Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The South African all-rounder syndrome

The good thing about being an all-rounder is that if you are struggling with one aspect of your game, you can always fall back on the other to maintain your place in the side. Take Jacques Kallis for example: he averages just 13.60 with the bat in his last five Tests but has taken 14 wickets at 24.64. Kallis is a special case – he has been rated the world’s top all-rounder for all but eleven weeks of the last seven years – a run only broken by Chris Cairns in 2002 and Andrew Flintoff in 2005 and 2006.

South Africa returned to the international cricket fray on 10 November 1991 when they played India in front of a capacity crowd at Eden Gardens, Kolkata. Since then, there have been a total of 2097 One Day Internationals played, and the Proteas have dominated the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for ODI all-rounders to a massive degree:


ODIs at #1

South Africa






West Indies


Sri Lanka




New Zealand




At first glance, you might think that this might be just down to one outstanding individual. However, in the past sixteen and a half years, no fewer than four South Africans have topped the table, all leading for extended periods of time. Jacques Kallis has been top for 439 matches, Shaun Pollock 331, Hansie Cronje 249, and Lance Klusener 195.

In the Test arena, the South African dominance is even more striking. There have been 707 Test Matches played since South Africa’s return against the West Indies at Bridgetown in early 1992, and only eight different men have topped the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test all-rounders over that time. However, the three longest stints have all belonged to players from the rainbow nation – Jacques Kallis (328 matches), Brian McMillan (110) and Shaun Pollock (104).


Tests at #1

South Africa




New Zealand








But what is it about South Africa that keeps producing these world-class all-rounders? Could it be the climate or maybe even the wine? Australia dominated world cricket in both formats of the game over this time period but were without a world-class all-rounder who could both bat and bowl (it could be argued that Adam Gilchrist should be classed as an all-rounder). The only Aussies to have topped the table over this period were the Waugh brothers, but even they would freely admit that they were both batsmen who bowled rather than true all-rounders.

On a final note, perhaps it is unsurprising to discover that the only man to have topped both the Test batting and bowling Rankings is a South African. You need to go back to the early years of the century to find him, but Aubrey Faulkner displaced Jack Hobbs from top place in the batting table for the whole of 1911. Subsequently, when Test cricket resumed after the First World War, Faulkner replaced the now-retired Sydney Barnes as the top rated bowler. With the break in play for nearly seven years due to the fighting, the South African was the top rated all-rounder for an unbroken spell of eleven and a half years, which has only ever been surpassed by Garry Sobers from 1962 to 1974.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Always the bridesmaids

And so Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly take their leave from the Test arena after two fantastic careers. One of them departs with more than six hundred wickets and the other with over seven thousand runs. However, despite these two being considered among the greats of the game, they share another trait – neither of them managed to reach number one in the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test cricket.

Kumble can consider himself the more unlucky of the two. His peak in terms of points came relatively early in his career when he reached 859 after helping to bowl India to an innings victory against Sri Lanka on his home ground at Bangalore in January 1994. However, that was only good enough for fourth place as Waqar Younis, Curtly Ambrose and Shane Warne were all near the peak of their powers. The following year he managed to make it all the way to number two, but again found himself behind the West Indian giant.

For Ganguly, his Test career has been steady rather than spectacular. His highest-ever Rating of 713 which he achieved to reach eighth place in late 1999, doesn’t even place him in the top ten Indians of all time. But – as befits a player whose career average never fell below forty, he was a picture of consistency, never dropping out of the world’s top fifty from his debut to his final curtain call at Nagpur. Kumble can at least console himself that in the shorter form of the game, he did reach the top of the pile. He was number one for a period of eleven matches – back in 1996 – a year in which he took 61 wickets in 32 One Day Internationals.

But poor old Sourav doesn’t even have that as a consolation prize. Despite scoring more than eleven thousand ODI runs, he never managed to achieve the elusive number one spot. But even with that mountain of runs, he is still not the player who managed to score the most runs in One Day International cricket without reaching the top. That ‘honour’ goes to Inzamam-ul-Haq who scored 11,739 runs peaking at number three in 1995.

So – who are the other unlucky players who have scored the most runs and taken the most wickets without reaching the number one spot in the Rankings?

The top twelve Test run-scorers have all made it to number one at some point or other, which leaves Alec Stewart – with 8,463 Test runs, as the leading run-scorer without that particular claim to fame. Next come Geoff Boycott and Mark Waugh, with Mahela Jayawardena the leading current player in fourth place in this particular list with 7,757.

Kumble is the bowler with the most Test wickets never to have made it to the top of the Test bowling tree, but he is followed by two former holders of the world Test wickets record – Courtney Walsh and Kumble’s former team-mate Kapil Dev. The leading current bowlers are Makhaya Ntini who has 358, followed by Chaminda Vaas on 348.

In One Day cricket, despite taking 416 wickets and terrorising opposition batsmen with his yorkers, Waqar Younis never managed to reach number one. For a lot of his career that top spot was taken by his partner in crime Wasim Akram, but Waqar can be content with the fact that he did make it to the top of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for Test cricket.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cricketing ‘cups of coffee’

A ‘cup of coffee’ is North American sports terminology for a short time spent by a minor league player at the major league level. The idea behind the term is that the player was only in the big leagues long enough to have a cup of coffee before being returned to the minors

Test Cricket history is littered with players who have represented their country just once. These players range from West Indian Andy Ganteaume who scored 112 in his only innings, to Gavin Hamilton who is one of the nine unfortunate players to have made a pair on their only Test appearance.

So – if we know that there are 382 players who have represented their country once in Tests and a further 169 who have played just one ODI, what about those players who made a name for themselves – albeit a fleeting one – at the top of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings?

In Test cricket three batsmen have topped the charts for just one match. The first was Australian Percy McDonnell, whose fifteen minutes of fame came way back in 1882 when he topped the batting table with a Rating of 472. The next was South African Herbie Taylor who sneaked above Jack Hobbs for one match in February 1923. The third man was West Indies stalwart Rohan Kanhai, who was the only man to break the Garry Sobers / Ken Barrington domination from 1960 to 1969 by edging ahead in January 1966 after Barrington failed at Sydney. However, with 60 and 102 in his next Test, the England batsmen nudged Kanhai back down to number 2.

Interestingly, there are a total of fifteen bowlers who have held the number one spot for just one Test Match in their careers, and some of the all-time greats are among them. Richie Benaud – one of the great leg-spinners - upset the Laker & Lock double-act in February 1959. John Snow was England’s fast-bowling hero of the 1960s and 1970s and ended with 202 Test wickets, but he only reached number one once – during the 1972 Ashes series. Wasim Akram – who took 414 Test wickets – only peaked at the top once – and then albeit joint top with Curtly Ambrose – in December 1997.

The other bowlers to have achieved the feat are: Alfred Shaw (1877), Tom Kendall (1877), Billy Bates (1887), Billy Barnes (1888), Charlie Turner (1892), Tom Richardson (1898), Monty Noble (1902), Jack Saunders (1908), Tibby Cotter (1910), Tich Freeman (1929), Bill Bowes (1946) and Dale Steyn (2008).

In the shorter form of the game, only two men have topped the charts for a solitary match. The first was John Edrich, whose innings of 82 in the first ODI of all enabled him to be top. The other was Mohammad Yousuf, who took Michael Bevan’s place at the top of the tree in October 2003, before a duck in the next match saw the Australian regain top spot.

Finally, in a stark contrast to the Test bowling, only one man has been top of the Reliance Mobile ICC Player Rankings for ODI bowlers for just one match, and for that we need to go back to the first ODI played. Keith Stackpole took three for 40 in that first match at Melbourne to have a bowling Rating of 141 – enough for first place.