A few weeks ago, Shane Warne writing a column for The Times in the UK, started unleashing a list of 50 greatest cricketers he had played with or against. As with all things Warne, it was not without its share of the controversial.
The list opened and in its first ten i.e. 50-41 itself there were surprises. At numbers 50 and 49 were two people who had never played a Test. Those who were going to miss the cut had already been sledged.
40-31 was a middle of the road kind of part of the list. Just that Stuart Macgill (40 matches – 198 wickets at 27.20) came in at 39. Tim May (24 matches- 75 wickets at 34.74) came in at 31.
Then the fun really started. As we moved into the 30-21, Shane prefaced it by saying that this part seems to ruffle a few feathers here and there. Steve Waugh came in at 26. Not just any other number, but the top of the bottom half of the list. Warne’s explanation was ” This may raise a few eyebrows. Yes, he scored a lot of runs, but to me he was a match-saver rather than a match-winner. That is why he is not higher. There were also times when he struggled against the short ball. But he had good all-round capabilities and was always reliable in the gully. Mark Taylor handed him a wonderful team.” At 25, one notch above was Warne’s buddy Darren Lehmann (1,798 Test runs to Waugh’s 10,927). Stephen Fleming made it to 23. A Kiwi Skipper ranked higher by a guy you led – wonder how an Aussie feels about that.
20-11 came around and right down at 20 was Adam Gilchrist – a guy who would probably make most teams chosen for the time period we are talking about. Merv Hughes was a surprise entrant at 18 and Mark Waugh showed up well above Steve Waugh at 12.
The Top Ten is , well, his top ten. Its hard to argue and so long as it has Sachin at One, I won’t. Take a look at it and actually, the top 11 are a pretty handy team (batting order mine).
At the end of the day, its Shane Warne’s team and he’s entitled to stir the pot all he likes. There are notable exceptions – VVS probably the most glaring for me.
Looked in its entirety though, the list is very “Shane Warne” and by that I mean, it has a lot of talking points in itself without going into the subtleties – Merv Hughes higher than Waqar ? No Damien Martyn ? No Dean Jones ? Inzamam ?
But when we do let that dust settle, comes the real stuff. And thats when the vanity and ambition show. The on-field heroism of the author apart, if you look at it in an unbiased manner, there is a lot of washing of dirty linen in public here.
Stuart Macgill has the best strike rate, for instance and there’s very little doubt that he’d have got a far longer run if had played in any era apart from one which was inhabited by Warne’s awesome presence. That 39, is hardly encouraging.
In 1999, Steve Waugh and Shane Warne were contenders for taking over captaincy from Mark Waugh. Steve Waugh got the job. If that was not reason enough for a bit of trouble, in Waugh’s first series as Skipper, this happened. By the time of those drug allegations at the World Cup and the great Steve Waugh – John Buchanan partnership, the relationship was probably symbiotic in a selfish kind of way. The rationale for the Steve Waugh position is the one that makes it so dodgy. Steve Waugh’s average in Tests that Australia won was 69 as opposed to 35 in drawn games. 25 of his 32 centuries led to Australia victories. And while its true that he inherited a very good outfit from Mark Taylor its also true that he transformed it into a great one by – ironically – removing draws from the equation to a large extent.
Adam Gilchrist, all of ten slots behind Ian Healy is one thing. One imagines the part that would hurt a little bit is this : “He is still a batsman-keeper rather than the other way round” … and the part that must really sting, at the age of 36, “but his keeping is improving.”
What the list does is tell a fascinating , if largely untold story about a essential component of the Australian success story. These are larger than life superstars, pillars of the game who were willing to put the personal differences aside each time they put on the baggy green.
That apart, the list is Shane Warne’s. Its as personal as a text message.