off the “retirement” (accusations of match-fixing) of captain Azharuddin, Indian cricket slumped swiftly and angrily. Tendulkar was thrown the leadership for a period before it settled with Ganguly, but it was in that time that Dravid began to blossom. Innings of 200* and 162 against minnows Zimbabwe served as a nice-warm up for perhaps his most famous innings, a 180-run supporting role to VVS Laxman’s 281 as India, following on in Chennai, somehow won a seemingly unwinnable match against a full-strength Australia. Virender Sehwag soon arrived to bring consistency to the Indian top order, sending Laxman to the 6 where the Dravid-Tendulkar-Ganguly-Laxman middle order would give oppositions fits for years.
Dravid, like Kallis, did not give up his wicket lightly and was prepared to defend for hours on end to get what was needed – earning his nickname of “The Wall”.
5 double centuries, 36 centuries and 63 50’s are a large legacy, though certainly overshadowed by his more famous teammate Tendulkar. Dravid remains 3rd all-time in runs scored and only lost his wicket for a duck eight times – an amazing feat in 286 innings. His durability, consistency and defense came to define Indian cricket in the 2000’s.
His most lasting record will be his partnership with Tendulkar. The two of them made 6920 runs together, 500 clear of the next pair, the aforementioned Haynes & Greenidge. In fact, his partnership with VVS Laxman is 10th all-time as well.
Of the current crop, the only man who could possibly knock him off would be the next on the list…
To be continued next week.
* Bizarre sidenote: Sachin was reportedly introduced to cricket to curb his bullying tendencies as a ten year old. He now stands a glorious 5’5 feet tall.