Different era, same brilliance
Although Twenty20 is in its infancy, there is little doubt that the format would have suited some of the great players of yesteryear. Here is our best XI from the past, not a balanced team but XI of the best. Who would be in your all-time XI? Let us know.
Bradman's record as a run machine is well documented, but while he scored quickly and efficiently, he was no big hitter. He hit six sixes in Tests, and only one of those came before he had made a hundred. His simple logic was that if you don't hit the ball in the air, you don't get out. He could thump it when he needed to and, in 1931, responded to suggestions he could not play Chuck Fleetwood-Smith with a calculated onslaught. It is inconceivable that someone who dominated the game to such an extent would not be able to adapt to the challenges of Twenty20.
Perhaps bowlers would prefer facing Richards in the Twenty20 format because the frenetic pace of the game offers less time between deliveries for the contemplation of either long-term therapy or a change in career. Richards' strokeplay was characterised by power, flair and innovativeness - in other words, perfect for Twenty20. These qualities were best exemplified by his walk-across-the-stumps hoick to deposit a Mike Hendrick full toss on the off stump beyond the square-leg boundary in the '79 World Cup. In the event of a batting failure he could change a game with his fielding - as in the '75 World Cup final - or his tidy offspin.
It is hard to imagine any post-war player better suited to the format than the multi-dimensional Sobers. As a belligerent batsman alone he would be worth his place - he was the first player to smash six sixes in an over - but throw into the equation his brilliance as a close fielder and his ability to bowl both slow and fast as well as almost anyone and he'd be a shoo-in for an all-time XI in Test, one-day and Twenty20 cricket.
Indian cricket folklore is littered with instances of Kapil's whirlwind hitting rescuing the side. He possesses an eye-popping ODI strike-rate of 95 that puts even latter-day biffers like Sanath Jayasuriya in the shade, and remains India's leading six-hitter in Tests. His natural athleticism kept him in good stead in the field - most memorably when he plucked a running catch to dismiss the marauding Richards in the '83 World Cup final. And, of course, there's the small matter of his retiring as the highest wicket-taker in both Tests and ODIs.
What made Compton stand out from the crowd was his ability to improvise - often to such a degree that he would toy with fielders, deliberately hitting into an area from where a fielder had just been moved, and sweeping and cutting balls that lesser men would not even think about attacking. All this he did with panache, and he scored quickly as well. In 1948-49 he smashed the fastest triple-hundred of all time, in three hours. He was also a surprisingly effective chinaman bowler, a bonus in a format where slow men are among the most effective.
There wasn't much the charismatic Botham couldn't do on the field - score a Test double-century, take 13 wickets and hit a century in the same game, single-handedly turn a match on its head as he did at Headingley in 1981, slam 32 runs in an over in a first-class game. Botham's power-hitting packed stadiums and by the time he retired he possessed, among others, the records for the fastest fifty and double-century in Tests, and for the most number of sixes hit in an English summer. What makes him an even more perfect fit for Twenty20 is his exceptional fielding: he was something of a legend at second slip and his powerful arm made many batsmen waver when thinking of taking a second run.
Like his old sparring partner Compton, Miller was a playboy of the post-war period. With film-star looks and a happy-go-lucky attitude, the World War Two fighter pilot's approach was summed up by his famous quote: "Pressure is a Messerschmitt up your arse. Playing cricket is not." Initially a batsman, in 1945 Miller clubbed 185 at Lord's in a innings that left spectators amazed, and included seven sixes deep into the stands. As a bowler he was among the fastest and most deadly. "A pitch-perfect ball, snaking off the seam, might easily be followed by a leg-break or googly or a round-arm offcutter," Wisden noted. "His run-up comprised nine easy paces - ostensibly. As likely as not, he would come off a few yards and let loose a snorting bouncer that sucked the crowd breathless." Perfect.
Arguably the game's best left-arm fast bowler, Akram's trademark was his ability to move the ball prodigiously in both directions. Despite four international hat-tricks and once having taken four wickets in five balls, his two magic deliveries in the '92 World Cup final are probably his most famous. Those two balls illustrate some of his versatility - the first swung in and held its line after pitching to hit the stumps, beating Allan Lamb's outside edge; the second jagged viciously in off the pitch to bowl Chris Lewis, going past his inside edge. Akram's batting averages weren't spectacular and he wasn't the greatest runner between the wickets but his record of clouting sixes is comparable to Ricky Ponting's in both Tests and ODIs.
Statistics don't do justice to Constantine, whose appearances were limited by his time spent playing the far more lucrative league cricket. He too scored at around 80 runs an hour, was never restricted by adherence to the coaching manual, and believed that attack was the way to bat. At Lord's in 1933, on being bowled a deliberate beamer by a fast bowler tired of being hit, Constantine swivelled and smashed the head-high ball over the wicketkeeper for six. He was a genuine fast bowler as well, accurate enough to have bowled Bodyline at Douglas Jardine, and his fielding verged on the breathtaking in an era when few bothered to make more than a cursory effort.
For a man with Lara's massive appetite for runs, needing to play only 20 overs would be a mere aperitif. Then again, this is a man who once scored 174 runs in a single session of a first-class match. Twenty overs would be more than sufficient to unveil the dazzling array of strokes, all starting with that thrilling back-lift, to leave the opposition facing an unreachable target.
A century on, it is hard to gauge how effective some of the old-timers might have been. But Jessop appears to have been a man ahead of his time, one who would have excelled in limited-overs cricket. His strike-rate was close to 80 runs an hour - at a time when his peers averaged between 40 and 50 - and he hit the ball high and hard. The public loved him. HS Altham wrote: "No cricketer that has ever lived hit the ball so often, so fast and with such a bewildering variety of strokes". Jessop was also considered to be the best cover fielder the game had seen until that time.