The matter of “Greatness”

There used to be a time where I would watch cricket for hours on end, knowing that between each over there would be a single advertisement ad break. If I left the room and came back to see consecutive ads, a mental procedure had to be followed. Firstly, check the time. Perhaps there was a drinks or session break due. If not, then a wicket had fallen or there was rain. All of these outcomes had the potential to bring disappointment or excitement.

Two things have changed since that time. The first is that I rarely get the chance to watch cricket on TV for long periods of time. The second is that with the new approach of Channel 9, we can look forward to advertisements in between every ball with Tony, Richie, Sodders and the crew trying to sell us signed cricket bats, paintings, magazines, tickets to the cricket and Channel 9 TV programs at every opportunity. I’m not really sure if that beats watching the bowler walk back to his mark.

Granted, it can be amusing and somewhat sad to hear Simon O’Donnell bumble his way through a written spiel about an Outback cricket painting but it does somewhat detract from the atmosphere created by continuity of vision of the game.
However, the main point of this email is that I actually saw something that caught my attention the other day – a new magazine featuring Australia’s 50 Greatest Cricketers. I intend buying it at some stage but my first reaction was to think of who I would choose. I have included my list for you interest. I took me about 10 minutes to list about 60 candidates and I then removed some – not an easy process.

During the process, I thought a little about the concept of printing a book or magazine about our 50 greatest crickets. Or 50 greatest “anythings” for that matter. It is a common trend in this day and age to provide such products. The 50 greatest golfers, Don Bradman’s all time great Test Team, Shane Warne’s 100 favourite wickets, any compilation music CD and the list goes on. The providers are not providing new material but there is obviously a market. They are re-visiting highlights and packaging them in an attractive and easily digestible format. And I guess there lies the appeal – for a cricket devotee, it is very appealing to reminisce and read about those who have made the game great.

The most difficult questions are who are those great players and what, in fact, is greatness? Assuming that there are no rules and restrictions – ie that there are no quotas of pace bowlers, spin bowlers, opening batsmen, middle order batsmen, ‘keepers etc to be met and that there this no requirement to include set amounts of players from various eras, choosing from over 350 players from a 120 year period is not easy.

Of course, there are automatic choices that spring to mind: Bradman, Border, Greg Chappell, Lillee, Marsh, Steve Waugh and Warne for starters. For those who are a little older you could include Benaud, Lawry, Hassett, Morris, Davidson, Miller, Lindwall and Harvey. For the really old we have Armstrong, Grimmet, O’Reilly, Mailley, McCabe and Woodfull. And for those of us who are very, very old or dead, the names include Trumper, Noble, Macartney, Spofforth, Trumble and Giffen.

How do you compare players from very different eras? Performance must play a big part but how do you measure performance? Statistics count but they are not everything. It is interesting to compare averages and totals runs and wickets but they are not definitive. The conditions were somewhat different 100 years ago. And today’s players play far more Test cricket. The great players of today play more than 100 Test matches, whereas the early players played 20-30 if they were lucky. They didn’t even play Test cricket every year.

Then there are special considerations. Some players such as Sid Barnes and Don Tallon would be considered great but had relatively short Test careers (13 and 12 Test respectively). They were robbed of most of their careers by WWII and questionable selection processes. But the late, great Sir Donald Bradman considered Don Tallon to be the greatest ‘keeper of all time, as do many others who saw him.

I considered the captains – perhaps all players who have captained Australia are an automatic choice in the list of the greatest. But maybe not. Ian Johnson would be chosen by many but not myself. Kim Hughes captained Australia through tough times and is mostly remembered for his tragic ending but he was a magnificent batsman at his peak and played over 70 Test matches and scored more than 4000 Test runs. Ian Craig, Test captain in the mid-fifties, had great potential, was a successful leader but as a middle order batsman averages less than 20 in Test cricket. That doesn’t make it, even though he was hampered by serious illness and business commitments. And Graham Yallop – had a top score of 268 and I believe that he wrote a good book – “Lambs to the Slaughter”. Maybe I’m a hard man but we are counting cricketer here, not authors, so he didn’t make it either.

Another interesting consideration is to count the number of “great” players in any given team. It is not hard to see why the great teams are great. The 1948 team had Bradman, Miller, Lindwall, Harvey, Hassett, Morris, Bill Johnston and Tallon. The 1975 team had Ian Chappell, Greg Chappell, Lillie, Marsh, Walters, Thompson and Redpath. The 2001 team had: Steve Waugh, Mark Waugh, Slater, Ponting, McGrath and Warne and include Hayden and Gilchrist who probably don’t yet make it into the 50 all time greats list, but will in 10 years time. The great teams all had a great keeper, great openers, middle order and bowlers – I think that covers most facets of the game.

Below is my list (in alphabetical order). Obviously and unfortunately, many of the players in my list were not witnessed in action by myself. But thus is the nature of cricket – it is possible read about matches of times long gone, to study score cards and to read biographies and autobiographies, and to form a picture and opinions.

Merry Christmas and I’ll start publishing again next year (or earlier if the Melbourne Test requires).

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Armstrong, Warwick
Bardsley, Warren
Benaud, Richie
Boon, David
Border , Allan
Bradman, Donald
Chappell, Greg
Chappell, Ian
Collins, Herb
Davidson, Alan
Giffen , George
Grimmett, Clarrie
Grout, Wally
Harvey, Neil
Hassett, Lindsay
Healy, Ian
Hill, Clem
Hughes, Kim
Lawry, Bill
Lillee, Dennis
Lindwall, Ray
Macartney, Charlie
Mailey, Arthur
Marsh, Rod
McCabe, Stan
McDermott, Craig
McGrath, Glenn
McKenzie, Graeme
Miller, Keith
Morris, Arthur
Noble , Monty
O’Neill, Norman
O’Reilly, Bill
Ponsford, Bill
Ryder, Jack
Simpson, Robert
Spofforth, Fred
Tallon, Don
Taylor, Mark
Thompson, Jeff
Trumble, Hugh
Trumper, Victor
Walters, Doug
Warne, Shane
Waugh, Steve
Waugh, Mark
Woodfull, Bill
Gregory, Jack
Johnston, Bill
Redpath, Ian

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