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 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 all 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 is 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 considerable number of tests has not gone beyond an average of in 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 equipments. Everyone knows how bats and other cricket equipments 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 have such 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 70s. All those modern greats of 90s and 00s could manage an average in 50s with all those well developed bat 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 what kind of pitches Don must have batted on. He still remains the only player to have scored a 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 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 better bowler than Imran, but Imran was more dependable batsman than Akram, and may be Richard Hadlee was a better bowler than Imran, but Imran surely excelled him as a batsman, and excelled everyone in that all rounders 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 in 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 the 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 volume 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 bowler 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 being 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 the Australian cricket for the last decade and 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.