By Aayush Puthran
There was a more than obvious reason for Ravindra Jadeja to be sold for $2 million (plus an additional speculated $4 million) in the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction for the fifth season. The reason was, he could contribute with the bat, with the ball, in the field and in words of Shane Warne, had the personality of a Rockstar. In short, he was termed an all-rounder.
In T20 cricket, it is almost imperative for a player to contribute to the team in more than one department. As a result, currently everyone from Rohit Sharma to Robin Uthappa to Rajat Bhatia to Shahid Afridi is deemed an all-rounder – men who can do a little bit of everything.
But isn’t an all-rounder someone who can walk into a team purely on the basis of one single skill and is more than effective with the other? Wasn’t 1980s the golden era of all-rounders where Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Ian Botham and Richard Hadlee played some scintillating cricket simultaneously? All-rounders were never meant to be born every day. They were special talents and graced the game only to be remembered as its special child. This piece is a tribute to those special children who entertained its lovers and stayed in their memory forever.
Before getting to the current players who fit the bill of an all-rounder perfectly, let us look back at some of the best all-rounders to have graced the game:
Gary Sobers: He is widely regarded as the best all-rounder to have ever played the game. Sobers was probably one of the best batsman in the world during his playing days. He scored 8032 runs at an average of 57.78 with the highest score of 365 not out with the bat. He picked up 235 wickets at an average of almost 34 with the ball in 93 outings.
Imran Khan: Statistics probably exaggerate his achievements, but there is no denying the fact that he could have got into any side purely as a menacing fast bowler or as a batsman. Even in a team that boasted of Javed Miandad and Zaheer Abbas, Imran was a crucial batsman. He picked up 362 wickets at a miserly average of just over 22 and scored 3807 runs at an average of 37.69 in 88 Tests. Although he had come into the team as a tearaway fast bowler who could bat, by the time he bid adieu to the game, he was a frontline batsman who could bowl. Apart from being Pakistan’s greatest all-rounder ever, he is also regarded as the second best all-rounder after Sobers. The off-field persona of Imran Khan was much talked about, but his on-field personality was also highly respected. Many regarded him as one of the finest captains cricket had. Unlike Mike Brearley, who would back his players from behind, Imran would lead his boys from the front. He was also one of the finest talent-spotters. Who can forget, the way he backed Inzamam-ul-Haq to come good!
Kapil Dev: The ‘Cricketer of the millennium’, Kapil Dev along with Sunil Gavaskar, gave a new direction and name to Indian cricket in the 1980’s. He retired from international cricket as the highest wicket-taker with 454 wickets in 131 matches. In those matches he also managed to amass 5248 runs at an average of 31.04. A natural leader of men, Kapil Dev also guided India to its first World Cup triumph. His stats might not speak for his achievements, as he had prolonged his career way beyond his sell by date in the 1990’s. But in the 1980’s, he was as good an all-rounder as Imran Khan.
Ian Botham: There might be a debate as to whether his records over-rate the English player or under-rate him. But there is little to debate that his presence in the side instilled fear in the opposition’s. Ian Botham has single-handedly guided England to many emphatic victorious with the bat and the ball, and many a times with both. After resigning from captaincy in the 1981 Ashes, the England all-rounder came on his own and made it his party, guiding England to a famous Ashes victory. He scalped 383 wickets at an average of 28.40 and scored 5200 runs in 102 matches.
Keith Miller: ‘I have never met Keith Miller, obviously never saw him play, haven’t seen any videos of his, haven’t read anything he has written and haven’t cast my eyes over his biography’ – Harsha Bhogle.
There are two reasons for me to quote these lines- (1) It holds true for me as well (2) I sound a cricket illiterate depicting similar feelings without crediting Harsha Bhogle.
The reason for his inclusion in the list is mainly because, there were enough stories that I had heard about him which made it irresistible for me to not have him here. Not many would agree with me, but for he me he was a more talented, menacing and flamboyant version of Eknath Solkar (Both respectable in their own terms). Miller was a game-changer. He scored 2958 runs at an average of 36.97 and picked up 170 scalps giving away merely 22.97 for each one of them in 55 matches. His figures could have been better only if his cricketing life wouldn’t have been marred by the Second World War where he served as a fighter pilot. Although hard and brutal like any Aussie, his more human side was on display when he refused to bowl bouncers to Bill Edrich on an uncovered wicket in the 1948 Ashes, as they had flown planes together for the Allies during the War.
Andrew Flintoff: The big English batsman was unfortunate to be tagged as the ‘Next Promising Thing after Botham’. He lived with the tag of being the ‘Second Botham’ till the Ashes of 2005 where he came on his own. His fearless and nasty arrogance gave the English team of the 21st century an identity they truly lacked for a long time. Like Botham, he took England to some of the most memorable victories with both bat and ball. He scored 3845 runs at an average of 31.77 and took 226 wickets in 79 Test matches. For long his behavior was seen as unhealthily productive. But the charisma soon set a new wave of high and proved the critics wrong.
The point with all these players was that they were also good fielders and brought out a charm that inspired the team in more ways than one. They were true talents who made the stage their own when they came out to perform. There were a few of them who contributed brilliantly in all aspects of the game, but remained underrated.
Sanath Jayasuriya: The Sri Lankan came into the side purely as a bowler. But, by the time he retired, he was amongst the best batsmen in the world. He is known more for his exploits in One-Day Internationals than Test matches. Nonetheless, he went onto to become the highest run-scorer for his country in both forms of the game. He amassed over 13,000 runs in ODIs and 6973 runs in Test matches. While he was trashing bowlers world over, his exploits with the ball often went unnoticed. He picked up 323 wickets in ODIs, which is one of the highest.
Tony Grieg: Records won’t do justice to his talent. But the tall Englishman is definitely one of the most underrated all-rounders in the world. He scored 3599 runs at an average of above 40 and picked up 141 wickets in 58 matches. He was technically ill-equipped as a batsman and not fast enough as a bowler. But he made up for his short-comings by his effectiveness.
There were quite a few players who were highly talented, but unfortunate circumstances never allowed them to live up to their potential.
Trevor Goddard: He is another player whom I’ve never seen play. But sometimes, stats tell a compelling story. Although the racism issue had cut short the career of the talented South African, his records in the limited opportunity that he got to play speaks volumes of his potential that went unutilized. He scored 3516 runs at an average of 34.46 and picked up 123 scalps in 41 matches.
Neil Johnson: Not many would agree with this one, but all those who have seen Neil Johnson play in his limited cricketing career would know that he was one of the most gifted all-rounders of modern day cricket. An attacking stroke-maker, he scored at an average of 36.50 and picked up 35 wickets in the 48 ODI matches he played. Although he wasn’t consistent enough to allow his records to boast for him; but on his day he could’ve played as a one-man army for Zimbabwe.
Ryan Ten Doeschate: The all-rounder from Netherlands is one of the most unfortunate players to get enough international exposure but not an opportunity to play Test matches. He has proved himself in the limited opportunity he has got scoring 1541 runs at a staggering average of 67 in 33 ODIs. He is also one of the main bowlers for the Dutch team. Ten Doeschate has picked up 55 wickets at a measly average of 24.12.
Training and hard work has helped a lot of players to learn the tricks of all the trades. But an all-rounder, in my opinion, is born naturally. A true all-rounder is gifted with a persona that goes beyond their cricketing talent and somebody who would hold the spotlight in the master’s show.
Modern day cricketers have worked on their weakness and are capable of handling more than one department of the game. Specialists, that include wicket-keepers, are almost out of cricket. But one can hardly find any player capable of getting into the side purely on the basis of one talent while the other is almost as deadly.
Apart from Jacques Kallis, Shakib-ul-Hasan and probably Dwayne Bravo and Shane Watson, there aren’t players who could be termed as all-rounders.
Just in case you are wondering what do you call players like Yusuf Pathan, Ravindra ‘Million-dollar baby’ Jadeja and others who can do a little bit of this and a little bit of that, they can be best described as ‘Multi-utility players’. For all-rounders in the game are rarer than the blue moon!
(While enjoying the small joys of life, rarely has anything mesmerised Aayush Puthran more than cricket. A student of Journalism in Mumbai, he is trying to figure out two things: ways to make Test cricket a commercial hot property and the best way to beat Mumbai traffic. He has a certain sense of obsession with novelty. He might seem confused, but he is just battling a thousand demons within his mind. Nonetheless, he is always up for a light-hearted chat over a few cups of coffee! )