Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Visual heaven

Over 40 years of cricket watching has enabled me to watch thousands of cricketers. These have ranged from the aggressive to the defensive, from the graceful to the downright ungainly. Watching Colin Dredge bowl to Jim Yardley wasn't the greatest experience, valuable players though they were for their counties.

There have been a number of players who, although not all from Derbyshire, have given me untold hours of enjoyment with their silky skills. This is my aesthetic eleven, players who were close to perfection in what they did.

1 Barry Richards
Has a batsman ever looked less hurried than him? His technique was extraordinary, his timing perfection and his only fault was his motivation. When offered dollar a run sponsorship for a winter in Australia he broke all the records. His cover driving was sublime, even his hoiks looked textbook. Incapable of an ugly stroke.

2 Sunil Gavaskar
The little master was another of infinite class. Probably the only man who scored heavily against the West Indian pace battery, a tribute to his extraordinary talent and ability to see the ball early. An immensely powerful cutter and puller, like most small men, but Gavaskar could play aggressively or defensively depending on the needs of the side. Wonderful player

3 Lawrence Rowe
I could get more enjoyment from watching him play out a maiden than see most players hit 22 off an over. A disappointing run tally from his season with Derbyshire, but Yagga oozed class. So cool he even whistled while he batted and never looked rushed even against Lillee and Thomson at their peak.

4 Greg Chappell
Tall, elegant and admirably correct, he looked only an ordinary player when he had a season with Somerset, yet used it to good effect and became an outstanding player for Australia. Where his brother Ian was a musketeer, Greg was D'Artagnan, with a bat like a rapier. I never saw Peter May, but still recall Chappell's elegant on drives with pleasure

5 Martin Crowe
Gavaskar, Chappell, Crowe - all three played for Somerset, though not at the same time. Crowe came in when Richards and Garner left and was a sublime player who was always perfectly balanced. Caressed the ball for four and had it not been for a series of knee injuries that shortened his career would have been an all-time great

6 Mohammad Azharuddin
On a dry wicket, with a warm day and a good crowd, Azharuddin was on another planet. Not the straightest of batsmen, so always gave a chance, but when he was in the mood the ball went from his bat with astonishing speed. His double century at Chesterfield off Durham was the best knock I have ever seen in person and he looked like Ranjitsinjhi and Bradman combined.

7 Ian Bishop
A beautiful run up and smooth action for the genial Trinidadian who played for all too short a time in Derbyshire colours. If he had bowled medium pace after that he would have been a player, but Bishop was blindingly fast for 3 years, until back injuries took their toll and the action was modified. Not only fast, but he swung the ball at pace - quite extraordinary.

8 Michael Holding
My eyes mist over at the thought of him in Derbyshire colours. He ran in like an Olympic athlete and bowled from a smooth rhythmic action that unleashed a thunderbolt. Batsmen were relieved to see him come off a short run, until they found he was only slightly slower from that than the full glory. I would pay to watch him run up and just bowl at unoccupied stumps if the wicket keeper was

9 Bob Taylor
My Dad and I used to go home after games and tell people that the highlight was Bob Taylor taking throw-ins. You never heard a sound. Rarely had injuries, he took the ball so cleanly, and at times made it look so easy. Other keepers dived to catch what Bob made routine, and would never have got near the ones he did dive for. Sublime.

10 Dennis Lillee
Shirt unbuttoned to the waist, moustache glinting, flicking sweat from his eyebrows with an index finger and full of brooding menace. Lillee was set for a season with us before a back injury ruled him out of the game for a while, but his action was as textbook as humanly possible. Could bowl pretty much any delivery, and the batsmen rarely knew which was which

11 Bishan Bedi
The greatest spinner I have seen with the exception of Shane Warne and undoubtedly the possessor of the smoothest action. A handful of steps, a gentle whirl of arms and another bag of mystery was on its way. Loved to beat batsmen in the flight and frequently did. Many hit him for six, enjoyed his applause, then walked back to the pavilion a few balls later having tried to do it again, finding the ball not quite there. Rubbish bat and fielder, but who cared?

12 David Gower
Made it look too easy at times and people thought he wasn't trying when he didn't come off, but Gower was elegant with a capital E. His fielding was equally lithe and unhurried and Gower was the classiest player of my time of watching England. On the bad days the slips could expect a catch at any time: on the good ones, the fans had a treat that can only have been matched by those that saw Frank Woolley.

There we have it. Would they win matches? I don't know, but I'd be happy to watch this side even in defeat!

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