Cricket history is full of extremely talented cricketers and many of them have been exceptional. Let us try and figure out the greatest cricketers of all time that have graced the field of cricket. It does not reflect on their personal greatness. It is just about how great cricketers they were. A greater cricketer does not necessarily mean a greater human being than a lesser cricketer in the list or vise versa. The list is purely on cricketing skills.
1. Gary Sobers: Arguably the greatest cricketer of all time that has ever played the game of cricket as claimed by many related to the game of cricket and that was what the intuition suggests if you look at his abilities and statistic. Ability to play as long as to score 365 runs in test cricket, hit six times over the rope in a single over, end up with a test average of more than many of the great batsmen in the history of the game, be a fielder of class, and then being able to contribute with bowling, and you left wondering if there is anything in cricket that he could not do and that is what makes him the greatest all-round cricketer and the greatest cricketer of them all. He could have earned a place in any great team only for his batting. He was skillful and versatile as a bowler. He is documented to have bowled pace as well as slow bowling. He chipped in many times with his bowling and fielding. The thing with all-rounders is that it is like having the privilege of playing an additional player in the team. Just look as to how many cricketers have scored a triple hundred in test match cricket. There are only three instances of six sixes being hit in a single over in the history of first-class and International cricket. There have been barely a dozen of cricketers throughout the history of the game who could be hailed as a rounder of class and substance, and Gary is considered the best of them all. You keep on counting. The list goes on.
2. Don Bradman: Probably as strong a contender as Gary Sobers to be called as the greatest cricketer of all time. Don Bradman’s exceptional test average of almost 100 runs makes him a standout cricketer. If you consider the rarity of that feat of having an average of almost 100 runs, Don Bradman should be the greatest cricketer of all time. Where Gary scores over him are probably being able to contribute significantly in every department of the game. Otherwise, I do not see any gap between Gary Sobers and Don Bradman as the two greatest cricketers of all time. But again you wonder he must be exceptional to be able to average 100 runs per innings. All those great batsmen throughout the history of the game who have played a considerable number of tests have not gone beyond an average of in the 60s, and most of these so-called greats have averaged between 50s and 60s. So to outshine the next best in your category by 40% is quite unimaginable in any sport. In that sense, Don Bradman can be considered not only the greatest cricketer of all time but also the greatest sportsman of all time. To top it off he scored those almost 100 runs per innings in those days of hostile pitches and raw equipment. Everyone knows how bats and other cricket equipment have evolved over the years. The difference between the bats of today and the bats of say about 20 years ago is quite noticeable. What kind of bats Don Bradman must have played with. Some people say Don played on few grounds and thus has such a record. But even the worse of the pitches today among the many grounds on which cricket is played must be better than the pitches on which Don played. If that was the criteria, why none of the players of even his era could manage an average of even into the 70s. All those modern greats of the 90s and 00s could manage an average in 50s with all those well-developed bats and other cricketing equipment on benign and batting-friendly pitches. The pitches one used to see even during the 70s and 80s were much difficult to bat on compared to the pitches prepared today. If that is an indication of what kind of pitches Don must have batted on. He still remains the only player to have scored 300 runs in a single day of a test match.
3. Imran Khan: If Gary Sobers could do everything in the game of cricket then Imran could do even more as a captain. Imran Khan could have earned a place in any leading side just as a bowler, and is one of the greatest fast bowlers of all time. In addition, he was as good as any good International batsman. He was a good fielder as well. He could win matches with his bowling, contribute significantly as a batsman, and could make a significant contribution as the leader of the pack. He is considered the best among the greatest all-rounders of his time who themselves are among some of the greatest cricketers of all time. There have not been too many bowlers who were better than him, and among the bowlers who might have been slightly better than him, not many are known for their batting capabilities. Wasim Akram was a better bowler than Imran, but Imran was a more dependable batsman than Akram, and maybe Richard Hadlee was a better bowler than Imran, but Imran surely excelled him as a batsman and excelled everyone in that all-rounder’s category as a captain. Many people will disagree with me on putting Imran Khan ahead of Vivian Richards. My logic is if Gary Sobers could be greater than Don Bradman, logic says Imran Khan has to be greater than Vivian Richards as a cricketer. But it is so difficult to accurately measure the talent of the players and their value to the team. It is like you can put Don Bradman ahead of Gary Sobers without much fuss. You can as well put Vivian Richards ahead of Imran Khan on the list. But because of Imran Khan’s immense contribution in every department of the game, I opted for Imran Khan at #3 in the list of greatest cricketers of all time.
4. Vivian Richards: Most destructive batsman of all time, and in a time when attacking style of batting was not common. In modern times, we had the pleasure of watching the likes of Gilchrist, Sehwag, Jaysurya, and occasionally Shahid Afridi destroying the bowling attacks, but none of them are known to be as intimidating as Vivian Richards. To have the fastest test hundred of all time with an average of more than 50, and in one-dayers, an average of 47 runs at a strike rate of more than 90 speaks volumes about the caliber of the man. None of the above-mentioned destructive batsmen have an average of more than 40 compared to 47 by Vivian Richards. In fact, many other great batsmen have less average than Viv’s 47 and far lower strike rate compared to Viv’s strike rate of 90. He never changed his batting style irrespective of the state of the match. Without an iota of doubt, there has not been a greater batsman than Vivian Richards in one day format of the game. In tests too, he averaged 50 runs scoring those runs at a blistering pace. He was also an exceptional fielder and bowled occasionally. One of the greatest fast bowlers of his time Imran Khan has said that Vivian Richards is the only batsman who has frightened him. Nobody else in the history of the game could play like Vivian and hence is probably the greatest batsman of all time save Don Bradman and thus he deserved fourth place in the list of the greatest cricketers of all time.
5. Adam Gilchrist: As a batsman, Adam Gilchrist was almost a Vivian Richards. In addition, he would double up as a wicketkeeper. In that sense, I was tempted to put Gilchrist ahead of Vivian Richards, but Viv was such an intimidating batsman and in those times when attacking style of play was not so common, I went with Viv at #4. Nonetheless, Adam Gilchrist is one of the greatest cricketers of all time. Adam Gilchrist has one of the highest strike rates in both forms of the game and has an average to match the greats of the game. Adam Gilchrist was one of the main reasons for the domination of Australian cricket for the last decade and a half. Adam Gilchrist was one of the three key players in the talent-laden Australian team. As a wicket-keeper batsman, if someone can bat like Adam Gilchrist, he is definitely going to add substantially to the strength of the team. He played some of the breathtaking innings in his career. His blistering hundred against Sri Lanka in the 2007 World cup, which Australia eventually won, the innings he played in the semi-final of the IPL edition that his team eventually won, the innings at Mumbai in the first edition of the IPL, and his fastest test hundred off 57 balls, which is the second-fastest hundred in the history of the game behind the ultimate Vivian Richard’s 56 ball hundred, and many such innings make you wonder if the Gilchrist was the greatest cricketer of all time.
6. Wasim Akram: Wasim Akram is one of those dream cricketers that even the great cricketers would like to be reborn as a cricketer. Wasim is considered the most naturally talented bowler by many former greats like Allan Donald and Mohammad Azharuddin. It is said that he could bowl six different types of balls in one over. With the bat, he was capable of turning the game with his explosive batting. Those two wickets on successive deliveries in the 1992 world cup final against England at a very important stage of the game pushed England totally out of the game. What an occasion to produce probably the best two deliveries of his entire career. You can expect the greatest cricketers to rise to the occasion at the greatest stage. You see a player like Adam Gilchrist playing those extraordinary knocks on big stages like the World cup 2007 against Sri Lanka and sealing the win for his team. Wasim Akram is also the only bowler in the history of the game to have captured hat-tricks as many as four times in his International career. Wasim Akram has often won games for Pakistan singlehandedly. He formed a threatening bowling combination with Waqar Younis, and they together tormented many batting line-ups. He was probably the greatest bowler of his time with the other one being McGrath. McGrath himself described Wasim Akram as a greater bowler than himself. If he was as great a bowler as McGrath and if you consider what he could do with the bat, and you know the value of Wasim Akram as a cricketer. In the 1992 World cup final before turning the match with his two magic balls, he was instrumental in setting a challenging total with his timely and explosive batting when he scored 33 runs off just 19 balls coming towards the close of innings. What a grand occasion for a man of Wasim’s caliber to rise for his team and his country. Many people might not know Wasim also hit a timely six to win the Nehru Cup for Pakistan. Many people knew about Miandad hitting a six off the last ball to win when four runs were required off the last ball of the innings. In the Nehru cup final, Pakistan required six runs to win from the last two balls, and Wasim Akram hit a six off the first of those two balls and won the cup for Pakistan.
7. Richard Hadlee: Inarguably the greatest of all New Zealand cricketers to date. One of the greats of all time who could make the grade to any great XI only for his bowling. New Zeeland had very few match-winners in their ranks when Richard Hadlee was around, and it was more often than not that Hadlee was their match-winner. Richard Hadlee brought as many laurels to New Zeeland cricket as any of the other greatest cricketers of all time have brought to their own country. One of the ten greatest bowlers of all time. Plus, he was also more than handy with the bat, and perhaps one of the better batsmen in that New Zeeland team. They are one of the four great all-rounders of the 70s and 80s. Richard Hadlee was considered by many as the best bowler among the four great all-rounders of his time. Richard Hadlee was capable of creating havoc with his bowling. He also won and saved matches for New Zeeland with his batting. Overall, a very capable match-winner.
8. Jacques Kallis: Some consider him to be the greatest cricketer of all time ahead of Gary Sobers, and there are others who rate him as the greatest cricketer from South Africa. Kallis is like a Rahul Dravid and Srinath combined into one unit. Besides being a technically sound, dependable batsman and a useful bowler, Kallis is an excellent fielder. Kallis gives South Africa an additional fast bowler besides being the lynchpin in the batting lineup. Kallis has carried the South African team quietly and steadily for around a decade-and-half and looks good enough to continue for at least another two to three years. By the time he retires his statistics could be monumental. To give a more significant picture one statistic that could be more vital is that he has a higher average in both test and one day cricket than Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar. Given that Sachin bats as an opener in one-dayers and Kallis bats in the middle order, and for Kallis to have a greater average than Sachin Tendulkar is quite remarkable. Kallis though lacks the flair aspect of one day game but has played a crucial role in the success of their one-day unit. Jacques Kallis is also an outstanding fielder. He is a regular slip fielder for South African and I still remember his catch in Sharjah playing against Pakistan running from somewhere near extra-cover to almost near the boundary and then actually having to jump at the last minute to cover the distance with the ball and hold onto it. A Gary Sobers of a different type.
9. Kapil Dev: Kapil Dev was the greatest cricketer that India has ever produced. He was equally good with both bat and ball. He was probably the best batsman among the great all-rounders of his time. In fact, it was his batting that carried India through most part of the 1983 world cup. Kapil was also the first genuine fast bowler of Independent India considering Mohammad Nissar’s test career ended before independence, although he continued playing first-class cricket for some time after independence. Kapil Dev was very impressive as a hard-hitting batsman and was the leader of the India bowling attack for almost a decade-and-half.
10. Walter Hammond: Walter Hammond was an attacking batsman with a rare ability to play long innings consistently. He is among those batsmen who consistently scored big and at an impressive strike rate. He almost had every shot in the book. To add to his batting skills, he was also a handy bowler who could make breakthroughs when required the most. A test average of 58.45, 167 first-class hundreds, and two five wickets haul in test cricket prove that he was one of the greatest cricketers of all time.
11. Brian Lara: Brian Lara is easily one of the five greatest batsmen of all time. Scores of 500, 400, and 300 are no ordinary feats. Not many cricketers compiled such huge scores as Brian did. That itself proves his outstanding abilities as a batsman. Probably Brian underachieved because he was part of a weaker West Indian team. A team’s strength and performance often have a bearing on an individual batsman’s performance. I can prove that. Look at Ponting’s performance when the Australian team was the strongest team, and now look at Ponting’s performance with a declining Australian team. Similarly, with an overall improvement in the Indian team and with the likes of Viru at the top, Sachin’s performance has improved remarkably this year. Being the only player to have scored 500 runs in first-class cricket, and to be the only player in the history of the game to score 400 runs in a single inning of the test, and to be one of those players to have scored the most number of double hundreds makes Brian Lara one of the most outstanding batsmen of all time, and easily the greatest batsman of his time. Brian Lara also to his credit has a couple of entries at around the top of the list for the most number of runs scored in an over. No other batsmen in the history of the game have as many big scores as Brian has to his credit. If you compare his big scores to his contemporaneous rival Sachin Tendulkar, you will find that Sachin despite playing much more cricket has never scored a 400, which Lara did twice, once in test, and his 500 in first class. Brian Lara has significantly more double hundreds than Sachin Tendulkar despite playing a lesser number of games. Sachin Tendulkar has a better record in one day International because he opened the innings and every time had the opportunity to play all 50 overs.
Shane Warne: The greatest slow bowler of all time. The best exponent of leg-spin bowling. Shane Warne most often did magical things with the ball. His famous ball to Mike Gatting that came in sharply from out of the leg side to turn in sharply and dislodge the bail is regarded as the ball of the century. He has often provided crucial breakthroughs for Australia when they needed it the most. The Semi-final game against South Africa in 1999 was one such instance. Chasing Australia’s total, South Africa was one course with The South African openers off to a flying start, and particularly Gibbs was going strong. Shane Warne was brought into the attack, and he immediately got Gibbs with a peach of a delivery that bamboozled Gibbs and dislodged his stumps. From there on, South Africa was on a downslide. Shane Warne was one of the top three cricketers in that Australian invincible team of his time with Adam Gilchrist and Glenn McGrath being the other two of the three.
13. Sanath Jaysurya: It was Sanath Jaysurya’s promotion to the opening slot during the 1996 World cup that transformed the Sri Lankan cricket team from a mediocre side to one of the best sides in the world. Even though Jaysurya failed in the semi-finals and finals of the 1996 world cup, it was his exploits during the earlier part of the 1996 World cup that provided the Sri Lankan team the momentum and confidence that they could win the World cup. Since then Sri Lanka has remained one of the strongest teams in the world. Jayasuriya was an attacking and productive batsman, besides being a potent spin bowler, and an exceptional fielder.
14. Muthiah Muralitharan: The best off-spinner the game has ever seen and the greatest slow bowlers of all time with Shane Warne. Muthia Muralitharan can bamboozle most of the batsmen with his wily deliveries. Murali has the most number of wickets by any bowler in both forms of the game. He is one of the three greatest Sri Lankan cricketers that actually defined Sri Lankan cricket.
15. Virender Sehwag: The main reason why India is #1 in ICC rankings. He should be able to climb up this list by the time he is finished as an international cricketer. He has left Sachin Tendulkar behind as a batsman and as the second greatest cricketer of all time behind Kapil Dev. By the time he finishes his career, he may end up in the top 10 greatest cricketers of all time. He can hit the ball so consistently that very few could do it even on the docile pitch and against mediocre bowling. He is rated as the best off-spin bowler in the current Indian team by Bishen Singh Bedi.
16. Glenn McGrath: Watching Glenn McGrath bowl, I often got the impression that Glenn McGrath was more difficult to play than Wasim Akram. That itself speaks volumes about the abilities of the man. Glenn McGrath was all about line and length. One of the three key players of the dominant Australian team of the late 90s and most part of the 2000s. McGrath was a difficult bowler to bat against, and he completely destroyed the lesser oppositions. One of the main reasons why Australia won three world cups on the trot.
17. Sachin Tendulkar: If Sunil Gavaskar was the first Indian batsman who could look into the eyes of the fastest bowlers in the world, Sachin Tendulkar is probably the first Indian batsman who could consistently dominate the fast bowlers. Sachin Tendulkar is arguably one of the best batsmen that the world has ever seen. Sachin Tendulkar was a child prodigy who captured the imagination of the cricketing world when he burst on the International scene at the tender age of 16. He owns many batting records in both forms of the game. Some people may say that Tendulkar was a better player than some of the above in this list, but I think the people above Tendulkar are either more talented than him or more effective than him. Sachin Tendulkar for all his talent has failed when it mattered the most. He is one of the greatest batting talents, but cannot handle the pressure according to his ability as a cricketer. For all his batting talent, gets struck in the 90s whenever approaching a 100 most of the time. I witnessed the entire series between Sri Lanka and India when Tendulkar was around 100 runs short of Brian Lara and the entire focus was on Sachin Tendulkar. Sachin Tendulkar failed in the entire series. Sachin Tendulkar played exceptionally well throughout the 2003 world cup but failed in the final when everyone expected him to rise to the occasion. He owns many batting records in cricket, which is a tribute to his batting talent and longevity, but if you look at his average in winning matches he is far behind the likes of Bradman, Inzimam, Steve Waugh, Viv Richards, Ricky Ponting, and Jacques Kallis to name a few. Moreover, if we do not consider the minnows Bangladesh and Zimbabwe Sachin Tendulkar’s average is down even further when compared to other great batsmen of his time. He has fared best in the first innings of a test match but has not lived up to the expectation in the third or fourth innings and his average in the third and fourth innings does not compare favorably with other modern batting greats.
18. Malcolm Marshall: He is considered by the likes of Wasim Akram as the greatest fast bowler of all time, but McGrath came ahead of him in this list because of the pinpoint accuracy with which McGrath bowled. Unlike the other West Indian fast bowlers, he was short but was the quickest of them all. He was almost unplayable when he bowled on the stumps. He ran through the opposition batting lineup many times and might have ended up with more wickets if he did not have to share the wickets with as many as three other great fast bowlers in that great West Indian team of the 1980s.
19. Javed Miandad: Javed Miandad was the toughest player on the cricket field. His never-to-say-die attitude makes him a standout cricketer. Javed Miandad has an excellent technique as a batsman and could play long innings. He is among those players to have scored the most number of double hundreds. Javed Miandad is perhaps the only player throughout the history of test cricket to have maintained a test average of more than 50 runs throughout his career. Javed Miandad also has an average of more than 41 runs in one day format of the game batting in the middle. He played a key role in many of Pakistan’s victories. He made a significant contribution to Pakistan winning the 1992 World cup. Javed will be always remembered for his last-ball six to win the game against India when four runs were required to win off one ball. Any all-time list or a World XI without Javed Miandad is incomplete.
20. Ian Botham: Ian Botham is one of the four great all-rounders of the 1970s and 1980s. He is arguably one of the three greatest England cricketers of all time. Ian Botham is still the leading wicket-taker for England in test cricket. At his best, he has produced some of the greatest performances of all time, both with the bat and the ball. Botham’s career can be divided into two halves. In the first half of his career, he matched the performances of the three other great all-rounders of his time or might have even excelled them, but in the latter half of his career he ended up at the bottom of the four great all-rounders of his time. Nevertheless, he was very capable with both bat and the ball.
21. Jack Hobbs: One of the greatest batsmen of all time, and probably the greatest that England has produced alongside Walter Hammond. He has a test average of 56.94 and has amassed mountains of runs in first-class cricket. He just fell short of a double hundred of 100s in first-class cricket. One of the most prolific batsmen of all time. He was voted among the Top Five Cricketers of All Time by leading cricket magazine Wisden.
22. Keith Miller: Keith Miller is the greatest and the only all-rounder that Australia has ever produced. Keith Miller was the only one or one of the few all-rounders who have almost the same skills in both batting and bowling. He was equally effective with both bat and ball. He was a very good bowler and a very good batsman making him a great all-around cricketer.
23. Dennis Lillee: Dennis Lille was furiously fast and one of the fastest bowlers of all time. He formed one of the most lethal bowling attacks of all time with Jeff Thompson. He also shares a world-record partnership with wicketkeeper Rodney Marsh for affecting the most number of dismissals through bowler-wicketkeeper dismissals for caught by a keeper and bowled by a bowler. He was included in Bradman’s all-time XI and ESPN Cricinfo’s all-time World XI. But I would have rather preferred a Richard Hadlee or an Imran Khan instead of Dennis Lillee in all-time XI.
24. Greg Chappell: Greg Chappell was one of the greatest batsmen of all time. As a batsman, I would rate Greg Chappell just slightly behind Vivian Richards and Brian Lara and on par with Sachin Tendulkar. Greg Chappell mastered playing pace as well as spin bowling on both sides of the wicket. He produced some of the finest performances against possibly the finest attack in World Series Cricket. If that is any indication he is second to none. Greg Chappell was also a useful medium-pace bowler who could contribute with the ball.
25. Sunil Gavaskar: Probably the first megastar of Indian cricket. He must have been the inspiration for many Indian batting superstars that emerged during the 80s and 90s. He is Dilip Kumar of Indian cricket. He was the first Indian batsman who could look into the eyes of the fast bowlers. His best innings came against the best fast bowlers of his time. He has an impressive record against West Indies, Australia, and Pakistan, the three teams that had the best fast bowlers in the world at that time. His feats against the West Indian team are legendary. His test debut was against West Indies on bouncy tracks of West Indies, and he emerged as a find of the tournament. To face Malcolm Marshall and Michael Holding as openers and score back to back hundreds speaks volumes about the caliber of Sunil Gavaskar as a batsman. He is rated quite highly by the other greats like Gary Sobers, Vivian Richards, and Imran Khan. If that is an indication he should be higher on the list. A technician rather than a stroke player, he would not have been able to meet the requirement of modern-day one-dayers and would not have been suited for T20. And that is exactly the reason why he is at 25 and not at 10 on this list.
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