Feb 282013

A look at five players from the rich treasure trove of nearly 135 years of test cricket who would walk into any All-Time XI list

The great game has had players of all shades and colors, and greatness defined in various hues. Some, like Bradman and Murali have unbelievable stats which brook no further argument. Others like Tendulkar or Walsh astound as much with their longevity as with high peaks they have scaled. Some were born to lead like Imran (who led from front with immense talent) or Brearley (whose leadership skills overshadowed modest talent). One Richards(Viv) pummelled you to submission like a heavyweight boxer, the other Richards(Barry) cut you open with surgical precision and timing. Then there are men like Kallis or Botham who could do anything on the cricket field. It can neither be easy nor fair exercise to pick just five names who transcend all such boundaries of statistics, national loyalty, skills and match-winning ability. A modest attempt at outlining five cricketers who deserve their spot in any World XI in the history of cricket, ever!

Sir Donald Bradman (AUS) – 6996 runs @ 99.94, 29 centuries – Statistically speaking, the Don is so far ahead of the pack that ‘Bradman-esque’ is usually thought of as an unfair comparison. He took an unconventional, but effective technique and fused it with immense ambition to produce results that transcended the boundaries of the game. Even as the blatantly ruthless ‘Bodyline’ was devised purely to hinder him, he averaged 56, a mark only twelve men have bettered in their entire cricketing career. You can argue about pitch, quality of bowlers, conditions and host of other factors but this is sheer awesomeness! The first name on any World XI team-sheet. No debate!
Sir Garfied Sobers (WI) – 8035 runs @ 57.78, 235 wickets @ 34.03 – The Alpha-male of cricket, enough said! For twenty years, Garry Sobers did what schoolboys dream of. His batting average is well clear of some of the modern day batting ‘greats’ like Tendulkar, Ponting, Lara, Kallis and Sangakkara, despite an uncompromisingly attacking playing style which was much more Sehwag or Gilchrist. His record of highest individual test score stood for 35 years. He could open the bowling with his fast-medium, wreck the middle order with his wrist spin or even left-arm orthodox. And then there was the fielder! Equally brilliant whether defining sharp reflexes at gully, short leg, covering ground with feline grace in cover or point, or rocketing throws from deep he could do it all, and boss it. The first man to hit six sixes in an over at top level cricket, so brilliant was his 254 against the Australia playing for Rest of the World that Bradman crowned it the ‘best innings ever played in Australia’. 
Adam Gilchrist (AUS) – 5570 runs @47.60, 416 dismissals (2.178/match) – There are keeper-batsmen, and then was Gilchrist. He came into a powerful Australian side with the legacy of Marsh and Healy weighing heavy in popular memory. His response was steamroll allcomers with a test match batting strike-rate of 82, at various points holding the record for most sixes hit in test cricket, most dismissals by a keeper (his dismissals/ match ratio is still the highest in the history!) and becoming the most dreaded number seven in the history of the game. Despite a sensational ODI century in World Cup final (2007) it was his test batting average coupled with his keeping credentials which heralded an era where wicketkeepers were expected to perform on either side of the stumps. His presence turned Australia into an overpowering outfit which twice racked up sixteen consecutive test victories. Forever the selfless deputy, when chances came he captained Australia with distinction too, winning them the ‘Final Frontier’ which Waugh, Taylor and Ponting could not conquer. Most of all he played it ‘fair’, always willing to ‘walk’ whether it was a club match or a World cup semifinal.
Wasim Akram (PAK) – 2898 runs @ 22.64, 414 wickets @ 23.62 – Akram’s cricketing achievements read like a comic strip superhero tale. If cricket had a God, Akram would undoubtedly be his left arm. The ball could be red or white, Kookaburra or SG; the pitch could be a seaming Headingley or parched Faisalabad; a windy overcast morning in Wellington or a sunny afternoon in Kingston, Akram would always have a script for the occasion. Master of swing (conventional or reverse), seam, cut, yorker, bouncer and all these at high pace – no bowler quite made it sing like him. He created angles, late movement and expanded the possibilities of what a cricket ball could do. Only Malcolm Marshall among the right-armers would come close to his . His career reads like a highlights package: two match-turning yorkers in a World Cup final, four international hattricks, four wickets in five balls once, first man to breach 500 ODI wickets, playing elite cricket with diabetes … and then he could belt it with the bat like every ball deserved to land beyond the ropes. A magician!
Muttiah Muralitharan (SL) – 800 wickets @ 22.72 – To understand the genius of Murali, is to understand his infinite ability to carry the burden. As if being the sole representative of ethnic minority of Tamils in Sri Lankan team, their chief strike bowler home and away and perennially answering doubts over legitimacy of his action wasn’t enough there was also a shoulder which rotated at a speed matching most fast bowlers at the time of delivery. His greatness lay in managing to shoulder all of those manfully, with poise and cheer. He allowed his detractors to let him bowl with his arm in a cast, biomechanic experts to monitor every delivery of his (before deeming everything as legal!), got umpires like Darrell Hair (who once called him for chucking) to gel. Above all, he was a fierce competitor, a master of his craft but forever a student of the game; his wide-eyed glee and impish enthusiasm never far from the surface. Sitting atop the list of career tally of wickets in both Tests and ODIs, astonishing 67 five wicket hauls in tests (30 more than the next best, Warne) and turning a ‘minnow’ into a powerhouse are just few things he did. Rahul Dravid once spoke of him, sitting in a Dubai hotel with glass floors ‘he can spin it on this .. and he can spin it on the deserts outside!’

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