Ashley Mallett
Former Australia offspinner

Five to do it all

Allrounders who could bat, bowl and sometimes field their sides to victory

Ashley Mallett

July 10, 2012

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Garry Sobers bludgeons Illingworth for another four, England v West Indies, Old Trafford, June 12, 1969
Garry Sobers: the man who could do everything © The Cricketer International
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There are two certainties in this cricketing life: Don Bradman was the greatest of all batsmen, and Garry Sobers was undoubtedly the game's best all-round cricketer.

Sobers was cricket's lion, and he heads my pride of the five best allrounders I've seen. Because of his mercurial all-round ability, Sobers must be crowned the greatest player in cricket history. Statistics don't always tell the full story, but his stats aren't half bad: 93 Tests, 8032 runs at 57.78, with 26 centuries and a career best of 365 not out. With the ball, bowling left-arm fast, wrist- or orthodox spin, he took 235 wickets at 34.03 with six five-wicket hauls and a career best of 6 for 73.

He also took 109 catches, some of them seemingly impossible ones at backward short-leg. During a charity match in Adelaide in which I played alongside Sobers, he took a catch off my bowling at short midwicket. There was not the hint of a sound. Another catch, again no sound. Twice the ball had disappeared into a pouch of fur: Sobers was the epitome of the iron fist in the velvet glove.

Bradman reckoned Sobers' 254 against Australia for the Rest of the World team at the MCG in 1972 was the "best innings I've seen in Australia".

Sobers had a sense of history and of fair play. When South Africa played South Australia at the Adelaide Oval in 1963-64, he sidled up to his state captain, Les Favell, and asked: "Is it okay, skipper, if I wear my Test cap?" Favell said he couldn't care what cap Sobie wore, but he was intrigued as to why his great allrounder wanted to don the West Indies cap. With a not-so-subtle swipe at the injustices of the apartheid system, Sobers said: "I believe it is time these Springboks got a good, long look at the West Indies cap I am wearing." He got a big hundred.

There have been a few better batsmen than Sobers, also a number of superior bowlers, but as a complete package - batsman, bowler, fieldsman, cricket thinker - he reigns supreme. There was an ease of motion to this man which bordered on the poetic; in a cricketing sense Sobers on the prowl was something to behold.

***

Second to Sobers, in terms of skill and an innate ability to perform when needed, was Keith Miller. Miller was right out of the Boy's Own Annual. He was a war hero and a supreme athlete with the sort of star quality we associate with stage and screen. In 55 Tests he hit 2958 runs at 36.97, with seven hundreds, and he took 170 wickets at an average of 22.97, with a career-best 7 for 60 among his seven bags of five wickets or more in an innings.

Sir Leonard Hutton told me that the best bowler he ever faced was SF Barnes. Barnes was 62, Hutton a boy of 16, but on the Test stage, Hutton said, "the most dangerous bowler was undoubtedly Keith Miller". He was just as likely to bowl a legbreak as he was a fast outswinger in his first over of a Test match. He batted and bowled on whim and the need of the side. If Australia were in trouble he lifted a few gears and got the job done.

In 1969, Miller turned up to take part in a coaching film. All he had to do was to bowl three balls at an unprotected set of stumps. He walked past me where I stood some seven paces back from my mark and said, "Ahem, son, I'll pitch leg and hit off." His first and third balls did precisely that: the ball was propelled at a speed at least as fast as Graham McKenzie, who was a fast bowler for Australia then. The seam was perfectly upright and it pitched on both occasions on the line of leg stump and broke like a Shane Warne legbreak to hit the top of off stump.

***

Imran Khan was a warrior cricketer if ever there was one. He was blessed with great strength and a calm temperament, and could "lift" as a batsman or bowler. In 88 Tests, Imran hit 3807 runs at 37.69, with a highest score of 136 among his six hundreds. With the ball he took 362 wickets at an average of 22.81, taking five or more wickets in an innings 23 times. He was also a born leader, a trait that has stayed with him in his political quest to try and steer Pakistan towards a democracy of sorts.

Imran succeeded with his pace bowling on all surfaces, even on the bone-dry parched pitches of home that powdered to the touch like some river bed in biblical times after 40 years of drought. While he batted with skill and good judgement, especially when he needed to guide his country out of the mire, it was his bowling which fired the imagination. Imran loved a challenge and was his best against the best batsmen, for they provided the greater challenge. He could be operating at a pace around fast-medium, and then, suddenly, without any obvious change in approach or action, he could deliver at savage express pace. When he was quick, he was seriously quick as he proved in Australia in the 1976-77 series.

Like a good-quality red, Imran got better with age. In his final 50-odd Tests he averaged a shade above 50 with the bat and just 19 with the ball. His stirring match figures of 10 for 77 against England at Headingley in 1987 gave Pakistan their first series win against the olde enemy on their home soil. And in 1992 he led Pakistan to World Cup glory.

***

Ian Botham had an outstanding all-round record. In 102 Tests he scored 5200 runs at 33.54 with 14 centuries, and he took 383 wickets at 28.40 with 27 bags of five wickets or more and a career-best haul of 8 for 34. He was probably lucky to have struck an Australian team mostly without its better players. Just after he began his career, Australia and West Indies lost their best players to World Series Cricket, and then came the rebel tours of South Africa.

Botham batted and bowled with great belief, but to me he seemed a better batsman than a bowler. He hit with explosive power, especially straight. As a bowler he seemed to bowl well within himself, but every now and then he would drive through the crease with amazing energy and produce a pearler of a delivery. It was this element of surprise that had batsmen guessing, and it often led to wickets. He wasn't in the class of Kapil Dev or Richard Hadlee as a bowler, yet he was a better bat than both men, and a brilliant slip fieldsman.

Perhaps Botham's magnum opus came at Headingley in 1981, when he flayed Dennis Lillee, Terry Alderman and Co to the tune of 149, which turned the match on its head and won it for England - thanks also to an eight-wicket haul by Bob Willis - after the bookies were offering 500-1 against an England victory.


Mike Procter in full flow
Mike Procter: denied what would have been a successful Test career because of apartheid Ken Kelly / © The Cricketer International
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***

My fifth choice is a little controversial. Mike Procter played little international cricket, and in seven Tests he averaged a modest 25.11 with the bat, though he took 41 wickets at 15.02.

As a bowler, Procter came at you like a raging bull. He was full on, bustling towards the batsman with a determined glint in his eye. At the point of delivery he was very front-on, not unlike Malcolm Marshall, and he seemed to bowl off the wrong foot, the ball seemingly coming on to you in a big rush. His pace was around Marshall's but usually Procter's deliveries came in to the right-hander. He bowled huge, dipping inswingers and clever legcutters.

In England in 1972, I watched on television as Procter completed an unusual hat-trick, in that though the ball was bowled from around the wicket, every batsman was plumb lbw.

As a youngster Procter spent a season on the Lord's grounds staff with Barry Richards, another player who was denied a long and successful Test career with South Africa. Procter knew that apartheid in his country would prevent him from playing any more than his seven Tests, and his ultimate became first-class cricket - mostly for his beloved adopted county of Gloucestershire. In 401 first-class matches he scored 21,936 runs at 36.01 with 48 hundreds and a highest score of 254. He also took 1417 wickets at 19.53, with 70 bags of five wickets in an innings and 15 lots of ten wickets in a match.

That he was denied Test cricket could not dissuade me from counting Procter among one of the best allrounders I've seen. I place him above the likes of Kapil, Hadlee, Richie Benaud, Daniel Vettori, even Alan Davidson, who was most assuredly Australia's best allrounder seen since Miller.

Procter reckoned his loss of a long and successful Test career was little compared with the suffering of 40 million non-whites in South Africa. In April 1971, Nelson Mandela was spending his seventh year in a cell at Robben Island, just across the water from Cape Town, where a cricket match between Transvaal and the Rest of South Africa was about to start at Newlands. The players knew the John Vorster government had decreed that it would prevent the South African selectors from picking a non-white player in the national team for the coming tour of Australia. After one ball, four players - Procter, Graeme and Peter Pollock and Denis Lindsay - walked off the field and issued a press statement supporting the selection by merit regardless of skin colour. From that moment Procter and the others could walk tall forever.

Ashley Mallett took 132 Tests wickets in 38 Tests for Australia. An author of over 25 books, he has written biographies of Clarrie Grimmett, Doug Walters, Jeff Thomson and Ian Chappell

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Posted by camcove on (July 13, 2012, 23:40 GMT)

Jay57870 - Mallett is expressing his opinion. We are not talking absolutes here. My granddad used to tell my dad that Bradman was OK but not as good as V. Trumper, the hero from when he was a child. Bradman was a run machine and averaged nearly double his nearest rival; "bodyline" was devised with him in mind, and his average during that series against England was reduced to the mid-50s. There is no question that Tendulkar is and always has been great. It is a big call to put him up there with Bradman (or indeed as being superior to the likes of V. Richards or G. Proctor). On allrounders, I saw that double hundred by Sobers against Australia for the Rest of the World, and it was breathtaking. Lillee was at his fastest, and Sobers treated him like a medium pacer. Kallis is statistically as good as it gets in history (and technically perfect), but I'd go with Sobers personally. These, and the likes of Dev, Imran etc (and wickie batsmen like Gilchrist) are what any side would kill for.

Posted by jay57870 on (July 13, 2012, 12:22 GMT)

Ashley is killing a fly with a mallet(t)! Poetic license aside, his lack of comprehension of the word 'certainty' - meaning 'perfect knowledge that has total security from error' - raises doubts about his journalistic norms! To proclaim in the very 1st para "Don Bradman was the greatest of all batsmen" - as a 'certainty' - is contextually over the top! Let's again weigh in David Frith's informed opinion (see my post below). He posed the question: "So what did the greatest of a former era think of the greatest of our time?" Frith should know. The great Don personally wrote to Frith extolling Sachin: "My philosophy was to try and score off every ball and to take the initiative and I feel Tendulkar does this." Like himself: an equal. Such comparisons arise with all-rounders too: IMHO again, Kallis is like the great Sobers, "best among all-rounders" (my post). Still, Frith is philosophical about such comparisons: "The 'argument' can never be settled absolutely". Nobody has the final word!

Posted by harshthakor on (July 13, 2012, 9:36 GMT)

@Phat-Boy You have made an important point and I greatly admire Kallis's contribution.However remember he has scored more than half his run sin drawn games at an average of 79,as against his match-winning average of 65.Gary Sobers's knocks could turn the complexion of game to a considerably greater extent and he till the end of his career he performed with the ball.Kallis has basically been a great batsman for a long period.

At the peak of their careers Botham and Imran were the closest equivalent to Sobers as match-winners.Botham was particularly flamboyant with the bat and a most intelligent seam bowler while Imran bowled with the heart of a lion and could bat for his life.

Posted by harshthakor on (July 13, 2012, 9:28 GMT)

@straight6:I share your admiration for Imran Khan.In the 1982 summer he defeated Ian Botham for the title of best allrounder with a Soberesque peformance of 21 wickest at 18.53 and scoring 318 run sat an average of 53,almost winning a test series for his nation.Finally he achieved it in 1987 where his bowling at Leeds played an instrumental role.From 1981-88 Imran was arguably the best cricketer and best allrounder,winning his battles with both Ian Botham and Kapil Dev.Arguably Imran is the best cricketer and match-winner after Sobers. However I can't forget Ian Botham's herculean efforts to win the 1981 Ashes with his 149not out at Leeds and 5-11 bowling at Edgbaston ,virtually turning lost causes into victories.In the 1980 Jubilee test he surpassed any peformance by even Sobers,with 13 wickets and a hundred.I would rate Imran the better cricketer and arguably better allrounder but at his best Botham was the superior all-round cricketer.

Posted by g.narsimha on (July 13, 2012, 7:59 GMT)

KAPILDEV is all time best, wtether the writer agree or not that doesnt matter as he may be driven by personel liking dis likings but one thing is sure KAPIL is instrumental in all round rise of INDIAN cricket had he not won THE 1983 WC for india we would not have seen the status INDIA presently enjoying in world cricket ,more over he single handedly taken india to un emaginable standards .he never had the luxiry of a decent partner at other end as enjoyed by IMRAAN, BOTHAM , IMRAAN is famous more than for his non cricket activities , but for indians KAPIL IS TRUE CHAMPION doesnt need certificates we are more than enough to admire our all time great .

Posted by BillyCC on (July 13, 2012, 6:08 GMT)

@Highflyer_GP, I don't know why you said the Sobers era was a bowling era. Looking back at that era, it was clearly one where quality batsmen and quality bowlers shone. If anything, it was the period after Sobers in the 1970s/80s which is deemed the bowling era with about ten truly greats across 4 teams, followed by the 1990s with about seven or eight greats across 3 teams. The 1960s had much less across 3 teams although I'm not taking into account the South African bowlers.

Posted by straight6 on (July 13, 2012, 0:05 GMT)

I never saw Sobers, but out of the 4 greats in the 80's and 90's it's got to be the great Imran Khan. No matter which way you look at the stats, Imran is the clear Winner. I was extremely lucky to have seen the Alil-rounders battle with Beefy Botham, Sir Richard and Kapil Dev. Very very Entertaining Stuff, I wonder all hell would have broken loose with T20 around with these guys around!

Posted by BillyCC on (July 12, 2012, 22:38 GMT)

@jay57870, get over it. Ashley's statements were all backed up in an opinion-based article. It is completely different to a historian perspective which already is quite outlandish to provide a statement such as that made by Frith. And for the record, unless you truly believe that someone can average over 100 in Test cricket over 50 consecutive matches or can match the batting, bowling, captaining, fielding and match-winning exploits of Sobers, those statements are certainties.

Posted by   on (July 12, 2012, 21:49 GMT)

Jack Kallis should be ranked in the top 5. His numbers are impressive enough to rank among the very best!!!

Posted by 777aditya on (July 12, 2012, 12:47 GMT)

no Kapil Dev (India's only meaningful all rounder ever) and no Jacques Kallis (best all rounder ever according to plain stats)!!!!!!! - only one person contributing to such articles makes it sound rather biased

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