The Top 100 Cricketers of All Time, by Christopher Martin-Jenkins
Sports fans love lists, and I suspect cricket fans love them most of all – in a sport where batting and bowling averages serve as benchmarks of greatness, and where there are endless permutations for new records and new firsts (highest test match partnership shared by two brothers, highest scores on debut, longest break between Test Match appearances, and so many more), nevertheless selection of a playing XI has always required a measure of emotional response to the qualities of a cricketer, as well as a cold-eyed look at their stats, and thus the selection of all-time XIs is something that gives most cricket fans endless pleasure, with loads of scope for a good old argument.
As Christoper Martin-Jenkins acknowledges, he has had to make some painful omissions from this book, which is intended to represent his personal choice of the all-time best 100 cricketers who ever played Test cricket. For those, like me, raised on the poor English fare of the 90s, the lack of Mike Atherton and Alec Stewart, both capable of heroic defiance in the face of superior firepower, seems harsh, and undoubtedly every cricket fan of every stripe will find something to argue with. CMJ’s task is a thankless one, to be sure, and he acknowledges the agonies he went through omitting so many wonderful players. Given that he has to cover the whole of cricket’s recorded history, from the days of uncovered pitches and eight-ball overs, up to the Twenty20 dominated present-day, he has done an excellent job.
Each pen portrait covers both the highs and lows of the selected player’s career, extolling their virtues while acknowledging their failings. CMJ has a wonderful turn of phrase and communicates with warmth and passion why he feels each cricketer merits their place in the book. Needless to say, players in the very highest echelons receive extra attention, and the selection of the very top players was, for me, largely uncontroversial. Because some things in cricket don’t need to be argued about, top of the pile is Don Bradman; modern fans may be surprised how far down the list Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara are, but that proves that CMJ has not been tempted to rate more highly those players that he had seen with his own eyes.
Updated in its paperback form to reflect the result of the 2009 Ashes series, and with photos of every single player included, this book is hard to fault, and if, when you’ve finished it, you want to sit the author down with a cup of tea and a slice of cake and argue for hours about his choices, well that’s surely the point of the whole exercise…