September 4, 2007

Flawed yet fascinating

Shane Warne's list of the top 50 cricketers of his time is everything a list ought to be: provocative, surprising, talked-about, and, in places, plain wrong

Of Steve Waugh's 32 Test centuries, 25 led to victories, yet Shane Warne called him a match-saver, not a match-winner © Getty Images
Cricket generates a lot of lists. So do the modern media. There are now so many lists coming at you that even a list-lover may be left feeling a little listless. But Shane Warne's list of the top 50 cricketers of his time, published last week in The Times, bucked the trend. It was everything a list ought to be: provocative, surprising, talked-about, and, in places, plain wrong.

Most players who have columns are about as good at writing as journalists are at batting and bowling, but Warne is one of the exceptions. He always has opinions and where others might soften them to spare their fellow pros' feelings, he is more than happy to give offence. He takes the same approach with his top 50. He throws himself into it, grasping that, just like any other game, it wouldn't be fun if you didn't take it seriously.

The Warne we know and love, or hate, or both, is on full view here. He cheats, in a minor way: three times he places two players level, and he forgets that if you have two people at 27th, you can't then have one at 28th. In fact, he has two more at 28th, and another two for good measure at 29th, so his top 30 is a top 33.

He also settles a few scores. He places Mark Waugh 12th and Steve 26th. You can certainly argue that Mark was the more gifted twin, the greater stylist, the better catcher, the more useful one-day player. But better player full stop? No way. Steve put a much higher price on his wicket. And he was also a great captain, a quality which Warne cannot see, even though he values it in both Steve's predecessors, Mark Taylor (9th) and Allan Border (4th).

Warne's rationale is that, as a batsman, Steve was "a match-saver rather than a match-winner", and, as a captain, he was "handed" a "wonderful team" by Taylor. The match-saving idea is baffling. Of Waugh's 32 Test centuries, 25 led to victory, and only two to draws. The captaincy line isn't much more accurate. He did inherit a great team, but he took it to another level - and he did it by virtually eliminating the draw, so to accuse him of being a match-saver is doubly unfair.

Warne fails to convince anyone that Steve Waugh was as ordinary as he makes out (below Darren Lehmann and Brett Lee? Come off it). But he tells us a few other things: that one of the greatest teams ever had a rift running through it, with Warne on one side and Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist (20th on Warne's list, when he would make many people's All-time World XI) on the other. Perhaps he is also saying that he is still sore about being passed over for the captaincy in favour of Steve Waugh, and later for the vice-captaincy in favour of Gilchrist. Which makes their achievement all the greater. These men played a lot of Tests together. Gilchrist took more stumpings off Warne than Ian Healy (10th) did - and more catches. Just think how good they would have been if they'd all been close mates.

Warne is not unkind to the English, but he can't find room for Graham Thorpe, a better Ashes cricketer than Atherton or Stewart, or for Darren Gough, who took 74 Ashes wickets at 30
Here are the rest of Warne's top ten anomalies:
  • Does Warne have too much respect for batsmen? His top two are Tendulkar and Brian Lara. Yet Glenn McGrath, who is 4th, has won more matches than either.
  • Merv Hughes is 18th, about 50 places too high. Hughes was a totem and a trouper, but also a bit of a trundler.
  • Wasim Akram is 6th, Waqar Younis 45th. Akram was the better bowler in their dotage, but in the early 90s, Waqar was dynamite. You might put him 10 to 15 places behind Wasim (who could also bat), but not 40.
  • Brett Lee is 24th, above both Shaun Pollock (27th) and Allan Donald (33rd). Lee is great when the force is with him, but for consistency, economy and sheer class, Pollock and Donald are way ahead.
  • Warne acknowledges three of the best batsmen-keepers, Gilchrist (20th on his list, Test average 48), Andy Flower (36th, average as a keeper 53) and Alec Stewart (44th, average as a keeper 34). But two others are nowhere to be seen. With Mahendra Singh Dhoni, it's probably because he hasn't played many Tests yet (20, average 36). With Kumar Sangakkara (48 Tests as keeper, average 42), there is no such get-out. Has Warne forgotten him, or is he not a fan of his educated style?
  • Warne includes 20 Aussies, which sounds a lot. But he finds no room for the silky skills of Damien Martyn, or, more criminally, for two one-day finishers - Michael Bevan (the best ever) and Mike Hussey (also very good, and a Test match-winner too). Nor is there any sign of Dean Jones, who, along with Javed Miandad, practically invented one-day middle-overs batting. The places given to Tim May, Darren Berry and Jamie Siddons should have gone to these three.
  • Warne is not unkind to the English, finding room for eight of his Ashes opponents. But not too many England fans would recognise them as the eight best players of the last 15 years. Graham Gooch is top of the Poms at 15th, followed by Andrew Flintoff (16th), Kevin Pietersen (30th), Robin Smith (32nd), Michael Vaughan (35th), Steve Harmison (37th), Mike Atherton (43rd) and Alec Stewart (44th). Warne shows respect to all the England captains he faced, except one of the best, Nasser Hussain. He also favours Anglo-South Africans - although South Africans who stay in South Africa go down less well (no Jonty Rhodes, Makhaya Ntini, or Herschelle Gibbs; perhaps their mistake was not to join Hampshire). Most strikingly, he can't find room for Graham Thorpe, a better Ashes cricketer than Atherton or Stewart, or for Darren Gough, who took 74 Ashes wickets at 30 - a record Harmison would love to have.

  • VVS Laxman's 281was probably the best innings by an Indian, but it wasn't enough to win him a place in Warne's list © Getty Images
  • Warne has always been decisive, and with the West Indians he has faced, he decides that they are either geniuses (Lara 2nd, Ambrose 3rd, Walsh 11th) or non-entities - no other player gets a look-in. To some extent this reflects West Indies' fortunes, but Ian Bishop, Richie Richardson and Shiv Chanderpaul all deserve better.
  • Warne is funny about Indians. He lionises Sachin Tendulkar (1st) and pays his respects to Anil Kumble (13th) and Rahul Dravid (14th). But then he forgets about India for some time, and when he does remember, it's all ancient history - Kapil Dev (40th), Ravi Shastri (42nd) and Dilip Vengsarkar (46th). If Shastri is there for the double-hundred he made against the young Warne, that is surely outshone by VVS Laxman's 281, probably the best innings ever by an Indian. And Harbhajan Singh may feel like consulting his lawyers: he has 56 wickets at 24 against Australia, a far better record than Warne has against India. In the end, this exercise, like Warne's whole career, is all about Warne himself. As a piece of selection, it's surprisingly flawed. As a self-portrait, it's fascinating.
  • Do you agree with Warne's list of cricket greats? Tell us here

    Tim de Lisle is a former editor of Wisden. His book Young Wisden: A New Fan's Guide to Cricket is published next month by A&C Black. His website is

    Comments have now been closed for this article

    • imran on September 6, 2007, 14:46 GMT

      People, people.........have u lot forgotten inzamam???? Its fair enough, Shane Warne may have forgotten him, but i was expecting some of the posts to mention his name?? Surely he's a top 10 player...but he didn't even feature in the top 50??

    • Chandrasekharan on September 5, 2007, 19:05 GMT

      I think everyone is entitled to his or her opinion - and all human opinions are flawed. So why sit on judgement on Shane Warne - those are his views on his contemporaries - so be it. Just take it or leave it.

    • ankit on September 5, 2007, 15:13 GMT

      one must wonder, did warne do this to get back into the public eye *sigh.* i would have liked to see a fairer assessment. there are some clear examples of oversight in the list. i would have liked to see less aussies, especially those such as leahman and stuart macgill, who surely cannot be considered as being more influential than kumara sangakarra or laxman, or even nassir. vivian richards was explosive in his day to leave him out, is near enough to excludign bradman from the face and pride of cricket. there is going to be a lot of .. "oh what about so and so." but its needed when such lists, riddled with flaws is done to get the attention of the public. also, there are some clear "anamolies" in the article by Tim de Lisle. his suggestion of warne "lionising" him seems to have negative connotations of the man. peeked at the record books recently Tim ?

    • Ajith on September 5, 2007, 10:31 GMT

      Warne has a right to his opinion...stats will always reveal a lot many things, but they will always be in retrospect.

    • S RAZA on September 5, 2007, 9:21 GMT

      Dear Readers! Why so much of hue and cry about Shane Warne's list of 50/53 players of his era. Every cricketer has the right to publish his own favourite. This is evident that he is trying to ruffle the feathers of certain players. I am watching the game for last 40 years and read no. of autobiographies telling about the game and the players. If you walk in a library, in the sports section you will find maximum no. of books on cricket after chess, telling you who was the best bowler or the best batsman. All these books are written by ex-cricketers or people attached to the game and everyone had difference of opinion. I know one ex-cricketer who used to say Jack Hobs was the greatest batsman and not Bradman because Hobs use to throw away his wicket after completing his century while Bradman use to take fresh guard after completing his century as if he is starting a fresh innings. So there is nothing to worry about, it is his view and everybody has the right to publish his views. RAZA

    • Ratheesh on September 5, 2007, 7:43 GMT

      Mr: Warne's list is to an extent sounds good. His listing of Sachin in the top is an extaordinary work, whcih I am admitting Warne's potentiality. On the other hand, he could be included some revered personalities in cricket history like Bradman, Sobers, Vivian Richards, adding to the same some modern players like Jaywardane, Bevan, Kallis to the listed plate.

      Any way hats off for his frankess. Last but no,least, in my opy his name will also definitely grab a post in any top listing.



    • Subhajit on September 5, 2007, 6:23 GMT

      No doubt the list is full of flaws, but I am happy Sachin is on the top, being an Indian. The article by Tim is excellent. A few comments suggest Tim's criticism is unfair merely because of the reason that it was Warne's personal view.The guys must be hard core Warne supporter. While he's getting as much attention as he could get from his list he's entitled to criticism as well specially when a kid will tell you it's biased. How many matches he has played against Dileep Vengsharkar or even Ravi Shastry? And he thought VVS is not good enough, leave alone his comment about Steve or Gilchrist. I always believed Warne was definitely an over-rated player in spite of his cricketing abilities. Against India or even Srilanka, the best spin playing nations,he has merely a good record, and Aussies and british Media controlling the Cricket fraternity, and the subcontinent merely following their league, he's got more than what he deserved. But that's a different topic. I am here to appreciate Tim

    • Vakheesan on September 5, 2007, 4:26 GMT

      Sachin No.1, come on Warney, just becos someone torments you, dosen't mean he's No.1. Yes, Sachin is a great player, the records & stats show that, but if you ask me, the likes of Ponting, Steve Waugh from down under, Sanath & now Mahela from Sri Lanka have much much better records when it comes team winning & they achieving individual milestones. Sachin does not have it in him to single handedly take India to victory when things look glum???? atleast in ODIs

    • Aditya on September 5, 2007, 0:16 GMT

      agreed, everyone needs to get over it - its not meant to be an objective assessment of the 50 greatest cricketers of all time, its the 50 greatest that be played with or against and i dont even think it means "greatest" purely in terms of statistics either, otherwise he would never have put Jamie Siddons in there without the many other international batsmen that he wouldve seen, and it is clear one of the reasons he respects Tendulkar so much is because of the immense pressure he is under rather than purely his stats.

      I dont think anybody can really criticse his opinions regarding Australian players either because he has such a great knowledge of their personalities and talents off the field - would you say in your workplace that the bosses are necessarily more talented than anyone else, or that in school the person who got the highest mark was the most intelligent person? No you wouldnt, and he is doing the same thing here.

    • Warren on September 4, 2007, 22:53 GMT

      This is Shane Warne's list and, out of all the commentators who have had their say, Warne is the only one to have played cricket with and against everyone on the list. Therefore he has by far the greater credibility. As a great man once said "opinions are like backsides...everyone has one"!!

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