A statue of Viv Richards outside the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua
© Getty Images


How do you pick the greatest of all time?

There aren't any straightforward answers when it comes to comparing players across eras, but in this particular instance, there was near unanimity

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan  |  

Trying to zero in on the greatest one-day cricketer of all time can be seen as a self-defeating exercise. So radically has the format changed over the last 44 years, it may appear silly to pit current players against those who played in the 1970s and '80s. Is it even possible, you may ask, to compare a modern-day legend like AB de Villiers, who has lit up the World Cup with his astonishing range of shots, with past ODI masters (and middle-order trendsetters) like Dean Jones, Javed Miandad and Michael Bevan? Hasn't the game undergone a massive shift in the last 15 years?

It is also unclear what approach would lead to the most convincing answer. Does one slice and dice numbers to separate the good from the great? Does one employ statistical metrics that account for gruelling schedules, flatter pitches, heavier bats, shorter boundaries and the influence of T20? Or does one rely on anecdotal evidence from players and coaches, past and present?

Of course there are no straightforward answers but, as anyone who has compiled an all-time XI knows, the sheer implausibility of the task - and potential for endless argument - adds to the appeal. Debating the greatness of cricketers seems to stir an elemental impulse among cricket fans, provoking comments that often contain a delightful mix of passion and anger. "Is MS DONI [sic] better than Great RICKY PONTING ?????????" said a commenter when ESPNcricinfo asked readers to choose from five great ODI cricketers. "Shocked not to see Jayasuriya's name," said another.

A note from Sambit Bal, ESPNcricinfo's editor-in-chief

Starting with this issue, we have discontinued our tablet app. There are two reasons for this. One, it accounts for only a fraction of the total consumption. We have discovered that since most of you spend substantial amounts of time on ESPNcricinfo in the normal course, the Cricket Monthly has become a natural extension of your reading pattern. Two, since lavish use of photographs is part of the core appeal of the magazine, the size of each issue hasn't been tablet storage-friendly (as is the case with the tablet editions of most magazines, not just the Cricket Monthly). And while we explore better options for the app, we leave you to enjoy the magazine on all your devices using our responsive website, which many of you already use on your phones. For easy access, I use a simple trick: just save the page to your device's home screen and, just like for all your other apps, there will be an icon for the Cricket Monthly on your screen.

Heated arguments apart, what these exercises also offer - especially when the panel is as varied and experienced as the Cricket Monthly's jury in this instance - is a sense of perspective. So outlandish have some of the batting feats been over the last few years, with players posting mammoth scores and lightning hundreds, it is easy to pass hasty judgement. Superlatives are de rigueur, and many commentators and writers are often carried away by all the awesome strokeplay. There seems to be no shortage of great shots, great innings, great partnerships and great players. History, it seems, is rewritten on a daily basis.

Which is why the result of the Cricket Monthly survey, featuring an expert panel with more than six decades of cricket-watching experience, comes as a pleasant surprise. Viv Richards - who played his last one-dayer in 1991, an age apart in ODI terms - didn't just sneak to victory, he annihilated the competition. More than half the jury nominated him as the greatest one-day cricketer of all time, and 11 more thought he was the second-best.

There could be any number of reasons for this blowout. Richards' stats were unreal for his era. Over a 16-year period he scored at more than 90 runs per hundred balls, which was miles ahead of the average strike rate at the time (65.98). He was terrific under pressure - starring in two World Cup finals - and thrived in a variety of conditions against both pace and spin. He was also a handy offspinner, an electric fielder and a tremendous captain.

Not to be discounted, though - and what probably makes him the godfather of the modern ODI - was, a) the ability to instinctively improvise, and b) instil a sense of fear in bowlers. Almost nobody in that era walked across the stumps to whip fast bowlers over square leg or backed away and lofted over extra cover. And nobody did so with such nonchalance.

And while modern batsmen like Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and de Villiers have taken the breath away with their tremendous power, fearlessness, and innovative shot-making, they are probably simply carrying forward Richards' immense legacy. Because long before Powerplays and fielding restrictions, long before pitches were mostly dead and fast bowlers defanged, a helmetless Richards pounded attacks. He could score big (five of his 11 hundreds were 130-plus scores) but scarier was that he could also score fast.

Many have spoken of Richards' ability to put fear into the opposition, but probably none said it better than his team-mate Jeffrey Dujon. "As soon as a wicket fell and he went to bat, cover took a few steps back, point stepped back, the field spread a bit out. I have never seen that before. And it used to happen very often."

There is plenty of Richards in the March issue of The Cricket Monthly. Martin Crowe doffs his hat to the king and five bowlers recall their helplessness when they were in the firing line. There is also an interview with the man himself. "My first thought would be to be aggressive," he says, "looking to put you under pressure… some guys just basically collapsed."

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is a writer based in the USA