Cricket October 23, 2011

What makes a good allrounder?

From Alan and Philip Sutherland, Australia

From Alan and Philip Sutherland, Australia

The recent Test series between Sri Lanka and Australia has illustrated the important role of all-rounders in the game. Although Australia’s vice-captain Shane Watson failed with the bat, he took important wickets with his medium-pace. By contrast, Sri Lanka’s vice-captain, Angelo Mathews performed well with the bat, but was unfortunately unable to bowl due to injury. All-rounders (other than wicketkeepers) are expected to bowl.

So, who what are some of the indicators used to define an allrounder? A usual one is the figure of 1000 runs and 100 wickets. This, however, is a little vague as it includes a useful number No.8 (such as Shane Warne) whilst excluding the greatest leg-spinning batsman of all time, Aubrey Faulkner, who only represented South Africa 25 times in the early 20th century. Ideally, allrounders should take at least about one wicket per match. Australia’s Steve Waugh started his career bowling medium pace, but hardly bowled during the bulk of his career, thus not achieving this mark. Another Australian captain, Greg Chappell, finished with a similar record.

One who came very close was the great English batsman, Sir Walter Hammond. With 83 wickets in 85 matches and a glowing report on his wicket-taking ability from none other than his fellow knight, Sir Donald Bradman, Hammond should perhaps have bowled more often. Crucially, Hammond’s batting average is above his bowling average (over 20 runs above to be precise), which is another oft-used criterion for an allrounder status and one that his compatriot Andrew Flintoff couldn’t quite achieve for his entire career.

Sir Richard Hadlee is a prime example of one who could achieve such a feat. Although Hadlee was arguably not as good with the bat as Flintoff was to be later, New Zealand’s greatest player certainly never tired of taking wickets. Indeed, Hadlee took a tick over five wickets per Test.

The only allrounder to surpass this feat was South Africa’s Mike Procter, albeit in an official Test career of just seven matches. Few allrounders take more than three-and-a-half wickets per Test. Two who achieved this feat include Chris Cairns and Jack Gregory. Cairns’ father Lance was a fine swing bowler who often operated first change in the same New Zealand team as Hadlee. Lance swung the bat equally fiercely at No.8 or 9. However, his son, Chris, took his batting to a different level (averaging over 33) whilst remaining effective with the ball.

Like Chris Cairns, Jack Gregory’s abilities made him arguably the second-best non-keeping allrounder his country has ever produced. Long before the Waughs and the Chappells, the Gregory clan was synonymous with Australian cricket. Time, however, has seen Jack and his relations somewhat forgotten. After all, “Kangaroo Jack” Gregory played in the same team as the Chappell’s grandfather, Victor Richardson, who himself was something of an all-round sportsman and fielder if not a Test allrounder.

One whose fielding ability was never in question (nor his batting or bowling) was Sir Garfield Sobers. Many would rate Sobers as the greatest allrounder (indeed, the greatest cricketer) to ever play the game. With two-and-a-half-wickets per match and a batting average over twenty runs higher than his bowling average, it is easy to agree.

However, there is one other allrounder who deserves such lofty consideration – Imran Khan. Not only a great bowler and a fine batsman (achieving the double of 1000 runs and 100 wickets in just 30 matches), Imran’s captaincy record for Pakistan is also noteworthy. Needless to say, Sri Lanka have obviously earmarked Mathews as a future captain. Equally, they need him fit to bowl more, thus enabling greater flexibility in picking two specialist spinners. It is probably unlikely that Mathews will ever achieve the status of a great allrounder. Yet, for the sake of the team, he must aim for a Hammond-like one wicket per match.

Given the two criteria of a higher batting than bowling average combined with an emphasis on wickets per match, there have been many who rate a mention. A top thirty could be: Imran Khan, Garry Sobers, Aub Faulkner, Mike Procter, Shaun Pollock, Richard Hadlee, Keith Miller, Jacques Kallis, Jack Gregory, Ian Botham, Chris Cairns, Trevor Goddard, Alan Davidson, Tony Greig, Giff Vivian, Colin McCool, Allan Steel, Frank Foster, Kapil Dev, Monty Noble, Roy Kilner, Charles Kelleway, Brian McMillan, Bob Cowper, Frank Worrell, Shane Watson, Wally Hammond, Stanley Jackson, Ed Barlow and Warwick Armstrong.