Over 19 years of following cricket madly does leave you with quite a good number of old memories to cherish. Be it the 1992 (see first comment below) 1993 Hero Cup last over by Sachin, or the sight of Siddhu stepping out and hitting Murali for sixes!! The memories and the experience of watching those pristine cricket matches could never be replaced. Obviously, some players have left a deep impression on me. I have always been a fan of good cricket, and never madly followed any one cricketer, and so I am going to list my favorite players whom I have seen play (in no particular order), and why they are on the list.
1. Brian Lara
Brian Lara has been the most destructive batsman I have seen play, and with the consistency he had, I rate him as the best Test batsman till he retired. It is one thing to score a world record 375, but another to come back and reclaim it with a 400 not out 10 years later. He has 9 double houndreds, second only to Bradman. He holds the highest first class score record of 500, which makes him the only batsman to score a century, a double century, a triple century, a quadruple century and a quintuple century in first class cricket. And all this has come against the great bowlers of the world like Murali, Warne, McGrath, etc when his own team was struggling to even make a contest. To top it all, he was the captain of the team for many years and yet continued his onslaught without letting the captaincy affect his batting. I remember a series against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka where Lara scored 2 double hundreds in 3 test matches while West Indies were beaten without a contest by the Lankans. He has a strike rate of 60 in test matches (which is not matched by many) and is only one of the few players to score a hundred before lunch. The fear he had in the bowler’s minds was unmatchable.
2. Sachin Tendulkar
Probably much has been written and said about him than all the other players in this list combined. The way he has persisted with batting beautifully, how he has rediscovered himself, first for the one dayers and then for T20s is totally amazing. How he has overcome the limits of the human body to play continously for 21 years (and counting), how he has overcomes injuries, criticism from critics (including me) make him the cricketer he is. His continous hunger of runs remains after two decades and his ability to play with the bat is as much amazing as his ability to play with the mind. He is the one player who always seems to have an extra second while playing a ball, and many times he knows what delivery the bowler is going to bowl. The way he hits a ball over the fielders sometimes to create gaps where he wants in the field shows the marking of a true thinking batsman. And the humility which he brings with him to his cricket makes him a very good human being too. A true ideal for youngsters on how to handle criticism, and more importantly, how to handle success. I rate him, along only with Shane Warne (of current generation), as one of the greatest players ever to play cricket.
3. Rahul Dravid
Grit, determination and perseverance are not better symbolized by anyone else as by Rahul Dravid. Not everyone is nicknamed “The Wall” and Dravid has earned this nickname by standing tall against the best bowlers in the world while his team mates came in and got out at the other end. He has saved many test matches for India, by just standing there at one end. He has hurt the bowlers, not by aggresive strokeplay but by an inpenetrable defense. I have always felt pity on a fast bowler like Brett Lee who comes running in and bowls at 150ks / hr and the ball lies dead on the pitch just below the point where it hit the middle of the willow of Rahul. Yet he has scored more than 11,000 runs in Test cricket with 80 century partnerships (a world record). Fielding at slip, he has the highest number of catches in test cricket. Once deemed unfit for one day cricket, he rediscovered himself and has over 10,000 runs in that format. Now he is a treat to watch in T20s in IPL. He is one player who I have seen change the most in terms of his batting, yet contains the humility with which he entered the team in 1996. And in test matches, I would say he has been a better batsman than Sachin Tendulkar and one of all time greats!!
4. Shane Warne
Shane Warne is the only cricketer of the present generation (and the only bowler) who figured in the Wisden Top Cricketers of the Century list in 2000. It is a tribute to the man who weaved his magic with his wrist spinners and huge turners, bowling batsman out behind the legs many times. His dismissal of Mike Gatting in 1993 is widely regarded as the ball of the century. He is very rightly labled as the King of Spin and was the first to take 700 test wickets, and it is not to be forgotten that he played in a team which had great fast bowlers not always giving him a full chance of taking a lot of wickets. He was also the man of the match in the World Cup semi-final and final in 2003. Apart from bowling, he captained English county side Hampshire for 3 seasons from 2005 to 2007 before joining the Rajasthan Royals in IPL as captain and coach. He led a team of no-stars to victory in the inaugural version of the IPL due to his inspirational captaincy and magical bowling. He never got the Australian captaincy because of being surrounded in controversies but many say he is the “Best Captain Australia Never Had.” And you have to see him to believe what charisma he brings with himself when he walks into the cricket field.
5. Steve Waugh
I have always admired Steve Waugh’s integrity and courage under pressure on the cricket field. And his ability to remain calm in high pressure situations made him known as the “Iceman“. He started as a batsman and a bowler, playing some epic innings, including the twin hundreds during the 1997 Ashes. Later he led Australia to 16 consecutive test victories, the best run ever by any team in Test Matches. During the 1999 World Cup came his biggest test when Australia began badly and needed to win all their last 8 matches to win the World Cup. The twin matches against South Africa in that World Cup, where he made 120 not out in the first one to turn the tide around and his leadership in the tied semi-final made him one of my all time favourites. Along with Shane Warne, he turned around Australia’s World Cup and ended up winning it, making him only the 2nd Australian (apart from Tom Moody) player to be a part of two world cup winning teams. Apart from cricket, he has also been involved in philantropic activities in Calcutta and was named the Australian of the Year in 2004 when he retired.
6. Wasim Akram
If Shane Warne was the magician of spin, Wasim Akram is the Sultan of Swing. With Waqar Younis, he formed one of the most destructive opening bowler pair ever. His mastery over the art of moving the ball both ways at a good pace made him the most dangerous bowler of all time. He showed the world how to bowl with the old ball. See this delivery to see how he filled dead pitches with life. He finished with the highest wickets in one days and 400+ in test matches. His inspired leadership and batting made him a matchwinner with the bat too. He will always be remembered, with Waqar Younis, the person who showed the world the art of reverse swing bowling.
7. Virender Sehwag
Perhaps the only cricketer of the current era who has broken all notions about how cricket should be (or should not be) played. He is one player who always sees the ball and not the occasion. Whether it is the first ball of the match or the last, whether it is a test match or a T20 match, if the ball deserves to be hit, Sehwag will hit it. A player who has changed how test cricket is played, and has handed India many test wins just because of the impact he has when he scores his runs at such a pace at the top of the batting order. Though he gets dismissed quite often playing his style of cricket, and criticized everytime he does so, but this is Sehwag for you. Critics have always hit out at him for not being more careful and mature in his shot selection and that his style of cricket won’t suit Test cricket but he is most successful in the longer version of the game. 6600 runs at an average of 53+ and a strike rate of 80+ makes him the most fearful player in cricket today. He is the only player to have three 290+ scores and the only player ever to complete a triple century with a six. He is one of a kind, and his views about cricket is as candid as his batting. By the time he retires, he might be one of the all time greats.
8. Saurav Ganguly
The man who still is India’s most successful captain ever has evoked emotions in Indian cricket like none other had done before. He took over the reins of Indian cricket in its worst time with match fixing allegations doing the round. He made a team, and a winning one at that, out of a bunch of youngsters. He backed players like Zaheer, Harbhajan, Yuvraj, Kaif, Sehwag when no-one was ready to give them a chance and made them into match winners and the Indian team into a formidable unit. Earlier he has formed, with Sachin Tendulkar, one of the most destructive opening wicket pair in One Day cricket history. After unceremoniously going out of the side after a public spat with coach Chappel, he made a spirited comeback and even scored his maiden Test double century. Amidst all the controversies and negative publicity surrounding him, he was a cult figure in India and not to forget the fact that Wisden named him the sixth greatest one day player of all time. His strokeplay through the off side has earned him “The God of off-side” title. If his batting was as elegant as it could be, his “in the face” aggression was best depicted by the shirt removing act in the final of the Natwest Series in 2002.
9. Anil Kumble
The perfect brand ambassador cricket can ever hope for. And the way he led India during the controversial Australia tour in 2008 was an example of how a leader should lead himself and his team. He is the leading wicket taker for India in both Tests and One Days and is third in the overall Test list with 619 wickets. He is the only bowler of the current generation who has taken all 10 wickets in an innings. I still remember watching that match on TV on a chilly February day in Delhi. He has relied more on change of pace and guile rather than big turners. He is the leading wicket taker by way of “caught and bowled” and has taken 5 wickets in an innings an incredible 35 times. Perhaps no bowler has won India more matches than Kumble. “Jumbo“, as he is popularly known, is known for his determination and full commitment to the team, which was symbolised with he bowling with a fractured jaw in 2002 in Antigua. After his retirement from Test cricket, he has reinvented himself for T20s, leading Bangalore to finals in 2009 and has been their best bowler in 2010.
Players will come and go, but legends like those listed above will be impossible to replace!!