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Top 10 Test cricket all rounders

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Number_one_Best_Greatest_cricket_All rounderAn all-rounder is essential to maintain the balance of the side, whatever the format of cricket being played. If a team lacks a quality all-rounder, it has to either go in with 6 batsmen, which increases the workload on the bowlers, or go in with 5 bowlers, which leaves the team vulnerable in case of a top order collapse. Ideally, a Test cricket team should contain 5 batsmen, an all-rounder, a wicketkeeper and 4 bowlers.

A lot of people define an all-rounder as one who can justify his position in the team either as a batsman or as a bowler. This theory is flawed, as the number of players who can make it to a Test team on the basis of this are very few.

A lot of pundits define a good batsman as one who averages 40 with the bat and a great batsman as one who averages 50. A good bowler is one who averages less than 30 with the ball and a great bowler is one who averages around 23 with the ball. Let us define a top-class all-rounder as one who has scored a minimum of 2,000 runs and taken a minimum of 100 wickets.

There are 29 all-rounders in Test history who have scored a minimum of 2,000 runs and taken a minimum of 100 wickets. However, not one of those 29 fulfils the criteria of great in both batting and bowling. Therefore, we will do away with the batting average and bowling average and just stick to the minimum of 2,000 runs and 100 wickets.

So, let us define an all-rounder as one who is very good or exceptional in either batting or bowling, and good in the secondary department. The caliber of the all-rounder can be judged by subtracting his bowling average from his batting average. The higher the difference, the greater the pedigree of the player.

This is just a statistical judgement and does not in any way consider the attractiveness of the player and his legacy to the game.

Each cricketing generation usually has at least one outstanding all-rounder amongst them. In the 1980s, cricket fans were privileged to have 4 top quality all-rounders in Imran Khan, Ian Botham, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee.

For some reason, there prevails a suspicion that the quality of all-rounders has declined since the dawn of the new millennium. Is there any merit to that theory?

The table below gives the career stats of some of the top all-rounders in history, based on the highest difference in batting and bowling average.

 

Player

Tests

Runs

Batting Average

Wickets

Bowling Average

Difference

Gary Sobers

93

8032

57.78

235

34.03

23.75

Jacques Kallis

166

13289

55.37

292

32.65

22.72

Imran Khan

88

3807

37.69

362

22.81

14.88

Keith Miller

55

2958

36.97

170

22.97

14

Shaun Pollock

108

3781

32.31

421

23.11

9.2

Trevor Goddard

41

2516

34.46

123

26.22

8.24

Tony Greig

58

3599

40.43

141

32.2

8.23

Shakib Al Hasan

51

3594

40.38

188

32.37

8.01

Ian Botham

102

5200

33.54

383

28.4

5.14

Ravichandran Ashwin

57

2145

30.64

311

25.56

5.08

 

The flaw in just considering the difference of the 2 averages is that it throws up candidates who have very high batting averages and just modest bowling averages, and downplays the merits of players with the ability to change the game with both bat and ball, like Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee, who do not make the list. Trevor Goddard and Tony Greig are lucky to make the list ahead of players like Andrew Flintoff and Chris Cairns.

Only 2 players in the above list made their debut in the 21st century, while Shaun Pollock made his debut in 1995.

Another point worth mentioning is that the all-rounder should have been an absolute certainty in the playing XI of his country during his playing days, irrespective of the venue and the conditions. By that logic, Ashwin misses out. However, is it fair to devalue his contribution as an all-rounder just because he may not always make the playing XI when India tour countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and England?

If yes, then spin bowling all-rounders will always be considered 2nd best to pace bowling all-rounders as a team always plays at least 2 to 3 pacers but a maximum of 2 spinners.

Is it fair to call Kapil Dev a greater all-rounder than Ashwin just because Ashwin is a spinner, even though Ashwin has better numbers? Kapil Dev did not miss a single Test in his Test career due to form or his playing ability, while Ashwin is not a certainty on green tops.

We have established the potential worth of an all-rounder and the criteria to judge them which, while not foolproof, gives a fair idea of each player’s worth to his team. Is the assumption that the quality of all-rounders has declined true, or erroneous? Let us apply the same yardsticks to the statistics of players from 1st January 2000. The table below gives their stats.

For players who made their debut before the given date and continued to play Tests after that, only their stats after the turn of the century have been considered.

 

Player

Tests

Runs

Batting Average

Wickets

Bowling Average

Difference

Andrew Flintoff

74

3695

32.69

220

32.38

0.31

Daniel Vettori

85

3928

33.86

271

34.24

-0.38

Chaminda Vaas

77

2409

27.68

247

29.69

-2.01

Mitchell Johnson

73

2065

22.2

313

28.4

-6.2

Moeen Ali

49

2467

32.89

133

40.24

-7.35

Stuart Broad

114

2956

20.67

399

29.33

-8.66

Harbhajan Singh

95

2193

18.74

396

32.13

-13.39

 

4 of the best 10 since the new millennium are in the list of the best 10 of all-time as well. They are Jacques Kallis, Shaun Pollock, Shakib Al Hasan and Ravichandran Ashwin. Their stats have not been repeated.

So. The critics who bemoan the supposed deteriorating standards are not totally accurate. In the 141-year history of Test cricket, there have been 29 players who have achieved the double of 2,000 runs and 100 wickets. 11 players have done it since 1st January 2000, which is an impressive performance.

A valid counterpoint is that since there is so much cricket being played these days, it is easier to achieve the double. That is why the batting average-bowling average is still an accurate way of judging greatness, as that will not be affected by the volume of matches. However, critics may deride the candidature of Chaminda Vaas, Mitchell Johnson, Stuart Broad and Harbhajan Singh as top-class all-rounders.

The reason players like Ashwin, Shakib and Vettori do not stir the senses like the past greats is perhaps their lack of flamboyance. This does not reduce their substance or take away from their performances. Let’s hope that there will continue to be top class all-rounders in future generations.

(All numbers accurate to 21st March, 2018)

 

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