As a sport, cricket needs a classy batsman, a fiery fast bowler, a pinch hitter, an agile wicket-keeper and a foxy spinner to keep the game interesting to watch. Just as it needs all those, it needs the perfect all rounder. The perfect all rounder can be defined as one who releases the ball at a fiery pace of over 140 km/h and bats, not necessarily with elegance, but with class and efficacy.
Gone are the days when we had the likes of Ian Botham, Richard Hadlee, Imran Khan and Kapil Dev. These were of that rare sort: high impact all-rounders; and they had class written all over them. These were the four trendsetters for the upcoming generation of cricketers.
Everybody, not just cricketers but cricket fans and followers as well, wants to bowl as fast as they can and bat with as much freedom as possible. There is no better way of enjoying cricket to its fullest than fast bowling and batting without restraint. Who wouldn’t want to do that for a career? These four excelled at what everyone would like to do and they did it throughout their careers.
It will perhaps remain a debate forever as to who was the best of the quartet. It deserves to remain a debate forever, because such has been their impact on the game that none can be said to be standing above the other.
Last year, The Cricket Monthly published the top fifty performances in Test matches from the past fifty years. It was filled with performances of mammoth innings from specialist batsmen and breathtaking bowling performances, but each one of these four found a place in that elite list with their all round performances.
Botham featured twice in the top ten. Hadlee also found a place in the top ten. Imran’s performance at Faisalabad against India was ranked the thirteenth best from the past fifty years, while Kapil Dev’s game at the Home of Cricket was ranked 49th. Botham once more had a cameo at 50. One gets goosebumps hearing stories about them from those lucky enough to witness those innings as they happened, and even from watching the highlights of their heroics.
Nowadays, we lack such characters in cricket. We have all-rounders. They are emerging in droves from the woodwork, but they do not seem to have the impact that the golden quartet had.
The last player who perhaps deserved to be called a perfect all-rounder was Andrew Flintoff. He had the impact and his aura spoke out for him. He was well-deservedly compared to Botham. He won England the Ashes after a long wait, which reminded the world of the 1981 Ashes, also known as “the Ashes of Botham”. It wouldn’t be wrong to call the 2005 series “the Ashes of Flintoff”.
Many would argue that Jacques Kallis should be included in this category. Taking nothing away from his performances, but it was very rare to see an electrifying all round performance from him. It was mostly a batting masterclass or an amazing bowling spell, but almost never both.
Then there was Yuvraj, who turned matches around by himself. He is a match winner in all conditions, but the only reason he cannot qualify to the list of elite, high impact all-rounders is the fact that he is a spinner and spin bowling just does not bring the delight that a fiery pacer brings. To Yuvi’s credit, he has brought his team several joyful victories, but he just did not have right type of bowling.
These days, Ben Stokes is said to be the replacement of Andrew Flintoff and Ian Botham. They say he has the potential to be of that caliber. We saw his prowess with the bat first at Perth against Australia, then against New Zealand when he scored the fastest Test hundred at Lords and of course the scintillating, breathtaking knock of 258 runs against South Africa at Newlands. If he could just improve his bowling and push his speed up a bit, then maybe he would be able to join this elite company. There is no doubt about his bowling abilities as we saw him take six wickets against Australia in the Ashes at Trent Bridge. He has the ingredients to become one of the best. With time on his side, who knows; he may become a part of the elite list.
A question remains: will there be any more players with the caliber of the golden quartet? Ben Stokes shows potential, but why are there so few of them? Only one wouldn’t suffice for the generations ahead. The quartet of Botham, Imran, Kapil and Hadlee were from the same generation. They were contemporaries. They matched each other with performances and their presence increased the spice in the game. Flintoff was alone and it wasn’t as exciting with him being the lone exciting all rounder with the powers that others did not possess.
The bottom-line is that genuine, fast-bowling, perfect all-rounders are needed in global cricket. Without them, the sport is not fun enough to watch. If the "all round shows" that Ben Stokes and Andrew Flintoff put up single-handedly are entertaining, then imagine a player like that putting on a show from every team. Priceless!
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