Morning all, and a happy World Environment Day to you. Its nice to know that this year’s celebrations will take place against the backdrop of probably the best year for the environment in living memory. With most of the globe more or less motionless for the past three months, there are far fewer jets, cars and factories pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, allowing our planet and its animals to breathe. The earth, I think its fair to say, is a reasonably important cog in the machine of human existence, so I’d say this is a good thing. Of course, this hasn’t been such great news for airlines, but I don’t really care about them.
Onto sporting matters, and this week’s Friday Top 5 looks at my favourite cricketers of all time. I say “of all time” when really, of course, I mean during my lifetime (for I have not lived forever).
A few caveats before we begin. Firstly, as an Englishman I have naturally watched England far more than other nations, and that inevitably influences this list. So, in the interest of variety, I have limited the England contingent to three players. Secondly, the 2005 Ashes series was the point at which my casual enjoyment of cricket evolved into a true passion for the game. So this list understandably includes a few of the key individuals from that particularly glorious summer.
Let’s get into it.
Marcus Trescothick, as he did for so much of his playing career, gets things started at the top of the order. The rosy-cheeked Somerset man the unsung hero of the aforementioned 2005 Ashes victory. Despite facing Glenn McGrath with the new ball every innings, Trescothick was the second-highest run-scorer in the series behind Kevin Pietersen, scoring three fifties at an average of 43. More than his runs, though, I loved his positivity. He had an awkward, slightly rigid batting style, but he saw the ball so early and always looked to score quickly off the front foot, setting the tone for the rest of the innings. Its a great shame that his England career was cut short by well-documented personal troubles, but Trescothick continued playing for Somerset until his forties, only retiring last year after amassing more than 26,000 runs. Not bad.
When you speak of 90s sporting legends, West Indies great Brian Lara has to be up there. His role in introducing cricket to a global audience, before Twenty 20 was a thing, cannot be overstated. Catapulting his sport into the modern era, his influence was on a par with the likes of Jonah Lomu in rugby, Michael Jordan in basketball and Tiger Woods in golf. The flamboyant Trinidadian batsman was a run machine, famously scoring 400 not out against England and a quite ridiculous 501 not out for Warwickshire against Durham. In the middle he was a joy to watch, his trademark late backlift and exaggerated strokes unorthodox and effective in equal measure. And even when he wasn’t playing he entertained us for hours on end with Brian Lara Cricket. What a game.
Whilst it pains me, as an Englishman, to include an Australian among my favourite cricketers, Adam Glichrist simply had to be on this list. The Perth native was a revelation when he burst onto the scene in the early 2000s, re-defining what could be done as a wicket-keeper batsman and routinely changing the course of a match in the space of an hour or two. Regardless of the scoreline, Gilchrist would stride out to bat with one singular purpose: attack. His 57-ball century at the WACA – his home ground – against England in 2006 blew my mind, especially considering his powers were supposedly on the wane at the time. His test average of almost 48 batting at 7, when you factor in the Gung-ho approach, remains one of the most impressive in cricket history.
Its late in the day, and the shadows are lengthening across the pitch. The Aussie openers have 10 overs to survive. The test could be decided in this next half an hour. Murmurs of excitement ripple around the ground as Joe Root tosses the ball to Jofra Archer. Fielders crowd the bat like vultures circling a carcass. After decades of suffering at the hands of the Aussie quicks, England, in Archer, finally have one of their own. And its fucking great. Capable of regularly launching bombs in excess of 95 mph, few batsmen in world cricket can handle Archer’s firepower. The Barbadian-born bowler is still raw and inconsistent, but when he’s on, there are few things in sport quite as exciting as the site of him steaming in with the new ball. I can’t wait to see how he does on the hot flat pitches in Australia next winter.
Perhaps the least surprising entry, I suspect Freddie Flintoff would make most England cricket fans’ Top 5. Ben Stokes is probably a better player on balance, but Flintoff has a special place in my heart simply for his role in the 2005 Ashes. The all-rounder grabbed that series by the scruff of the neck and made it his own with swashbuckling centuries, devastating bowling spells and brilliant fielding. Broad-chested, shaven head, he celebrated wickets like goals in a cup final, and in doing so captivated the nation. The Aussies had no answer for his sheer athleticism and will to win. He then dominated the victory celebrations as well, turning up to Downing Street after an all-nighter and pissing in the Primer Minister’s rose garden. A model for us all to follow.
Right, there you have it. Its probably no surprise to see that every member of this group is attack-minded. Cricket, for all its many joys, can drag at times, particularly in the test format. So you sometimes need players to flip the switch and ignite the game again, and those listed above had/have particularly refined skills in that area.
I’m sure you guys will have different favourites, so let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Have a great weekend all, and see you on Monday.