By Orville Higgins
The so-called 'bible' of cricket, Wisden, has put out an all-time Test 11 that is highly questionable. For those yet to see it, the 11, in batting order, are: Jack Hobbs, W.G. Grace, Don Bradman, Viv Richards, Sachin Tendulkar, Garry Sobers, Alan Knott, Wasim Akram, Shane Warne, Malcolm Marshall, and Sydney Barnes.
I won't argue with Jack Hobbs at the top of the order. The man averaged 56.95 after 61 tests with 15 hundreds and is statistically among the top openers of all time. Why, however, is W.G. Grace on this team? W.G.'s importance to the game cannot be questioned, and he, probably more than anybody else, helped to develop cricket as both an art form and a spectator sport. There may well be a case that he could be the most important cricketer of all time, but the man averaged a mere 32 in Test cricket, for God's sake! Surely, his actual record in Test cricket doesn't warrant him a place here.
Don Bradman, at number three, picks himself. A 99 average in 52 tests says it all. Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar at four and five won't get too many complaints from most, but the truth is that these two are not as 'automatic' as others may think. Why are the 'W's' from Barbados never considered automatic all-time selections, despite their magnificent careers? Clyde Walcott averaged 56.69, and had a whopping 15 centuries in only 44 tests. Weekes averaged 58.62 from his 48 tests with 15 hundreds. Both of these gentlemen had higher averages than both Viv (50.24) and Sachin (currently 53.87), with a greater proportion of centuries scored to matches played. So why are these two not seen in the same class? Indeed, why is Jacques Kallis not considered above both Viv and Sachin? He averages 55.44 at present, higher than them both, but does have the extra dimension of his bowling which is good enough to get him 288 test wickets at a shade under 33 apiece. Why not pick a number four or five who is as likely to get runs as both Viv and Sachin, but is also a quality bowler?
Sobers at six is automatic. He is simply too good an all-round cricketer to be left out. Alan Knott as the wicketkeeper is a complete joke, though. Those who saw him claim that he is the best gloveman ever. But even if that were true, that term of 'best wicketkeeper' is overrated. I saw Adam Gilchrist for Australia keeping throughout most of his career. He dropped very few catches, made the stumpings that came his way, and let through very few byes. You don't get better than that. Wicketkeeping is about effective-ness, not style, and I'm hard-pressed to see Alan Knott being significantly more effective than Gilchrist behind the stumps. Gilchrist kept to Warne for years, and if you can keep to the best leg-spinner of all time, with all his variations, without making too many mistakes, you have to be very good. Plus, Gilchrist has the advantage of averaging 47 with the bat, in comparison to Knott's 32. For me, it's a no contest. If I were captaining a team, I'd be far more worried if Gilchrist were in the opposition team than Knott.
Malcolm Marshall and Wasim Akram were high-quality pace bowlers and one is hard-pressed to find too many who are better. I have no problem with those two. Wasim Akram must surely be the best left-arm pace bowler ever, and Marshall combined pace, movement, swing, and general bowling intelligence probably better than anybody else who ever bowled a cricket ball. Sydney Barnes is exceptional. His 189 wickets at 16 apiece cannot be sneezed at and there had to be a place for him.
The final problem I have, though, is Warne over Muralitharan. Why is that? Murali has taken more wickets than Warne, 800 to 708. He also gets them at a better rate, 23, in comparison to Warne's 25.42. What is significant is that Warne never bowled against the best batting line in the world for much of his career, because they were on his team, and second, the Indians tamed Warne in a way that nobody did to Murali. Warne was taking wickets against India at 47 apiece! Against India, Murali got his wickets at 32.62 and against Australia 36.07. There is no cricket reason then to put Warne ahead of Murali, unless the Sri Lankan is still being punished for his questionable action. So Wisden needs to wheel and come again. In too many cases, the 'bible' gets it wrong!
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