The Big Five, and the rest

V.V. KRISHNAN

Being an all-rounder in the class of Miller, Sobers, Botham, Imran and Kapil is not the modern player's cup of tea. Jacques Kallis is a wonderful batsman who also bowls handy swing but there are few in cricket today with true all-round class.

THE perennial search is on once again in Australia for a quality Test all-rounder. In the 30-plus years that I have been involved in cricket in Australia, there hardly seemed to have been a time when the search wasn't on for the elusive quality cricketer who could bowl and bat up to Test standards. Australia, of course, is not alone in this quest and all cricketing countries in the world would give anything for a player of this unique quality.

In reality, though, they are few and far between and there has probably only been a dozen or so who had the skills to meet my specifications. A true all-rounder should be worth his position in the side either as a bowler or batsman. By my reckoning, during the time I have been involved in first class cricket, there have probably only been a handful who would meet these stringent qualifications.

Australia has been a country more noted for all-rounders than any other. Yet with all the quality multi-talented cricketers we have had I feel that only Keith Miller had the special attributes required to suit the qualifications. In 55 Tests, Miller scored 2968 runs at 36.97 and took 170 wickets at 22.97.

It has always been a strong argument to suggest that Garry Sobers was the greatest all-rounder ever. His record is superb — 8,032 runs at 57.78 and 235 wickets at 34.03 from his 93 Tests.

England's Ian Botham's performances sometimes seem to be underrated away from England. I don't agree with this and I feel he comfortably meets my requirements. In 102 Tests, Botham took 383 wickets at 28.40 and scored 5,200 runs at 33.54.

The subcontinent has produced two uniquely talented all-rounders in Kapil Dev and Imran Khan. Kapil, in 131 Tests, scored 5248 runs at 31.05 and took 434 wickets at 29.64. Imran dismissed 362 batsmen at 22.81 and scored 3807 runs at 37.69 in his 88 Tests.

Interestingly, out of the five wonderful all-rounders I have nominated, four were primarily at their best only with the ball; Sobers could be classified as a batsman who bowled. Of course, there have been other excellent cricketers who could bat and bowl.

The qualification for any all-rounder should always be that he is good enough to be in the team for one skill alone and if he can contribute with his lesser skill that is a bonus. Unfortunately, in this never-ending search for a quality all-rounder too many players are pushed into first class, Test and one-day cricket because they can do a little bit of this and that but are incapable of holding a position on the basis of one skill alone. This trend has been very common over the last decade in ODIs, where we have seen numerous players given opportunities because the selectors wanted an all-rounder in the XI. Unfortunately, most of those who were tried didn't make it and the balance of teams was affected. This scenario was purely because of the whims of the selectors.

The are players, who fall in the level just below the high standard I have mentioned, but have played an important role for their country. When I was thinking about other all-rounders who might be good enough to meet my specifications I immediately thought of South African Trevor Goddard. A left-handed opening batsman and a left-arm bowler, who bowled both swing and spin, Goddard was a wonderful contributor to South Africa's great team of the 1960s. The ban on South Africa in the early 1970s reduced Goddard's career to just 41 Tests. He scored 2516 runs at an average of 34.46 and took 123 wickets at 26.22.

All of these fine all-rounders had one thing in common — they were fine fielders. In modern times, wicket-keepers are being classified as all-rounders if they can score runs. I personally have felt that the best wicket-keeper should be selected irrespective of his batting talent. Adam Gilchrist is certainly not the best gloveman in Australia but his batting is top class and he could hold a position in the side on the basis of his batting alone. While Australia have such a great bowling attack, Gilchrist's misses with the gloves can be glossed over because invariably the efforts of the bowlers create other catching opportunities.

Alec Stewart also served England well even though he wasn't the best keeper in the country. On the other side, Ian Healy was easily the best keeper of his time and thus the 4356 Test runs he scored were a huge bonus.

India has been well served by all-rounders who have bowled left-arm spin and batted right-handed. I am, of course, speaking of Ravi Shastri and Vinoo Mankad. They both had excellent records. Mankad scored 2109 runs and took 162 wickets and Shastri scored 3830 runs and took 151 wickets.

Allan Davidson and Richie Benaud did Australia proud and were top class all-rounders in the 1950s and 1960s. Davo had the unique feat of 100 runs and 10 wickets against the West Indies in the 1960-61 Tied Test and in his Test career took 186 wickets at an incredible average of 20.53 and scored 1328 runs in just 44 Tests. Davidson's bowling average was second lowest only to C. B. Turner of the 19th century. Richie Benaud took 248 wickets and scored 2201 runs in 63 Tests.

Perhaps one of the most underrated all-rounders was Tony Greig. In the brutal era of Thomson, Lillee and the West Indies tearaways, Greig scored 3599 runs and took 141 wickets.

And what of the present generation? Unfortunately, it would appear that being an all-rounder is not the modern player's cup of tea. Jacques Kallis of South Africa is a wonderful batsman who also bowls handy swing but it appears there are few in cricket today with true all-round class.