There is something terrifying about them. It is their ability to wreak havoc to well-laid plans. Painstakingly-won advantages, over the course of hours, are blown away when they arrive in full-cry. The most sanguine captains fervently hope that they don’t detonate on the day, not against their team. When they do, there is a touch of inevitability to proceedings, something that makes the opposition only hope to lose with dignity. The aura they wear does not require averages and strike rates to validate itself. They inspire a more visceral kind of terror because of their ability to annihilate opposition in the space of an hour of play, often making a mockery of the conditions and quality of the opposition. And because that is something that can never be gleaned from other people’s points of view, I’ve only included those that I’ve seen play. I can fully imagine how those who’ve seen Viv Richards, the West Indian pace quartet of the 80s, Lillee and Thommo operate would consider this list pale, but then I’d set out with the minimum qualification of having first-hand experienced the goosebumps or the sinking feeling as a prerequisite to be on this list.
My top 10 list of the most fearsome cricketers in world cricket over the last couple of decades.
10 Saeed Anwar
He would probably make it to lists compiled by most Indian cricket fans who have seen him, in the mid-90s, surgically eviscerate Indian bowling attacks with monotonous regularity. Silken with his strokes square of the wicket on the off-side, he used to make it look ridiculously easy to pierce packed off-side fields. He undoubtedly preserved his best for ‘the old enemy’ as his performances were rarely in the same league against the other big guns.
Memorable performance: 194 (146) versus India – Independence Cup (1998)
9 Lance Klusener
A former South African secret service policeman, everything about Lance was unnerving. Built like a barn door, his huge baseball style back-lifts probably intimidated bowlers beginning their run-up to the wicket. Batting for him, was not about wristy flicks and open faces, but about lining up and thrashing the cover off the ball. His best performance is remembered for the wrong reasons; for officially granting SA the title of chokers.
Memorable performance: 75 (58) versus India – 5th ODI (2000)
8 Andrew Flintoff
The top spot on this list is based more on a combination of potential with some stirring performances. No one who likes cricket can dislike watching a charged up Flintoff’s spell of hostile bowling. He conjured wickets on surfaces that looked benign a few minutes ago with rib-snorting short-of-a-length bowling. With his trademark arms apart, open-chested roar after taking a prized wicket, there were fewer more worrying sights for the batsman in next. Flintoff was like the feared enforcer – Luca Brasi, in Mario Puzo’s cult classic, except human and likeable, even to his opponents. He batted much like he bowled, giving the ball a fearsome tonk every chance he gets, even though he underachieved on that count.
Memorable performance:5/78 v Australia (2005)
7 Curtly Ambrose
At 6ft 7in, he was in the standard-issue mould of nasty West-Indian fast bowlers of the 80s except you seldom saw him use words to make a point. His loping run up to the wicket with the high release must’ve made some sight to the batsmen facing him. His windmill celebrations after taking key wickets were fascinating to watch because you cringed at the thought of a teammate getting in the way. Dean Jones must still cringe about the day he complained about his white wristband that led to him destroying the Aussie line up, taking 7 wickets for a run.
Memorable performance:7/25 v Australia (1993)
6 Andrew Symonds
Had he not mellowed into a thinking big-hitter, Symonds would’ve figured higher on my list. With immense upper body strength that enabled him to muscle his shots high over midwicket, he entered the scene as a purely destructive batsman, intent on hitting everything for six. The 2003 World Cup saw him shun some of those instincts and bat like someone responsible for a larger percentage of the team’s runs, more consistently. Am guessing though that we’ll see him beating a few bowling attacks senseless before he’s done
Memorable performance: 143 (125) v Pakistan (2003)
5 Waqar Younis
Few sights in world cricket are more awe-inducing than to see this man starting his run to the wicket. The long run up, legs pumping, jowls reverberating followed by the whiplash windup and round-arm release are forever associated with the emergence of the art of reverse-swing. At his peak, Waqar was faster than the best of them, and when he got his in-swinging yorkers going, games looked like highlights packages. Having missed Waqar in his prime, my enduring image was of a test match at home against the West Indies. The batsman had just creamed the first 3 deliveries of his over through the covers for four. The next delivery started on the left-hander’s offstump, was much fuller, swung in viciously at the last instant causing the batsman to fall over in his anxiousness to get bat on it and took out the middle stump. The batsman? Brian Lara.
Memorable performance:5/52 v England (1992)
4 Sanath Jayasurya
You could swear that somehow the distance between the stumps and the boundary ropes had been reduced dramatically when this man got going as seemingly gentle wafts would sail over the point fence. If Jayasurya had a technique book, it would consist of only two lines; 1. Get in the vicinity of the ball. 2. Extend bottom hand in quick movement. It’d be safe to assume that more than one retired bowler still wakes up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat with the memory of Jayasurya going through his pre-delivery routine of touching all his equipment before lining him up. Through the mid-1990s, the equation was simple: if Sanath was around for anywhere between 10 and 25 overs, Sri Lanka won, easily.
Memorable performance:151* (120) v India (1997)
3 Shane Warne
Perhaps more skilful than any other bowler to tweak the ball, it was his predator-like demeanor that made him the fearsome bowler he was. When on song, you couldn’t help but feel for the batting side (often England or South Africa), as one after the other, they groped and prodded and at times swung only to capitulate finally to either a flipper or a googly or a leg break or sometimes rank hops and full tosses.
Memorable performance: 6/64 Ashes 2nd Test (1994)
2 Adam Gilchrist
The home crowd booed him when he took the field for the first time in a baggy green, making their displeasure clear about the man who had replaced the ‘irreplaceable’ Ian Healy. By the end of the series, Gilchrist was already the best thing to have happened to Australian cricket in a decade. Like most big-hitters, Gilchrist had an uninhibited technique with backswings and stroke follow-throughs describing complete circles. His greatest strength was his ability to pick length early and combined with his high grip, gave him the most leverage with which to hit the ball hard. While most in the list played favourites while picking their victims and formats, Gilly battered one and all alike, be it in ODIs or in test matches.
Memorable performance: 149* (163) v Pakistan (1999)
1 Virender Sehwag
It is difficult for a batsman from the subcontinent beginning his career post-2000 to differentiate himself from other stroke-happy peers on featherbed pitches. Sehwag made it on this list by repeatedly destroying bowling lineups with big names. South Africa, Pakistan, and Australia, easily the best bowling sides of our times, have all been sent on leather hunts by this man. His almost sleepy appearance belies his complete disregard for quality of bowler or match situation. One of the few batsmen around who has turned test matches on their heads with his no-holds barred approach to bowler domination.
Memorable performance: 195 (233) v Australia (2003)