Ramachandra Guha's Gentlemen XI October 23, 2010

Nice guys finish first

Cricketers who'd break your spirit and shake your hand

The Australians have dominated world cricket over the past two decades. It is sometimes argued that this is because they have not just the best cricketers but also the nastiest.

The XI chosen below demonstrates that decency and cricketing genius can often co-exist. In any epoch, players like Victor Trumper and Anil Kumble would have stood out for their gentlemanliness; whereas those like Adam Gilchrist stand out because of the contrast between them and their colleagues.

From ESPNcricinfo's all-time country XIs, I have chosen a Nice-Guys-Finish-First XI, which, in batting order, shall read:

1. Jack Hobbs
Although in theory, a "professional", Hobbs upheld the Victorian code of fairplay far more honourably than the "gentlemen" cricketers of his day. And yet the finest opening batsman of his time, perhaps of all time.

2. Victor Trumper
A brilliant attacking opener and a man of great nobility of character, admired by his team-mates and even more by his opponents, his goodness immortalised in the writings of Cardus and Fingleton.

3. George Headley
In my view the greatest West Indian batsman of all time, greater than Richards or Lara and indubitably a more impressive human being, who braved colonialism and racial discrimination and came out of it all with his head high.

4. Vijay Hazare
A man of upright character, a quiet, steady, understated captain of India's first Test-winning side, and himself a superb batsman, conqueror of (among other bowlers) Keith Miller and Ray Lindwall.

5. Garry Sobers
The greatest cricketer of all time. A man of charm and whimsy, a delight to watch, talk to, play golf with and drink with, who set records despite never caring for them.

6. Keith Miller
A superb all-round cricketer, and like Trumper, a man respected and loved by his opponents - his best friend in cricket, unusually for an Australian, was a similarly guileless Englishman, Denis Compton.

7. Adam Gilchrist
A man apart from his crass, crude, boorish and bullying team-mates, and yet as much a world-beater as any of them.

8. Anil Kumble
The finest Indian spin bowler ever, the bravest Indian cricketer ever. Utterly principled in his behaviour to team-mates, adversaries, umpires and ordinary folks.

9. Derek Underwood
Called "Deadly" in the dressing room for the terror he struck in the batsman's mind on wet or wearing wickets, but in person one of a dreamy, gentle, endearingly harmless cast of character.

10. Curtly Ambrose
The second-greatest West Indian fast bowler (next only to Marshall), yet, like the man who bats before him in this team, deadly only with the ball. In fact, whether or not he was taking wickets, he wore the broadest smile ever seen on a cricket field (and perhaps the shiniest chain too).

11. Lance Gibbs
A gentle Guyanese, a master of offspin and a brilliant fielder at cover and slip, who (like Sobers) embodied what used to be called "calypso cricket", which was a man's game played with a grin on one's face, goodness in one's heart, and music in one's ears.

Historian and cricket writer Ramachandra Guha is the author of A Corner of A Foreign Field and Wickets in the East among other books

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Prashant on October 26, 2010, 20:26 GMT

    How come Sachin isn't on the list? Maybe he is too great a gentleman to figure on this list of lowly mortals? All you so-called cricket lovers go jump somewhere. Any and every 'best-of' list should and must contain Sachin's name at the top! Garry Sobers is "best cricketer of all time"? Ha ha. Plus don't even get me started on Australian cricketers. Sydney 08 epitomized Australian cheating. Btw, if Ponting truly did stick to the agreement, he should have walked when Ganguly took his catch and said he pouched it. But he didn't. He wouldn't even move when the umpire said he was out, not until a few seconds later, reluctantly. What Kumble said was the truth. If it's taken as controversial, no one can help it. Oh and Sydney 08 WAS in fact played between India and (Australia + 3 umpires).

  • Sadashiv on October 26, 2010, 19:48 GMT

    @Jameslawlor: They leave things on the field because they play dirty and any mention of such behavior off the field will invite sanctions. Don't believe me? Then read Matt Haydens Bio mate.

  • Dummy4 on October 26, 2010, 12:01 GMT

    @McGorium: Roebuck is English, so I would hardly call him "our own", nor would I agree with his claim that Katich should have become the next test captain after Sudney 08 even though he was not in the test team. Ponting and Kumble made a gentlemen's agreement to take the fielder's word for it when a catch was possibly grounded. When Clarke caught such a ball, Ponting asked Clarke if he caught, which he said he did, and Ponting told the batsmen he was out, as per the arrangement with Kumble. However, when India lost, Kumble decided to say that only his side were playing within the spirit of the game, thus starting the controversy. That is the real story, not the one purported by the Indian media, nor the one you seem to think is the truth. A true gentlemen plays hard and within the rules of the game on the field, and leaves whatever happens on the field on the field. Despite the Australian's sledging and mental games, they always left things on the field, unlike Kumble.

  • Mashuq on October 26, 2010, 10:28 GMT

    Some problems with your idea of "gentleman". Ever country has them and facts speak louder than perceptions. Let their contemporaries speak: Trumper, Hunte (moral rearmament), Headley, Barrington (Eastend Jewish walker), Tendulkar, Miller, Rashid Latif (outspoken anti-corruption critic), Shaun Pollock (personal experience) , Hadlee, Vaas, Gibbs.

  • Bennett on October 26, 2010, 0:45 GMT

    Graeme Pollock is one heck of a gentleman cricketer with a broad flashing smile to match his effortless batting style

  • Faisal on October 25, 2010, 20:04 GMT

    I know there was a recent article citing example of Tendulkar's fans being on every list. I think this is one list where not having is really injustice to his character. I have never seem him acting arrogantly, even in tense Pak vs India games. I am a Pakistani, and compared to the emotion on the field by say Harbajhan, Yuvraj Shoaib Akhtar, Miandad, and others, he always behaves as a gentlemen, despite being the greatest batsman of our era.

  • David on October 25, 2010, 16:52 GMT


  • Tejnarine on October 25, 2010, 13:35 GMT

    Well written piece. I am in agreement.

  • Wolver on October 25, 2010, 12:07 GMT

    Would have liked to see Jonty Rhodes in this list. He is a great gentleman and a sponsors dream. Best fielder ever.

  • Deep on October 25, 2010, 9:27 GMT

    @Graeme_Swanns_Cat, you, my friend, have no knowledge of Indian cricket or Dravid, so if I were you, I would keep my mouth shut. I think a player from each country (at least) would have been more fair. If I had to choose from current cricketers, then the likes of Dravid, SRT, Brett Lee, Vettori, Murali and Y Khan would be in there.

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