One of the more enduring definitions in cricket is that of an allrounder as someone who would win a place in the team for either his batting or his bowling alone. That's also a largely useless description; perhaps only half a dozen players have ever genuinely been that good at both disciplines at Test level. A more relevant and inclusive classification is that an allrounder is somebody capable of winning a game through his batting or bowling. That's roughly the criterion used by Kersi Meher-Homji, the Australian cricket writer, in his latest book, Cricket's Great All-rounders.
Meher-Homji, the nephew of the one-time India Test wicketkeeper Khershed Meherhomji, has written 11 cricket books and he typically chooses slightly offbeat subjects. His previous topics have included great cricketing families, batsmen getting out in the 90s, and players who have reached 100 Tests.
His latest work collates short profiles of some of the finest allrounders the game has seen, as well as a few - like Michael Bevan - who have been very generously included. Commendably the book extends the traditional definition even further and includes chapters on wicketkeeper-batsmen and those useful types who have excelled in the one-day arena.
It ranges from the earliest Test players - the likes of George Giffen and Monty Noble - to more recent stars such as Shaun Pollock and Andrew Flintoff. A heavy reliance on statistics leaves some of the more modern profiles a little too dry; the interesting facts and anecdotes are more likely to surround the past champions. To squeeze in 52 players, the entries are necessarily short. A research microbiologist by profession, Meher-Homji knows his limitations as a writer, so he sensibly includes illuminating extracts from more widely-known pundits.
Meher-Homji is an ardent admirer of Wally Hammond, though he never saw him bat. But from contemporary accounts he pieces together an identikit of how Hammond might have played, combining the grace of David Gower, the power of Viv Richards, the on-drive of Greg Chappell, the outswing of Alec Bedser and the sticky fingers of Mark Taylor.
Personal brushes with Garry Sobers add a human touch. But for a book on allrounders - and Meher-Homji picks Sobers as the best of them all - it is disappointing that the Sobers profile offers next to no description or analysis of his uniquely varied bowling talent. He was so much more than a batsman, but you wouldn't know it from the six pages on him here.
There are a few fun descriptions but they're not all new. The assessment of Kapil Dev features identical wording - "Bowling was his wife, his life, his 10 to 6 job, his bread and butter. Batting was his mistress, his indulgence." - as in another Meher-Homji book, Heroes of 100 Tests. And an observation that Daniel Vettori's harmless deliveries sometimes become unplayable hand-grenades is an uncredited lift from Vettori's Cricinfo profile.
It's also a shame that for a book with such an emphasis on figures it is not always reliable in this regard. It claims that Jeff Dujon's Test record of 272 dismissals was later eclipsed by Rod Marsh. Marsh retired seven years before Dujon, who never held the Test wicketkeeping record.
Cricket's Great All-Rounders is agreeably presented, with interesting action photographs and bite-sized profiles that will help cricket viewers pass the time during meandering periods of on-field action this summer. It's a diverting and well-meaning collation of information and statistics that many cricket fans will be familiar with already. The disappointment is that it doesn't really tell us anything new.
Cricket's Great All-Rounders
by Kersi Meher-Homji
New Holland Publishers A$45
Brydon Coverdale is a staff writer at Cricinfo