Biggest hitters in the game December 6, 2005

Six maniacs

They hardly ever faced a ball they didn't want to hit into the top tier. Chandrahas Choudhury rounds up 11 of cricket's greatest six-hitters of all time

They hardly ever faced a ball they didn't want to hit into the top tier. Chandrahas Choudhury rounds up 11 of cricket's greatest six-hitters of all time.

A sketch of Gilbert Jessop lofting Hugh Trumble into the pavilion © The Cricketer International

Gilbert Jessop

A technicality must be ignored for Jessop to take his place in this XI. In his heyday, at the turn of the nineteenth century, most sixes as we know them now still counted as fours - a batsman had to hit the ball out of the ground, not just over the ropes, to claim six. But even so, Jessop hit sixes both real and retrospective while making runs at a manic pace, such as a 77-minute hundred against Australia in 1902. Nicknamed The Croucher because of his stance, Jessop had several shots all of his own, including a hook off the front foot. One of his ways of hustling bowlers was to charge them so that they dropped short, allowing him to play his favourite cross-bat strokes. The stir that accompanies the entry of a Gilchrist or a Flintoff today evokes the cry that used to go up at English grounds a hundred years ago: "It's Jessop next!"

Clive Lloyd

Lloyd's nickname was Super Cat, for his languid grace and prowling gait, and even his massive three-pound bat exuded presence, and was given the moniker Big Bertha. The upshot was that when Super Cat wielded Bertha at the crease, the ball could go a very long way indeed. Lloyd's massive build and reach - perhaps only Matthew Hayden, himself a big six-hitter, has ever looked so physically imposing at the crease - allowed him to mess with spinners whenever the mood took him. And he was typically West Indian in his love of the pull and hook to the quicks: one remembers his hook for six off Dennis Lillee in the 1975 World Cup final, shortly after his opening batsman, Roy Fredericks, had perished treading on his stumps while himself hooking Lillee over the ropes. Lloyd finished with 70 Test sixes, for some years the record until Viv Richards, to whom he passed on the West Indies captaincy, claimed it.

Viv Richards

No batsman has ever beaten Richards for six-hitting nonchalance. A magnificent hitter to leg, often from outside off stump, Richards could also back away and give the ball a mighty smite over extra-cover for variation, chewing away at his gum as if nothing had happened and it was all part of a day's work. For many, the most memorable, even representative, Richards six was a stroke from the World Cup final of 1979. Having already made 132, he walked across his stumps to the last ball of the innings and flicked an attempted Mike Hendrick yorker insouciantly over deep square leg.

No batsman has ever beaten Vivian Richards for six-hitting nonchalance © Getty Images

Kapil Dev

Lithe, loose-limbed, and always exuding the impatience of the natural striker of the ball, Kapil could always be relied upon to raise the game to a crescendo with a few meaty hits, his teeth bared in a grimace of effort as he swung. He was even dropped from the team once after being out trying to clear the field in a game delicately poised, and never forgot this insult. The most memorable Kapil eruption came in the Lord's Test of 1990 when, with India needing 24 to avoid the follow-on with one wicket in hand, he knocked off the deficit with four thunderous blows in succession off Eddie Hemmings.

Chris Cairns

Six-hitting was in Cairns's very genes: his father Lance, though not a batsman of great repute, was one of the most renowned tonkers of the cricket ball in his time. Cairns Mark 2 was an improvement on its predecessor: sharing the majestic height and build, but unquestionably a batsman not a slogger. At the end of a distinguished career marked throughout by seemingly effortless striking of great power and beauty, Cairns entered his final Test series, against England, two behind Richards's record for the most sixes in Tests: 84. The record was claimed in a worthy fashion. Left in the Lord's Test with only the No. 11 for company and the occasion demanding a few fireworks, Cairns shuffled around the crease, as he liked to do, and struck four out of seven balls into the stands, all with different strokes.

Chris Cairns has the record for most sixes in Test cricket with 87 sixes © Getty Images

Sanath Jayasuriya

The human arm is such that batsmen swing most powerfully to leg, and this is the side to which most sixes are hit. But Jayasuriya's strengths are most unusual: while he hits sixes on the leg side often enough, with pulls and swipes at the spinners or sweet pick-up shots off the quicks, he is at his most destructive when presented with a smidgen of width on the off side. Cricket has had many powerful cutters but never one who so often cuts for six. The body rocks back to make a little room, the powerful forearms, often glistening with sweat, slash ferociously at the ball at the top of its bounce, and the sound of a rifle shot accompanies the spectacle of the ball flying over point or third man. At 240 sixes and counting, Jayasuriya is the most prolific six-hitter in international cricket.

Wasim Akram

Akram said that he often didn't know what the ball was going to do when it left his hand. But he was probably being disingenuous. He also played down his allrounder tag by saying he was just a happy hitter. This was quite true. However, technique doesn't matter too much when you come in to bat in a one-dayer with three or four overs remaining, and in those situations Akram showed he had the eye and brute strength to shovel just about any delivery over deep midwicket or long-on. He also had a fast bowler's contempt for spin: when he broke the world record for most sixes in a Test innings, against Zimbabwe at Sheikhupura, nine of his 12 sixes were off the suffering legspinner Paul Strang, whose spin partner Andrew Whittall was let off with only three.

Sourav Ganguly is a ruthless clouter of the spinners, and hits most of his sixes against them © Getty Images

Sourav Ganguly

Just as most people have a mental picture of what a bouncer at a club looks like, so they have a picture of what a six-hitter looks like. Ganguly is about as far from this image as could be. But even from his early days of domestic cricket, his slender frame - which has since filled out with time - somehow never stopped him from sending the ball soaring off the square in a massive arc. Ganguly is a ruthless clouter of the spinners, and hits most of his sixes against them, but it is his spectacular striking when charging the quicks - a move that cuts down what is already a miniscule reaction time - that deserves special mention. Two images come to mind: a six over point off Glenn McGrath in a brief innings in the World Cup final, and Ganguly charging Andrew Caddick in a game at Mumbai, finding a waist-high full-toss coming at his body, and quickly adjusting to punch it down the ground for six.

Adam Gilchrist

The feature of Gilchrist's batting that makes bowlers feel especially wretched is how many good balls he hits for six. He swivels suddenly and pulls a good-length delivery over the midwicket boundary, or, after playing one ball defensively, opens his shoulders to an identical delivery and sends it into orbit over long-off. Swift as a gunslinger in a western, he is the Jessop of his age, placing attacking batting over all other imperatives, and cheerfully taking on - and usually beating - boundary fielders.

Of all six-hitters in the history of cricket, perhaps Shahid Afridi answers the description best © Getty Images

Shahid Afridi

What would the nature of the six-hitter truest to his art be like? Here is an estimate: he would eye the hit out of the ground from the very first ball he faced; take no heed of the match situation or the number of fielders on the boundary; and hit plenty of sixes without making too many runs, since he would also be out quickly most of the time going for broke. In other words, he'd be a bit daft. Of all six-hitters in the history of cricket, perhaps Afridi answers to this description best. In his very first innings in international cricket, as a teenager in an ODI against Sri Lanka, he equalled the world record by smashing 11 of the 40 balls he faced for six. After eight years in the game, and several axings from the side for his intransigence, Afridi's nature remains unchanged: one-fourth of his runs in one-day cricket have come from sixes. If all attacking batsmen profess the belief that `the ball is there to be hit', then with Afridi the ball is there to be hit for six.

Andrew Flintoff

Always a talented hitter, Flintoff rained sixes upon ecstatic crowds in 2004 - 47 of them in international competition. As with most large, powerful men, Big Freddie likes lashing bowlers down the ground and over midwicket, often stopping in his follow-through to admire a piece of work well done. And best of all, he can let bowlers know that he's after them and family members know that he's thinking of them with the same stroke, as he proved against West Indies at Edgbaston last year by picking out his dad in the crowd with a six.

Chandrahas Choudhury is a former assistant editor of Wisden Asia Cricket