How many genuine allrounders does cricket have?
At the MCG, thinking about allrounders. Been surrounded by them all day. Young, fit, strong, fresh-faced, 12 foot tall. Most of them allrounders. Seems to be the way of the future.
I'm in Melbourne to speak on the topic of racial vilification to the rookie contracted players. It is an annual event, superbly organised by the Australian Cricketers' Association, with the sole purpose of equipping the next generation of Australian cricketers with the skills they will need to cut it in the world of professional cricket. You could have heard a pin drop when Ricky Ponting was holding court. But even he wasn't an "allrounder" like this next generation.
So we get talking about why the system is producing so many allrounders. And then the topic comes round to defining a true allrounder in the classical sense - someone who can be picked for either of his skills, independent of the other. Looking through cricket's history, putting romance and legend aside, who might genuinely fall into this category in Test cricket?
My memory and cricket history do not extend much beyond the Garfield Sobers era. So I begin my philosophical search there. Let's take the great knight Sir Garry then. Was he a good enough bowler to have been picked as a pure bowler if he had been a genuine bunny with the bat? I'll go out on a limb and say no.
Jacques Kallis - another no (with regards to his bowling). Ian Botham, a few heroic innings aside, would probably have struggled to make the team on his batting alone. Richard Hadlee and Kapil Dev were probably not good enough with the bat, while there were times in Imran Khan's career when he might have been the second-best batsman to Javed Miandad. Overall, was his batting good enough for him to be picked in the top five?
The closest I come to in the modern era is probably Adam Gilchrist. His Test average of almost 50 with the bat, coupled with his keeping might be enough to give him the nod. Wonderful batsman though he was at No. 7, behind a powerful batting order that invariably softened up the bowling for him, given the other batsmen languishing in Sheffield Shield cricket at various times in Gilchrist's career (Martin Love, Stuart Law, Jamie Siddons, Jamie Cox, Darren Lehmann, Damien Martyn, Brad Hodge), if Gilchrist was not a keeper, would he have been selected to bat in the first five? If he wasn't so good with the bat, could you not have argued that Wade Seccombe was the better gloveman? Was it the speed at which Gilchrist could score, not just the volume of runs he produced, that contributed to his legend?
Sarfraz Ahmed at the moment is definitely an allrounder, but that may be a comment on Pakistan's current batting woes. The way Pakistan are playing, he is clearly worthy of a spot as a pure batsman, and from what we've seen of Kamran Akmal, Sarfraz's keeping must surely be better. Angelo Mathews just doesn't bowl enough to warrant being selected on that score, but his recent batting form is unbelievable. MS Dhoni's keeping has dropped to the point where he is surely no longer the best in that position in India. Despite his improved batting of late, it would be hard to argue that he is one of the best pure batsmen in the whole country (in Tests).
Shane Watson warrants a mention but that thought is all too soon dismissed. In an injury sense, he is a true allrounder, having pulled just about every muscle in his finely chiselled body. Brendan Taylor is one of Zimbabwe's best batsmen; is there another keeper who is better than him?
I throw in the name of Vinoo Mankad, but these young rookies give me a blank look. He's not on Playstation, is he? I am not sure if Mankad's overall record stacks up but it was worth a mention, if nothing else but to show off my vintage. There's a statue of Keith Miller outside our window at the MCG, demanding not to be forgotten. He is a bit Bothamesque to me (or Botham was a bit Milleresque), capable of match-winning innings. But good enough to bat in the top order and not bowl at all? Andrew Flintoff? His bowling was certainly good enough but was he one of the best six batsmen in the country, despite having the potential to change a game? Batsmen are rarely picked on the basis of their potentially playing an occasional match-winning innings. AB de Villiers likewise - the best keeper in South Africa? Probably not.
Kumar Sangakkara is an interesting case study. There must have been times in his career when he was probably the best keeper in the country. If he batted like Chris Martin, would they have still picked him to keep to Muttiah Muralitharan?
I quiz the young rookies more on this topic. How come so many allrounders these days? Are any of you guys genuinely capable of giving one aspect of your game away and still being confident of getting a rookie contract? Modestly, they demur to answer. In short-form cricket perhaps they might be a chance but in the longer version of the game, are any of these guys the real deal?
Who have I missed? I await your responses with keen anticipation.
Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane