There has been a raging debate by cricket fans for many years over who is considered the greatest player of all time.
Cricket as a game has evolved tremendously in the last 144 years ever since it was played in 1877. Wickets have evolved, bowling and batting styles have changed, cricket gears have been upgraded while there are multiple formats of the game. However, one thing has not changed and that is the debate on who is the greatest cricketer of all time. For cricket fans, this debate has been raging for a long time. The debate begins from the very definition of greatness. Who is considered great? What should be considered great? Why should they be considered great? What are the parameters of greatness?
There are multiple definitions of greatness but when it comes to cricket, this definition comes close. Human greatness is defined for individuals by their achievements, which must have a significant impact in the world. The last part of the definition is important. The achievements of an individual must transcend time and ensure they remain the yardstick in judging every other cricketer. Records are meant to be broken, but when an individual establishes a yardstick by which breaking that record is next to impossible, then he/she is considered the greatest of all time. Here is what our simple analysis tells about who is the greatest cricketer of all time.
This is one debate that has raged on in cricketing circles for a very long time. Sachin Tendulkar is considered the gold standard of cricket due to his sheer enormity in numbers. Tendulkar’s tally of 18426 ODI runs, 15921 Test runs and a total of 100 international centuries might never be broken. His 24-year international career, in the age of multiple formats might never be broken. By the sheer magnitude of his numbers, Tendulkar should win hands down.
But, Sir Don Bradman! That average of 99.94, that too after 52 Tests, is itself a testament to his greatness. There are so many records that Bradman created which have never been broken ever in the modern era of big bats, flat pitches and small boundaries. Bradman’s average will never be broken. His tally of 12 double tons and two triple centuries has only been equaled but never broken. The Aussies’ 300 runs in a day and his 974 runs in a single series have still not been broken. Bradman set the original benchmark of batting dominance and that is why, he gets a slight edge in the debate over greatness. The term Bradmanesque, which is a synonym for unbelievable consistency, is coined after Bradman.
But, even before Bradman and Tendulkar, there was an individual who broke records in the very beginning. He started playing cricket at the age of 16, ended it when he was 60. His 44-year career saw him scoring over 54,000 runs in First Class cricket. In his 22 Tests, he was only the second player in that era to average over 30. His 44-year playing career might never be equaled. He laid the foundation of how batting should be. England’s WG Grace is also in the bracket of greatness due to the fact that he was the first pioneer to create such records.
An all-rounder is someone who is a great bowler, a great batsman and a great fielder. This debate has been centered around two individuals, notably Sir Garfield Sobers of the West Indies and South Africa’s Jacques Kallis. When one looks at the numbers, it is staggering. Sobers averaged 57 with the bat and 34 with the ball. The West Indies legend smashed 8032 runs and took 235 wickets as he redefined the term all-rounder in the period of the 60s and the 70s.
But, when one looks at Kallis and his longevity, it eclipses Sobers in many ways. In Tests, he averaged 55 with the bat and 32 with the ball. But in ODIs, he averaged 44 with the bat and 31.79 with the ball. Kallis is one of the few players who has over 10,000 runs in both ODIs and Tests. In T20Is, Kallis averages 35 and 27 with both bat and ball, putting him in an elite list. In his 18-year career, Kallis was part of the South Africa team that scaled the summit in both Tests and ODIs. For his sheer consistency in all three formats, Kallis is considered the better all-rounder than Sobers. But, this is no way diminishes the quality of the West Indies star.
In the 80s, there was the ‘Fab 4’ when it came to all-rounders. Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, Sir Richard Hadlee and Imran Khan dominated the cricketing world and redefined greatness when it came to all-rounders. Hadlee became the first bowler in history to reach 400 Test wickets, Kapil Dev is the first to score 5000 Test runs and take 400 wickets. Botham’s exploits in the Test arena make him a bonafide legend while Imran’s brilliance ensured Pakistan stood toe-to-toe with the mighty West Indies in that era. Every individual redefined individual brilliance, but with regards to Sobers and Kallis, they fell short in some criteria.
This debate is a very complicated one. There is an entire period of bowlers who have redefined the benchmarks of greatness. What can you say about Sydney Barnes, who took 189 wickets in 27 Tests at an average of 16? This definitely ranks up as one of the greatest in the modern era. However, every country has produced their match-winners in cricket when it comes to bowling.
Lance Gibbs of West Indies became the first bowler to reach 300 Test wickets. There was Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner, Michael Holding and Andy Roberts who intimidated batsmen in the 70s and the 80s. There was Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis who terrorised batsmen with their skill. Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson scared batters while New Zealand’s Hadlee destroyed batsmen’s techniques with his skill and accuracy. In the modern era, there have been bowlers like Curtly Ambrose, Glenn McGrath, Courtney Walsh, Allan Donald, Dale Steyn and Anil Kumble who have raised the benchmark incredibly high.
When it comes to bowlers, the debate is centered around three individuals. Muttiah Muralitharan of Sri Lanka, Shane Warne of Australia and James Anderson of England. Muralitharan’s 800 wickets and 67 five-wicket hauls and 22 10-wicket hauls has put him on a different pedestal altogether. Muralitharan’s long playing career and the way how he performed in every condition is testament to the sheer skill and determination of the bowler.
Muralitharan may have numbers to his credit, but Warne is great simply for the fact that he revived legspin in an era when the art was almost dying. His 708 wickets is the best by a legspinner and because Muralitharan played a majority of his cricket in conditions that suited his style, Warne deserves to be up there as one of the greatest.
Anderson will be known as the greatest as he has over 600 wickets as a pace bowler. Given the fact that he is getting better at the age of 38, Anderson is the only pacer in history to take over 600 wickets in Tests. The fact that Anderson is the only fast bowler in the list of over 600 wickets, that itself is enough to cement his greatness.
In the massive following of the men’s game, the women’s game has taken a backseat. But, it must be pointed that many achievements of the men have been achieved before by the women cricketers. Women played the first World Cup, the first double century in ODIs was hit by a women player.
If one looks at the numbers, Mithali Raj of India is an all-time great in women’s cricket. Mithali is the first player to score over 6000 runs and she is on the cusp of 7000 ODI runs. She has an average of over 50 and has the most fifties by a player in cricket. England’s Charlotte Edwards had set the original benchmark with 5991 runs but that has now been overhauled. Belinda Clarke of Australia is great simply for the fact that she became the first player in history to score a double century in ODIs, 13 years before Tendulkar. But, on sheer consistency, with 14 centuries and an average of 55 in just 82 ODIs, Australia’s Meg Lanning is on her way to becoming one of the greatest.
When it comes to all-round skills, there is none better than Ellyse Perry of Australia. 78 with the bat in Tests, 52 in ODIs and 28 in T20Is are enough to make her great with the bat alone. But, with the ball, she has 31 wickets in Tests, 152 in ODIs and 114 in T20Is and that only increases her brilliance. Perry has redefined the way how women’s cricket has been played. Thus, in women’s cricket, Mithali is the greatest batter of all time while Perry is the best all-rounder ever.
With the prominence of Twenty20 and T10 in the modern era, it makes sense to include this as a separate category. Over 13000 runs at an average of 38 and a strike-rate of 38 with 22 centuries, Chris Gayle has every right to be termed as the Bradman of T20 cricket. Given the format, given the fast-paced nature of the game, Gayle’s tally is nothing short of legendary and his achievements in the T20 format might never be broken. His 31-ball century and his high score of 175 might never be broken. His century in various leagues is another record which might stand the test of time.
With the ball, Dwayne Bravo of the West Indies is the ultimate champion. He is the only bowler with over 500 wickets in the format. That record and the sheer number of matches he has played in his 14-year career might never be eclipsed.
NOTE: There are many players like Brian Lara, Sir Alastair Cook, Yuvraj Singh, Kevin Pietersen, AB de Villiers, Shivnarine Chanderpaul, Virat Kohli, Joe Root, Kane Williamson and Steve Smith who have been excluded from the list. However, some of their accomplishments have been overshadowed while some are slowly getting to the path of greatness.