Allrounders June 28, 2010

Four of a rare breed

West Indies didn't produce many top allrounders for a team that had plenty of undeniably great specialists. Still, the choice is not a difficult one

Who is an allrounder? The traditional definition says: a cricketer who can bat and bowl with equal, or almost equal, skill. He is the supporting batsman who usually bats behind the specialists, at No. 6, most times ahead of the wicketkeeper; and he is also the support for the specialist bowlers. Sometimes there are allrounders who as batsmen are as good or better than the specialists, or at least one or two of them, and sometimes there are allrounders who as bowlers are as good or better than one or two, and sometimes all, the specialists.

Over the years West Indies have been blessed with many outstanding and exciting batsmen, especially so those who bat in the middle of the order, and they have not been short of fast bowlers of quality - exceptional quality at that. Not so, however, with allrounders, and certainly not quality allrounders. The last real West Indian Test allrounder - the cricketer who can bat almost or as well as he can bowl, and who can bowl almost or as well as he can bat and with a high level of skill - to make his debut was Collie Smith, over 50 years ago.

The contenders

Learie Constantine
Constantine was a household name in the West Indies because of his skills on the cricket field. A stocky right-hander, he was exciting with the bat, with the ball as a fast bowler of electric pace, and also in the field, where he was quick and brilliant. As a batsman he hit the ball hard, with lovely drives on both sides of the wicket and mostly strokes to the leg side. His figures overall failed to match the excitement of his cricket and his value to the West Indies, though he capped his career brilliantly: in his last Test, against England at The Oval in 1939, he hit 79 in an hour and took five wickets for 75 runs in England's first innings.

Garry Sobers
Sobers was simply the original Mr Cricket. Starting as a slow left-arm orthodox spin bowler and developing into a left-arm swing bowler and a slow left-arm back-of-the-hand spin bowler, he became not only a great batsman but arguably the best batsman of his time and one of the best of all time. He was also a brilliant fielder anywhere but more so at short leg. Sobers stood tall and elegant at the crease, his drives, particularly off the back foot, and his hooks were strokes of beauty. In 1968, in a Test match at Sabina Park, after West Indies were forced to follow on, he scored a breathtaking 113 not out, and with Wes Hall and Charlie Griffith in the team, went out and bowled the first over: before it was over, England were 0 for 2 with Geoff Boycott gone, bowled for zero, and Colin Cowdrey gone, leg-before-wicket for zero.

Gerry Gomez
Gomez was a competent batsman and bowler and a brilliant fielder. He scored a century, 101, against India in Delhi in the 1948-49 series. His best series was against Australia in 1951-52, where he scored 324 runs at an average of 36 and took 18 wickets at 14.22. In the fifth and final Test match of that series he took 7 for 55 and 3 for 58 for a match haul of 10 for 113. In 29 Test matches Gomez scored 1243 runs with one century at an average of 30.31. He also took 58 wickets at an average of 27.41 and held 18 catches.

Collie Smith
Smith died too early, at age 26, when he, Sobers and Rohan Kanhai were the three most exciting prospects in West Indies cricket. As a batsman Smith was aggressive, played some delightful strokes, and feared no one, not even the fastest bowlers. He was a tight offspinner and a brilliant fielder. He scored 104 against Australia in his first Test match. In 26 Tests, Smith scored 1331 runs with four centuries at an average of 31.69. He also took 48 wickets at an average of 33.85 and held nine catches.

We'll be publishing an all-time West Indies XI based on readers' votes to go with our jury's XI. To pick your allrounder click here

Former sports editor of the Jamaica Gleaner and the Daily News, Tony Becca has covered West Indies cricket for 30 years