May 13, 2009

The case for a more inclusive Hall of Fame

Why the ICC's initiative to honour just 55 of the many greats who have played cricket is flawed

At Lord's last week it was the turn of Sir Alec Bedser and Rohan Kanhai to be officially inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame. Both, quite properly, were chuffed to bits. Given the countless thousands of men who have made a living out of flannelled tomfoolery, and those who have batted and bowled strictly for fun, status and "expenses", to be enshrined as one of the leading 55 of all time is not on any account to be sniffed at. One day, indeed, given the right amount and brand of promotion, membership of this particular club will surely be regarded as the game's ultimate accolade. Nevertheless questions and quibbles abound.

Let's start with that initial number of inductees. Fifty-five? What a curious figure. What, pray, does it purport to represent? Five XIs' worth? One sincerely doubts that. More likely it was a case of deciding which players, drawn from those whose careers had been completed in the 19th and 20th centuries, simply demanded inclusion, though it remains devilishly hard to resist the suspicion that the cut-off point was purely arbitrary. How else to explain the more glaring omissions (of which more anon)?

Geographical considerations cannot have entered the ruminations. If they had, there could scarcely have been twice as many Poms (22) as Cobbers (11), much less two South Africans (Graeme Pollock and Barry Richards) and a solitary, lonely New Zealander (Sir Richard Hadlee). As a reflection of historical national supremacy, the fact that there were more Caribbean representatives (13, no fewer than six of them Bajans) than Australians also beggared belief.

Nor, it seems, was there any attempt to reflect the growing influence of the Indian subcontinent - only three Indians (Bishan Bedi, Sunil Gavaskar and Kapil Dev) and three Pakistanis (Imran Khan, Javed Miandad and Hanif Mohammad) made the list. Nor, apparently, was there any attempt to treat the disciplines equally. There were almost twice as many batsmen as bowlers, and the only wicketkeepers included were Alan Knott and Rod Marsh, thus ruling out a century of stump-minders. All that said, strictly on the basis of statistical achievement, the number of blatant exclusions was far from large.

On the basis, therefore, that insufficient recognition has been accorded those who graced the game before the Second World War, and that 75 would be a far more appropriate, digestible and memorable number than 55, your correspondent hereby nominates the following 20 additions for the ICC's perusal:

Ken Barrington (England), Bhagwat Chandrasekhar (India), Learie Constantine (West Indies), Basil D'Oliveira (England), Godfrey Evans (England), George Giffen (Australia), Clarrie Grimmett (Australia), Desmond Haynes (West Indies), George Lohmann (England), Bert Oldfield (Australia), Bill Ponsford (Australia), Mike Procter (South Africa), Abdul Qadir (Pakistan), Sonny Ramadhin (West Indies), Bert Sutcliffe (New Zealand), Herbert Sutcliffe (England), Hugh Trumble (Australia), Victor Trumper (Australia), Alf Valentine (West Indies), Zaheer Abbas (Pakistan).

Now for the justifications. As 50% of the most renowned opening partnerships in history, Haynes and Herbert Sutcliffe should be indivisible from Greenidge and Hobbs - and besides, Sutcliffe (60.73) averages more than any other Englishman in Tests In his 42 five-dayers, Bert Sutcliffe accounted for more than one-sixth (16.87%) of New Zealand's runs. Equally skilled standing up or back, Evans and Oldfield double our paltry share of stumpers. Among those whose completed careers have spanned 25-plus Tests, nobody since Bradman has averaged more than Barrington's 58.67. Chandrasekhar had a far superior strike-rate to Bedi's (65.9 to 80.3) and did more than any bowler to give India credibility at Test level. Constantine was the Sobers of his day, and did even more for black pride than George Headley (witness his successful 1944 suit against London's Imperial Hotel for failing to admit him and his family).

Fifty-five? What a curious figure. What, pray, does it purport to represent? Five XIs' worth? One sincerely doubts that. More likely it was a case of deciding which players, drawn from those whose careers had been completed in the 19th and 20th centuries, simply demanded inclusion, though it remains devilishly hard to resist the suspicion that the cut-off point was purely arbitrary

Giffen remains the only man to couple a double-century with 16 wickets in a match as well as the only one to score 10,000 runs and take 1000 wickets in Australian first-class cricket. Grimmett invented the flipper and was every bit as irresistible in his day as Shane Warne was in his. Lohmann's Test average (10.74) and strike-rate (34.1 balls per wicket) remain unsurpassed among those with 50-plus wickets. Only Bradman compiled more first-class runs at a higher average than Ponsford (65.18). But for the inequities of apartheid and the way it foreshortened his international career, there is every chance that Procter, who averaged twice as much with the bat in first-class play as he did with the ball (36.01 to 19.53), and bowled spin as well as pace, would have outdone the Great Garfield for all-round untouchability. Qadir singlehandedly revived the art of wrist-spin, reinvigorated the game and inspired innumerable acolytes. Ramadhin and Valentine were as intrinsic to, and synonymous with, the rise of the Caribbean as Greenidge and Haynes. Trumble's 141 Ashes wickets remained a record for almost a century. Had he played on the flat inter-war tracks instead of the evil Edwardian ones, Trumper might have given Bradman a run for his money. Zaheer hit a century in each innings an unparalleled eight times, and remains the only subcontinental batsman to rack up 100 first-class hundreds. As for D'Oliveira, in doing his bit to help bring down apartheid, however unwittingly, this endlessly resilient and determined man is arguably the single most influential cricketer of them all; his 158 against Australia at The Oval in 1968 was certainly the most significant of all Test innings.

IN TERMS OF THE FUTURE, the infrequently wise men of the ICC could do a great deal worse than follow the lead of their baseball counterparts. Opened in 1939 in Cooperstown in upstate New York, the Baseball Hall of Fame entrusts the Baseball Writers Association of America (i.e. the hacks) to perm two from a longish annual list of candidates, all of whom must have played at least 10 seasons in the major leagues and been retired for at least five years. Were it introduced this year, the initial ICC shortlist, based on the baseball criteria, would be illustrious indeed: Courtney Walsh, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram, Mark and Steve Waugh - and that's just the Ws. Throw in Curtly Ambrose, Aravinda de Silva, Allan Donald and Arjuna Ranatunga, and the selection process could test Solomon.

The Cooperstown Veterans Committee, meanwhile, is given special dispensation to catch those who have fallen through the cracks, offering a second chance to those whose careers concluded up to 21 seasons ago, along with managers, umpires and executives. Inductees are honoured amid much pomp and circumstance at a ceremony that attracts fans from all over the country; the sense of occasion, for all the platitudes parroted and tears ritually blubbed, is considerable. Less, in this case, is appreciably more.

Another leaf worth taking out of the Cooperstown book would be the non-consideration of the game's more infamous figures, regardless of how impressive their accomplishments might be. "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, one of the most prolific hitters in the history of the diamond, has always been overlooked because he was one of the eight Chicago White Sox players who conspired to throw the 1919 World Series. Likewise Pete Rose, who amassed more hits than anyone in baseball annals but was found guilty of betting on games in which his team was participating.

One would like to think, therefore, that both Lord Frederick Beauclerk, in many eyes the greatest pre-Victorian batsman as well as cricket's first notable match-fixer, and Hansie Cronje, his best-known disciple, would be given similarly short shrift. Needless to add, nominations for any current or recent administrator should also be considerably less than zero.

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Yasar on May 15, 2009, 19:43 GMT

    Surely the writer is exaggerating the claims of Mark Waugh to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Your entire conduct as a cricketer and how you promoted the game should also be taken into consideration not just your stats.

  • Aditya on May 15, 2009, 2:59 GMT

    It is unfair, perhaps, only to felicitate fifty five cricket players, as among the greatest to have played the game. Mr Desmond Haynes should be paired with Mr Greenidge, if Mr Greenidge is in the list. The West Indies have produced so many great players, that it would be unfair to exclude any great player from the list. The same goes for India, Pakistan, and all the other cricket playing nations. The numbers should be unimportant, in determining the greatest players to have played cricket.

  • Naveed on May 14, 2009, 19:33 GMT

    Cannot agree more with the need for a more inclusive hall of fame!

    The fact that so many great players are not on the list diminishes it's value in my eyes. Other contributors have rightly pointed out the glaring omissions of players like Qadir, Akram, DeSilva, Haynes to name but a few.

    Just because countries are able to disproportionately produce great players it doesn't necessitate fudging the inductees, or creating superfluous comparisons to state reasons for inclusion or exclusion.

    Quite simply put Ambrose, Walsh and Marshall were all great bowlers. They should all be "in."

    Some "fuddy/duddy" creator/s of the list should have been big enough and smart enough to include them all.

    I could go on with others but will leave it at "greatness should not be constrained by some ridiculous notions of how many of what you can include in a list of people."

    I would love to see the selection criteria for the original list.

  • Bennett on May 14, 2009, 14:16 GMT

    With due respect, I disagree with Mr. Steen

    The HoF should NOT be flooded with cricketers; that will dilute and remove the gloss of a position that should be held in the very highest echelons of the game.

    There are some good cricketers, some excellent ones and then there are the greats. The greats get in indisputably. The excellent ones should be carefully considered. Those who contributed to the game should also be carefully considered. Those who were merely good should not get in, sorry.

  • MJ on May 13, 2009, 20:00 GMT

    One point of clarification on the Baseball Hall of Fame.

    The writers are not obligated to elect two (or any particular number) of candidates in any given year. Instead, each writer may list up to ten names on his or her ballot (though they are not obligated to list ten, and many do not). Only those candidates getting votes from 75% of the electorate are "enshrined". In some years, more than two players make it; in others none meet the standard. Players appearing for the first time (having met the minimum eligibility criteria) must get votes from at least 5% of the electorate to remain on the ballot for the next year, and can only remain on the ballot for a total of 15 years.

    It's worth noting that the first "class" for the Baseball Hall of Fame (which was of course elected by different rules) contained only five members, who can be loosely analogised to Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Century.

  • Jon on May 13, 2009, 18:56 GMT

    The other glaring omission from the initîal list and your update is Les Ames. The only wicket keeper to make 102 first class centuries, with a test average over 40 - and from the inter-war period, when an average of 40 still meant something.

  • Prateek on May 13, 2009, 16:11 GMT

    Dear Rob, Here is why 55 players were selected for yours and readers' benefit. Hall of Fame was launched by FICA in 1999. Initial list included 50 players, which is not an odd looking number like 55, agree? Plan was to add 5 players each year. In 2000 FICA announced 5 more players (Ian Chappell, Graham Gooch, Wilfred Rhodes, Andy Roberts, Frank Woolley). You can now easily figure yourself who were the initial 50 players. Somehow after 2000 process stopped and now ICC has taken over from where it was left. I am sure no number will satisfy everyone and back in 1999 I thought 50 was a good start. Let's see how ICC/FICA goes about it from now on. Hopefully it will become a well recognized and exclusive club to which every cricketer would be aspire to become part of one day. ~ Prateek

  • Rob on May 13, 2009, 16:06 GMT

    Many baseball fans feel that the Baseball Hall of Fame inducts too many players (there are currently well over 200 players in the hall), thereby diminishing the status of enshrinement. There are certainly some prominent names missing from the ICC's list, but the number of inductees is only going to grow in the coming years. In the future, it will be much easier to honor someone who has been unjustly denied than to remove a player who has been undeservingly included.

  • philip on May 13, 2009, 13:04 GMT

    Please add Peter Kirsten, Garth Le Roux, Clive Rice, Peter Pollock, Eddie Barlow - All were much greater cricketers than Boycott Gooch and Botham.

  • Kupps on May 13, 2009, 12:48 GMT

    Does the ICC do anything right lately? So this is in line with the expectations. Prior to declaring a list of names, I would list out the criteria for inducting members into the hall of fame. So the basis for selection is clear.

    What about Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Joel Garner, Desmond Haynes (Is Gooch better than Haynes?), Martin Crowe, Aravinda De Silva, Arjuna Ranatunga, Zaheer Abbas, Wasim Akram, and Waqar Younus ?

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