How Wisden determined the top cricketers of all time

David Lord Columnist

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    Under the heading Shane Warne is still our best spinner, it was also mentioned that he was named one of the five greatest cricketers of the Twentieth Century.

    The ultimate accolade has to be bestowed upon four knights – Sir Donald Bradman, Sir Garfield Sobers, Sir Jack Hobbs, and Sir Vivian Richards – along with the likeable larrikin, Shane Keith Warne.

    That was 11 years ago, with Warne, the only current player, at the peak of his leg-spinning powers.

    Let’s turn the clock back to how Wisden – the cricketer’s bible – formatted this intriguing exercise.

    There were 100 selectors: a mixture of former Test cricketers, cricket-writers, and historians;

    * England (28) – Jonathan Agnew, Trevor Bailey, Jack Bannister, Sir Alec Bedser, Scyld Berry, Dickie Bird, Brian Close, Lord Cowdrey, Ted Dexter, Matthew Engel, Alf Gover, Tom Graveney, Frank Keating, Tony Lewis, George Mann, Vic Marks, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Derek Pringle, Nette Rheinberg, Mike Selvey, EW Swanton, Bob Taylor, Freddie Trueman, Crawford White, John Woodcock, Ian Wooldridge, and Peter Wynne-Thomas.

    * Australia (20) – Greg Baum, Percy Beames, Richie Benaud, Bill Brown, Richard Cashman, Ian Chappell, Mike Coward, Alan Davidson, Gideon Haigh, Murray Hedgcock, John Inverarity, Bill Lawry, Peter McFarline, Jim Maxwell, Arthur Morris, Bobby Simpson, Cec Starr, and Steve Waugh.

    * South Africa (11) – Ali Bacher, Eddie Barlow, Colin Bryden, Russell Endean, Trevor Goddard, Norman Gordon, Michael Owen-Smith, Peter Pollock, Krish Reddy, Peter van der Merwe, and John Waite.

    * West Indies (11) – Gerry Alexander, Tom Becca, Sir Carlisle Burton, Tony Cozier, Esmond Kentish, Clive Lloyd, Reds Periera, Allan Rae, Donna Symmonds, Sir Clyde Walcott, and Sir Everton Weekes.

    * India (10) – Mihir Bose, Dilip Doshi, Sunil Gavaskar, Ayaz Memon, Ramesh Mohan, Nirum Prabhu, Raj Singh, Kris Srikkanth, Polly Umrigar, and Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan.

    * New Zealand (9) – Dick Brittenden, Don Cameron, Walter Hadlee, Don Neeley, John Reid, Bert Sutcliffe, Lindsay Weir, and John Wright.

    * Pakistan (8) – Arif Abbasi, Fereshteh Gati, Hanif Mohammad, Intikhab Alam, Javed Burki, Mushtaq Mohammad, Omar Kureishi, and Qamar Ahmed.

    * Sri Lanka (3) – Stanley Jayasingha, Ranjan Madugalle, and Gerry Vaidyasekera,

    * And Zimbabwe (1) – Dave Houghton.

    The brief was simple: name five cricketers each, in any order. Don’t concentrate on your own country or own era. No selector could vote for himself – and the infamous Englishman WG Grace was to be considered ineligible as Wisden regarded him as a cricketer of the 19th century.

    Pretty straight-forward, but the net results were anything but straight-forward. Controversy raged for months.

    Interestingly, not one of the 100 selectors nominated the final five, and among the maximum 500 votes, only 49 were nominated.

    * 100 votes – the max – Sir Donald Bradman. How he would have loved to sneak in an extra four runs in last Test dig at The Oval in 1948 to average a career 100, instead of 99.94.
    * 90 votes – Sir Garfield Sobers, how he missed out on 10 votes defies description.
    * 30 – Sir Jack Hobbs.
    * 27 – Shane Warne.
    * 25 – Sir Vivian Richards.
    * 19 – Dennis Lillee, and Sir Frank Worrell.
    * 18 – Wally Hammond.
    * 14 – Denis Compton.
    * 13 – Sir Richard Hadlee, and Imran Khan.
    * 11 – Syd Barnes, and Sir Leonard Hutton.
    * 10 – Bill O’Reilly.
    * 9 – Sir Ian Botham.
    * 6 – Harold Larwood, Ray Lindwall, and Sachin Tendulkar.
    * 5 – Richie Benaud, George Headley, amd Kapil Dev.
    * 4 – Graeme Pollock, Wilfred Rhodes, and Victor Trumper.
    * 3 – Godfrey Evans, Malcolm Marshall, and Wassie Akram.
    * 2 – Sir Alec Bedser, Clarrie Grimmett, Freddie Trueman, and Frank Woolley.
    * 1 – Curtley Ambrose, Colin Bland, Allan Border, Bernard Bosanquet, Bhagwat Chandrasekar, Ian Chappell, Lord Constantine, Allan Donald, Tich Freeman, Lance Gibbs, Stan McCabe, Bruce Mitchell, Maurice Tate, and Sir Pelham Warner.

    The glaring omission? Brian Lara, the world record holder for the highest Test and first-class scores in cricket history, with 400 not out and an unbeaten 501. Not one vote in 500?

    And you’d think the dashing Keith Miller was worth a vote. So, too, Greg Chappell, Graham Gooch, Hanif Mohammad, Barry Richards, and Jim Laker.

    But not one vote between the seven of them. And the reason why the controversy will rage for many years to come.

    That’s the beauty of the beast.

    David Lord
    David Lord

    David Lord was deeply involved in two of the biggest sporting stories - World Series Cricket in 1977 and professional rugby in 1983. After managing Jeff Thomson and Viv Richards during WSC, in 1983 David signed 208 of the best rugby players from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and France to play an international pro circuit. The concept didn’t get off the ground, but it did force the IRB to get cracking and bring in the World Rugby Cup, now one of the world’s great sporting spectacles