From beginner to international competitor within a year: Andy Walkden tells Alex Davis how he's managed it.Written by Alex Davis on 6th October 2015
(Vote) Tuesday Top 10: Best modern cricketer
This week 10 writers describe the best player they have witnessed playing during their lifetime. Read what they have to say then vote for who you believe to be the greatest cricketer of the last 20 years...
Any poll of the greatest ever cricketer would be won by one man everytime, but with Sachin Tendulkar reaching 15,000 Test runs and Shane Warne returning to play cricket in the Australian Big Bash, this week our 10 writers have written about the best cricketer they have witnessed during their generation i.e. from the 1990s onwards. Read what each one has to say then vote for the player you believe to be the best in the last 20 years and if you feel we have missed somebody out, let us know at the bottom...
Andrew Flintoff - Josh Reynolds
Individuals who can boast impressive personal stats are a dime a dozen in any sport, but those who transcend the realms of their respective sports and capture the hearts of a nation are few and far between. Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff deservedly falls into the latter class of sporting icons, a feat not achieved by any other English cricketer since Ian Botham.
Freddie’s extraordinary display against Australia was instrumental in bringing The Ashes home to England in 2005 for the first time in 19 years. What’s more, the charisma and energy that he exuded on the field was nothing short of infectious and many would argue that it was this, coupled with his undeniable talent, that galvanised England into reasserting itself as a force to be reckoned with in world cricket. Indeed, after the 2005 Ashes series Flintoff’s magnificent performances prompted his Australian counterpart Adam Gilchrist to label him ‘the best in the world’.
In addition to the above, however, a key character trait that sets Freddie apart from the crowd is his ‘working-class hero’ persona. Through his humble Lancashire beginnings as well as his well-documented fondness for a pint or two, he defies the now questionable stereotype that cricket is a sport largely reserved for the more affluent gentleman. This has given him unparalleled popularity among English cricket fans and renders him a true people’s champion.
Adam Gilchrist - Josh Hunt
When you think of players who have defined their position, and indeed the game, in the modern era, none come so quickly to mind as Adam Gilchrist. Gilchrist was everything the modern day keeper should be: a fine and graceful batsman capable of changing a game with his explosive hitting and ability to build an innings under pressure. His 47.60 Test batting average, excellent by any standards, is even more impressive when you consider that much of his career was spent batting with tail enders.
Voted the ‘scariest batsman’ by his peers in 2005, his destructive hitting in 287 ODIs and 96 Test matches earned him his reputation as the greatest keeper-batsman ever to play the game - the only keeper named by Wisden as one of the 10 best all-rounders of all time. His records speak for themselves: most Test match runs by a keeper, most ODI dismissals by a keeper and second most Test dismissals by a keeper.
A great competitor, universally admired for his remarkable talent, Gilchrist was also a gentleman at the crease, famed for walking when he considered himself out; truly remarkable in every sense and the epitome of a great modern cricketer.
Jacques Kallis - Frankie Conway
Described by Kevin Pietersen as the greatest cricketer to ever play the game, the feats accomplished by this man are nothing short of super human. The only player in the game’s history to have scored over 10,000 runs and taken over 200 wickets in both Test and One-Day international cricket, the South African must go down as the best all-rounder to have graced the sport. A mild mannered, understated character, Kallis often gets too easily dismissed when conversations of modern day greats are mentioned. Only Sachin Tendulkar has scored more Test hundreds than the man from Cape Town and his record as a batsmen alone rivals that of any other prolific run-scorer. When you throw in 534 international wickets and 288 international catches you have to bow to the man’s accomplishments.
A flawless technician, Kallis has succeeded in scoring a large bulk of his runs against some of the best bowlers the game has seen, such as Warne, Muralitharan, McGrath, Akram, Waqar Younis and Courtney Walsh. Never attracting controversy, Kallis is a consummate professional who chooses to let his considerable cricketing talents do the talking. His strong list of accolades pays tribute to his illustrious achievements, when, in 2008, he was voted as the leading Cricketer in the World as well as ICC Test Player of the year. A true colossus of the game.
Brian Lara - Joel Lamy
Cricket is a game of statistics, but it is individual performances which stick most in the memory and define matches. For this reason, Brian Charles Lara is step above all others of his generation. Sachin Tendulkar may be a dominant figure in India, but Lara managed to break the record books in a team which often disappointed and whose shaky batting line-up meant he was often coming in early in the innings to face the new ball. His strike-rate of 60 is also more than any of his contemporaries.
Not content with smashing 375 and 400 against England at Antigua, Lara also hit an incredible 501 for Warwickshire. But it is against the great Australian side that he showed why he was the greatest. In the 1998-9 series he was leading a side on a run of six straight losses and which had been bowled out 51 in their last innings. Despite this, Lara showed his brilliance, twice inspiring the Windies to victories with scores of 213 and 153* despite being behind in most matches against an attack which contained the likes of McGrath, Warne and MacGill. He even scored another century in the next (and final) Test.
Indeed, no other batsmen can match the number of incredible innings which Lara managed and none who came close did so in such difficult circumstances or with such style and speed.
Glenn McGrath - Sam Price
For any youngster trying out bowling, ‘line and length’ are the two key elements they’re encouraged to focus on and this is where Glenn McGrath provides a guiding light. McGrath’s career coincided with Australia’s rise to global cricketing domination during which he bowled with an unerring consistency almost regardless of the pitch and the opposition.
Without express pace, McGrath used seam movement and bounce to lay siege to a batsman’s stumps and outside edge. His fitness was superlative, allowing him to maintain an unrelenting rhythm over long spells, while his ability to regularly hit an off-stump line on a good length meant that he bowled very few loose deliveries, contributing to a remarkable economy rate. But McGrath was not simply about containment, he was a lethal strike bowler; 563 wickets at an average of 21.64 make him the leading Test wicket taker of all time amongst pace bowlers.
The mercurial Aussie had a career decorated with honours and retired at the peak of his powers. His Test retirement followed the 5-0 whitewash of England in the 2006-07 Ashes series, while his ODI retirement came afterAustralia’s victory in the 2007 World Cup in which he was the leading wicket taker with 26 wickets. Pervasive in both forms of the game, McGrath was a cricketing legend whom batsmen will be relieved to never face the likes of again.
Muttiah Muralitharan - Felix Keith
Murali has everything a cricketer should have. The statistics speak for themselves: he holds the record for the most wickets in both Test and ODI cricket. Wisden named him the best Test match bowler ever in 2002, alongside legendary batsman Don Bradman. A particularly revealing stat that reflects his talent is: Murali has taken 67 five wicket hauls, whereas the great Shane Warne has only 37.
Most importantly, Murali has everything a spin bowler strives to be the best at. He can generate ridiculous spin, but what makes him especially hard to face is the doosra. This variation is almost impossible to pick out of the hand, but spins almost as much as his orthodox delivery. When this is then mixed up with the top spinner which speeds up when it pitches the batsman never gets comfortable. He has been proven to have abnormal shoulder movement and extra flexible wrists which allow him to produce so much spin.
Cricketers should also carry themselves in a respectable, courteous manner on and off the pitch and despite his persecution due to his action he has always stayed humble. Murali is unique; a player that will never be replicated again.
Virender Sehwag - Sam Barnett
Virender Sehwag plays cricket the way it shouldn’t be played, he is the purists’ antichrist. To watch him bat is to watch an act of dissent to cricket’s dour and conservative establishment; at the crease he will frequently decimate good-length balls to opposite sides of the grounds, thus leaving opposing captains clueless and thwarted in any idea of early aggression with the new-ball. Opening bowlers are meant to be beasts, instead Sehwag leaves them neutered, cowering back to their mark with tail firmly between legs.
A statistical anomaly, his Test average of 52.30 is comparable to the likes of Brian Lara (52.88) and Ricky Ponting (52.72), yet his strike rate of 81.80 is radical when compared to his peers (Kallis’ is only 45.21). Furthermore, he can achieve startlingly large innings: four times he has passed 250. When has Sachin Tendulkar achieved this? Never.
Great cricketers win matches, and there is no greater match winner than Sehwag. No modern player can reverse a match a la Sehwag, nor affront cricket so drastically. Revolutionaries are remembered, Sehwag is the Che Guevara of cricket.
Sachin Tendulkar - Ross Highfield
An old adage states that you can prove anything with statistics. Yet the astonishing numbers amassed by Sachin Tendulkar in the past 22 years leave little to debate: Tendulkar is the finest cricketer of the modern era.
A week ago he became the first player to reach 15,000 international Test runs and in ODIs he has more than 18,000. He is the leading century-maker in both forms of the game and is only one away from a hundred international 100s. He is the only man to score a double century in international one-day cricket and he has the most runs in a single IPL season.
But this is not merely a man of dry numbers - he is a man who has captured hearts. He was the leading-run scorer as India won the World Cup on home soil in 2011. He is a global celebrity, a cult, with a common slogan amongst his fans stating that “cricket is my religion, and Sachin is my God.”
When Tendulkar was run out for 40 on the final day of the England-India third Test at Edgbaston, England and India fans alike gave out a collective sigh of disappointment and rose to a standing ovation as he left the field. They knew they had been watching a true great, not just of cricket, but of all modern-day sport.
Shane Warne - James Newbon
As one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Century, and the only one of this top 10 on the list, there’s surely no contest for Shane Warne to be the best modern day cricketer. With a phenomenal return of 1319 first class wickets, Warne will certainly not be forgotten by the many batsmen he’s tormented with his leg spin. And in the field, despite his less than athletic physique, Warne found his niche in the slips and stands at seventh on the list of most catches for a slip fielder in Test cricket.
But it’s not just good statistics and accolades that make Warne a great cricketer but his character also. This has made him a great captain with his work ethic, winning mentality and never say die attitude helping both Hampshire and the Rajasthan Royals to great success. His character also means that Warne is not shy of the spotlight ensuring that even in a series as big as the Ashes, the Aussie is at the fore. His ‘ball of the century’ dismissal of Mike Gatting in the first Test of the 1993 Ashes serves to highlight this.
The fact that he is a great bowler, decent fielder and strong captain whilst still maintaining an approach that has made the game entertaining and helped raised its profile is what makes Warne the great modern cricketer he is.
Steve Waugh - Tom Garry
An integral member of the great Australian side of the 1990s, Steve Waugh is one of the few cricketers to have played at the highest level in a career spanning three decades. From his first Test in 1985 to his last in 2004, Waugh brought both style and sportsmanship to the field, as well as true class. Dismissed by some as too defensive compared to his more adventurous rivals, “Tugga” was in fact the first player to develop what is now known as the “slog sweep”, a risky but effective shot that tormented the world’s finest spin-bowlers for series after series. Becoming the world’s number one batsman in 1995, Waugh went on to score a total of 10,927 test runs, averaging a staggering 51.06.
However, Waugh’s talents didn’t stop at his majestic batting - his bowling was crucial to the success of the Australians at the 1987 World Cup, the tournament that became the spring-board for the Sydney-born man’s career. Regarded by the world of sport as a kind, humble and generous man, Waugh was named Australian of the year in 2004 thanks to his work to raise millions for charities around the world and in my book, he’s surely number one.