Cricket Australia have run a poll in which Australia’s 16 greatest players were matched up, head to head, and voted on, ultimately with a final that pits Ricky Ponting against Adam Gilchrist, but it was a poll in which Michael Bevan beat Matthew Hayden 61-39 yet Hayden went through, when Glenn McGrath beat Shane Warne 51-49 but Warne went through, and there were many other anomalies, not the least the fact that most voters were 20 year olds from India. They had similarly run a poll as to Australia’s best test cricketer, which saw Ponting against Bradman in the final, and Ponting won, because Indians don’t believe in Bradman. So let’s do better. Let’s put those 16 players in a sensible order.
16. Greg Chappell
The man most well-known in one day international circles for his order to his younger brother Trevor to bowl underarm in a match against New Zealand in which 6 runs were required off the final ball for an unlikely win, Chappell had a good rating at various points, and even had a good average, but they were statistics that had little to do with his actual skill. He played in an era in which Viv Richards averaged more and with a strike rate of 90, in which Saeed Anwar went close to scoring a double century, and in that era Chappell was a nobody. He was good by Australian terms, one of our better players for the time, but that was when we didn’t know how to play. At least Wayne Phillips hit it hard. Chappell just raked up the numbers.
15. Andrew Symonds
He was a revolution in Twenty/20 cricket, but in one day internationals he was significantly worse. While he eventually had a regular place, and even had some good runs in World Cups, to suggest he is one of our all-time greats is a farce. Shane Watson was better, as was David Warner, and Aaron Finch, all of which held the number 1 rank in the world at different points, the latter two not even being on the list, but not Symonds. Symonds was a man of potential not delivered, of occasional brilliance mixed with regular failures. He helped Australia to get to a world record 434, but didn’t score quickly enough to win the match. He was okay, and perhaps warrants 15th spot, but he is not in the top XI, not even close.
14. Steve Waugh
Not bad by any stretch of the imagination but Steve Waugh was never really a one day player. He started off in the format mainly because he came in during a time when that is what you did, as new players were blooded in one day internationals before moving on to tests. He had his moments, the 1999 World Cup by far his greatest achievement, but that came in the wake of many captaincy failures, not the least the early losses in the tournament that heralded his greatest work. Herschelle Gibbs actually caught the ball, but an umpiring error let Waugh off, leading to that famous Super 6 win against the best team in the tournament. He was sacked after losing the World Series Cup, failing even to make the final, and in the same way he misses out on our top 11.
13. Dennis Lillee
Another test man in the wrong format, Dennis Lillee was born at the wrong time. He is a great bowler who was certainly Australia’s best bowler when they first played one day internationals, but he was a long way short of the best ODI bowler in the world at the time. Perhaps, had one day internationals been invented a bit earlier, Lillee may have adapted his game enough to thrive in the format, but he was never quite there. Not bad, but not quite good enough in this format.
12. Shane Watson
The best all-rounder in the format, and for many years the world’s number 1, Watson suffered the same problems as Symonds, that he was a man more of potential than action. He succeeded in the Twenty/20 format to a much greater extent, but in ODIs he was lacking, ranging wildly from best in the world to not even in the team, sometimes just months apart.
11. Mark Waugh
His ability in one day cricket highlighted what we missed in tests. He and his twin brother Steve boasted near identical first class records, but where Steve excelled in tests Mark excelled in one day internationals, filling the opening role and providing valuable bowling, a pace bowler in his early career but changing to offspin later. His opening partnership with Adam Gilchrist was legendary, though he was bettered later by Matthew Hayden, though Hayden never bowled.
10. Mitchell Starc
The joint holder of the 2015 player of the World Cup, Mitchell Starc has been a giant of the game since his debut, but has had a problem with changing formats. There were times when he was the best Twenty/20 bowler in the world, and more recently when he was one of the best test bowlers, but he could never do it all at once. At his peak, such as in the 2015 World Cup, he was the best bowler going around, but far too often he was short of that peak. He could also bat well on occasions, and was unlucky not to have a test century to his name, but more commonly he was something of a bunny. It is still early in his career, though, and perhaps later he will be better. The 2019 World Cup is a chance for him to come back into some form and show what he is capable of.
9. Brett Lee
The difference between the two fast men is small. Both could deliver crushing yorkers or impossible bouncers, but Lee was that little bit faster, that little bit more deadly, and gave that little bit more heart. While Starc sometimes seemed to give up, Lee never did. He could be smacked all around the park and come back with a soul-crushing yorker to knock middle stump out of the ground. His batting, while it didn’t always come off, always saw him trying his best, whether it was to bat out some great bowling or to hit some powerful 6s, or both, he always gave his utmost.
8. Matthew Hayden
One of the greatest test batsmen Australia has ever produced, especially in the opening position, Hayden struggled to translate into the one day international format. He had good statistics, make no mistake of that, but he was never quite as impactful as some of his contemporaries. It is a close battle between he and Mark Waugh for the second opening position in Australia’s greatest ODI team of all-time but Hayden just pips him, but only just. There are others even greater.
7. Michael Hussey
We start to get into the really big names now, with Hussey the first one to hear. He was a great in test cricket from the moment he came in, already at 30 years of age, and he even had that moment in the World Twenty/20, when he single-handedly won a game from nowhere in a semi-final against Pakistan, and in ODIs he achieved to a very high standard too. It’s not that he was bad so much as others were better.
6. Glenn McGrath
It is tough to put his name as low as this, for McGrath was a bowler so good he could will a batsman out, as he did most famously in the 1999 World Cup. Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose were intimidating batsmen, and McGrath went one better. And yet there were others even better than that, the best of the best.
5. Ricky Ponting
The “winner” of the vote held by Cricket Australia, Ponting was not a bad player by any stretch of the imagination, and comfortably makes the all-time ODI team, for Australia at least, but he is a long way from number 1. He has the greatest ODI winning record as captain, and captained Australia to two undefeated World Cups in 2003 and 2007, but that kind of hints to what was really going on. He had a good team, a great team no less, and in that team he was decent, not incredible. He held onto his position comfortably but he was never comfortably the best. At no stage of his career would he have been regarded as the best ODI player in Australia, let alone the best of all time. He was good, but there are a few even greater.
4. Shane Warne
Warney should have been captain, he had such great cricket instincts, but his off-field behaviour was appalling, from smoking cigarettes to eating meat pies to cheating on his wife, he did everything wrong, and that’s not counting when he accepted bribes from bookmakers and took masking drugs to hide any performance-enhancing drugs. Perhaps the worst thing he did, though, was to criticise his own team, saying that Ponting was a bad captain, that Gilchrist was a poor wicket keeper, and that the coach was awful. If only he was a better person, he could have been a better cricketer. He was good, though, very, very good, and won many games from nowhere.
3. Dean Jones
Dean Jones was, at the time that he played, the best player in Australia by a very, very long way. He was Australia’s Viv Richards, so far ahead of the rest that it was like he was in another world. He held the world number 1 rank for more than 3 years in a row, and was number 2 for even longer, behind the great Brian Lara, but he reinvented the game as far as Australia were concerned. He would bat out of the pitch to fast bowlers, running between the wickets with fire in his belly. To anyone who voted him below Mark Waugh, they undoubtedly didn’t see him play. He is being punished for not being a commentator and not taking a position as a selector in his retirement, just like how he was punished for walking when he was caught off a no ball, only to be sent back, and illegally run out, effectively ending his career. Anyone who saw him at his peak would know his true status. There are few above him.
2. Adam Gilchrist
Possibly the greatest wicket player to play the game, Gilchrist’s only competition in the test arena are in other disciplines, the batsman Don Bradman, the bowler Sydney Barnes and the all-rounder Garfield Sobers. Whether you put Gilchrist 3rd ahead of Barnes, or even 2nd ahead of Sobers, there is no doubt that in the test arena he is a giant. In one day internationals, he was significantly less, though he still held on to the wicket keeping record for a long time, only beaten by Kumar Sangakkara who played nearly twice as many games, and on top of that he batted with the skill and ferocity of Sanath Jayasuriya. He always scored quickly, and his batting average of 36 says that he did so without great sacrifice. He is many people’s number 1, but only because they didn’t see the number 1 play. There is one player who was even greater.
1. Michael Bevan
The man, the myth, the legend, Michael Bevan won games from nowhere as if they were his bread and butter, doing it from his first game to his last. He oddly didn’t receive too many man of the match awards, but make no mistake of his greatness. MS Dhoni is a pretender to his throne as the world’s best finisher, James Faulkner carrying the title as a joke. It was Michael Bevan who could bat forever at any run rate, with any number of wickets in hand. To see him add 100 runs with numbers 9, 10 and 11, 8 wickets down with only half the required runs scored, and to do it so regularly is so incredible that few believe it truly happened. He was like a human calculator, counting the number of runs required per over, knowing when to take risks, and when to put his foot on the accelerator. No other player in history has achieved what he has. Others scored well with no pressure, but nobody scored 15 runs higher on average than anyone else while under this pressure, winning matches almost every time. If Bevan was there at the end, which he usually was, Australia would win every time. He was the guarantee, the ace in the pocket, the one who could win from anywhere, and who would do it every single time.