In making a comprehensive list of the best middle order batsmen, it’s incredibly tough to compare across different generations, and the varied styles. I found the best factor to focus on primarily is the level of dominance a batsman was able to achieve through a sustained period of international cricket (sustained means both in terms of number of years and number of tests). After that, the style of playing and their statistics come next. Let’s hope that I am able to do justice to the great batsmen over the ages.
I am not going into details here. We all know what these players have achieved, and it would be stupid to list their accomplishments. I will just be giving some personal opinions (which are based on facts).
20. Martin David Crowe (New Zealand)
Too low? Maybe. The thing is, as good as Crowe was, he never truly got to dominate the test scene for an extended period of time in the same way as the others on this list did because of the side he was playing in. Plus, his overall numbers are not that great. But he was a very stylish batsman, had all the shots in the book, could play everywhere along the ground and had a beautiful technique. For years, he was called the best young batsman around. Sadly, after Hadlee was gone, he eventually lost his edge.
19. Allan Robert Border (Australia)
He found Australian Cricket in the throes of a dark period, and slowly turned everything around, ending up as a World Cup winning captain. It might seem strange to place at #19 the first man to reach 11000 runs. He was a quiet man who had an ageless technique, shown by the fact that he had the same (excellent) record in the second half of his career as he did in the first.
18. Stephen Rodger Waugh (Australia)
Though many might prefer his brother, Mark, the truth is that Steve Waugh was the backbone of the lower middle order of Australia for much of the 90s. Extremely determined to not give his wicket away, he relentlessly pushed himself to become a risk-free batsman, in the process turning himself into an Aussie hero. As a captain, he has no peer in history apart from perhaps Clive Lloyd. Self belief and ruthlessness were the main components of his career which saw him become a mentor to the greatest test squad of all time.
17. Rohan Bholalall Kanhai (West Indies)
It would be difficult to imagine a more entertaining batsman from his era. Kanhai played with Sobers, Weekes and Worrell in his first test, and Lloyd and Kallicharran in his last. His first century was a smashing 256 at the Eden Gardens. He was somewhat ruthless and quite daring and sublime in stroke-play. Another player who believed in using a good defense in positive, run-getting ways. Sunil Gavaskar claims to have learnt a lot about his technique from watching Kanhai.
16. Kenneth Frank Barrington (England)
A colossus in the middle, Ken Barrington is surpassed in English history only by Wally Hammond. Known as a stonewaller of Boycott’s reputation, he started out as an attacking batsman, who then completely changed his playing style. He was much loved by everyone, and served English cricket brilliantly for 82 tests, averaging 58.67 and scoring 20 centuries.
15. Frank Mortimer Maglinne Worrell (West Indies)
The amount of pressure this man took with such ease on his shoulders was remarkable. As the first black captain of the Windies, Frank Worrell batted with an elegance so superb as to set an example for his fine side. Ever the gentleman, he never let any controversy upset either his side, or his crafty batting. His partnership on the field with Sobers was fantastc @ 76.93, and their relationship off field helped Sobers become a future leader for the WIndies. The man to unite Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad; the man respected and loved by everyone. Waugh the best captain, Worrell the best leader.
14. Mohammad Javed Miandad (Pakistan)
Pakistan’s finest batsman, with Inzamam coming close, played many a fine innings that set him apart from the rest. He always played with a fierce will to win, and had a very intelligent cricket brain. He was great at working the angles and spaces equally well; he knew above all how to score runs in almost any situation. One of the early users of the reverse sweep. Always saved his best for India. A touch of genius.
13. Everton DeCourcy Weekes (West Indies)
Just getting ahead of Worrell, primarily because this is a batting list, is Everton Weekes. Weekes career was a fine one, coinciding with those of Worrell, Walcott and Sobers. He was quick-footed and possessed an admirable variety of strokes, almost all of them attacking. With an average of 58..61 after 41 tests and 15 centuries, he once scored five hundreds in consecutive tests in India. Very fine indeed.
12. Rahul Sharad Dravid (India)
Rahul Dravid is difficult to place on this list, to be very honest. I could have him lower and not many would complain. I , though, remain firm in my opinion that Dravid is as classy, as technically perfect, as proud and ambitious as any other batsman you will ever meet. With the integrity of a Supreme court judge, Dravid made the number 3 position all his own for India in their finest ever team. So bright did his star shine in the 2000s that he even eclipsed the great Tendulkar through the decade. His overseas performances against England, Windies and Australia were the base on which India built its finest victories. Nobody valued his wicket more than Dravid, whose reservoirs of concentration and determination seemed limitless. He was a team man through and through, opening when they needed him to, keeping when he was asked, and what not. Probably one of the last classical test batsmen, Dravid ended his career with more than 13000! test runs at an average of 52.31 with 36 centuries. More than the numbers, he was a man who would not submit to defeat, most notably showcased in his defiant partnership with VVS Laxman in Eden Gardens in 2001. With him gone, cricket has lost something special, something from a bygone era, something which is worth preserving.
11. Walter Reginald Hammond (England)
But for Jack Hobbs, Hammond would have an automatic claim to be England’s best batsman ever. He could still lay claim to be its best cricketer ever. A great slip catcher, and a useful medium pacer, and a colossus with the bat. He had established himself as the best batsman of his era, when suddenly the title was taken away by “the boy from Bowral”. He lived his entire career in the shadow of the Don, but was instrumental in English triumphs in that era.
Supremely skilled on sticky wickets, and a marvelous exponent of the off side, Hammond scored runs in heavy showers, finishing with a staggering 36 first class double centuries and the highest test score of 336, then a world record beating Bradman’s 334. His 7249 test runs came at 58.45 with 22 hundreds in 85 matches.
10. Jacques Henry Kallis (South Africa)
If only Jacques Kallis were a touch more elegant, he would have earned the right to knock on the gates of the top 6 here. I say that not to deprecate him, however, because if there is one modern batsman for whom the word ‘mammoth’ can be used, it’s Kallis. He is a fine, forceful batsman who has at his disposal both a rock-solid technique and a mind impervious to distraction. Unyielding, unrelenting and unleashed, he is a magnificent mix of the classical and the modern. He can put the bad balls away all day long, not to mention whack some good ones too. His offside play is supreme, masterful even. That back-lift and that cover drive! His presence inspires great calm in a South African side which has been at the apex of world cricket for almost a decade now. He has 42 centuries to his name, the second most in history after Tendulkar, over 12000 runs at an average of 56.78! Incredible. His wicket is perhaps the most highly prized one in today’s game. He is the greatest all rounder since Imran Khan and Ian Botham. Also a great slip catcher and fielder. He is, in one word, a giant.
9. Ricky Thomas Ponting (Australia)
THE batsman of the 2000s. Excellent record. A very attacking batsman with the most brilliant pull shot I have ever witnessed. Perhaps Australia’s greatest in the modern era. Slightly suspect early shuffle tends to get the better of him sometimes, and he is slightly weak against spin bowling. Quintessentially modern, and an uncompromising plunderer of runs, Ponting has hit 41 test centuries, bring third on the all time list. Between 2002-06, he was in phenomenal form, averaging 70.93 in 2002, 100.20 in 2003, 67.13 in 2005 and 88.86 in 2006. The only issue is that outside of this purple patch, his numbers are very ordinary. He is the most successful test captain in history, a three time world cup winner, and one of only three batsmen to have scored 13000 test runs. Very nearly made it to number 8 on this list actually.
8. Gregory Stephen Chappell (Australia)
Beautiful to watch, very elegant with a great technique. His record is very, very good (average 53.86 and 24 100s), but more than anything else, Chappell was, aesthetically, the best batsman to watch in the 70s. He dominated Australia’s batting for more than a decade in a show of supreme batsmanship. Never played ugly shots, never will. As time went by, he became better defensively, and imposed more self discipline upon himself. A master of the leg side, with his wristy upward flicks and a wonderful driver of the ball. Laxman would come close as a modern equivalent, but not close enough.
7. George Alphonso Headley (West Indies)
The Black Bradman. For some, he is the greatest West Indies Batsman of all time. Playing at number 3 in a modest Caribbean side, George Headley shone like a bright diamond. George Headley was unstoppable at every level of the game, making runs with a style and brilliance few have ever matched, and setting the standards for generations of West Indian players to follow. Headley’s average at the outbreak of war was 66.7; among team-mates who played as many as five Tests, the next highest average was Clifford Roach’s 30.7. Scored 10 centuries with a high score of 270. The first black superstar.
6. Robert Graeme Pollock (South Africa)
Even a career cut short could not diminish the greatness of this man. A master craftsman, an artist in the super league of left-handers. His profound command and aura at the crease were unmistakable. Bradman certainly thought him to be the best left hander he had ever seen with Sobers. He destroyed Australia in 1970 along with Barry Richards. In 23 tests, he scored 2256 runs @ 60.97 with 7 centuries. Pollock was an extremely powerful batsman, very positive in his outlook, although his timing was perhaps his most obvious natural asset. He would probably have been on number 2, 3 or 4 on this list had he played more.
In Port Elizabeth you can still almost picture people dashing off to see him play at “the Pollock position” at the Old Grey.
5. Garfield St Aubrun Sobers (West Indies)
A cricketing genius, Sobers was first and foremost a great batsman more than anything else. His exceptional Test batting average of over 57 tells little about the manner in which he made the runs, his elegant yet powerful style marked by all the shots, but memorably his off-side play. Barry Richards once observed that Sobers was “the only 360-degree player in the game”; that is, his follow-through ended where his pick-up began, swinging “right through every degree on the compass”. Scoring the remarkable record breaking 365 was just another great day in the park. Sobers could bat anywhere, and he did just that, alternating with the 3 Ws, even opening in a test once.
4. Brian Charles Lara (West Indies)
On his best days, the best batsman in history. It is as simple as that. If I was told to pick between him and Tendulkar if both were going to be at their best, I would pick him. He was absolutely marvelous to watch, fantastic. Extremely attacking. He knew the art of scoring huge centuries without while keeping his wicket safe, as showcased in his innings of 375, 501 and 400 and the awesome 153 in 1999. But then came some days when he was uncharacteristic, and would throw his wicket away. But he was an entertainer par excellence. Eloquently graceful, divine in stroke-play and a god against spin bowling. Fastest to reach 11000 test runs. The best player of spin bowling in history. Wonderful, wonderful cricketer.
3. Isaac Vivian Richards (West Indies)
Viv was a cross between Mohammad Ali and Barry Richards. What swagger, what a will to dominate, what arrogance, and what a player to watch. His hooking and pulling are up there as perhaps the best of all time. He feared no one, and was at his most fierce when antagonized. Oppositions quickly learned not to do that. Between 1976 and 1981, Viv was in a universe of his own, the way he dismantled attacks. It was always awe inspiring, and frequently he made the bowler want to hit the showers early. He could deflate oppositions like no other batsman in history. His overpowering theatrical displays of domination would really take over the entire game as long as he was there. He transformed West Indies from a good team to a world dominating side with his attitude and ambition. He walked the walked better than anyone else in the history of the game. A fighter to boot, with a huge will to succeed and win and dominate.
2. Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar (India)
I will let BBC Sports summarize for me:
Beneath the helmet, under that unruly curly hair, inside the cranium, there is something we don’t know, something beyond scientific measure. Something that allows him to soar, to roam a territory of sport that, …forget us, even those who are gifted enough to play alongside him cannot even fathom. When he goes out to bat, people switch on their television sets and switch off their lives.
First came the Prodigy. In 1988, when he was 15, Sunil Gavaskar was quoted as saying in a Sportsweek interview “The two best batsmen in Bombay today are Vengsarkar and Sachin Tendulkar.” Full stop. Everyone, including, in a strange way, him, knew he was going to be one of the greatest ever. In 1992, he played that innings in Perth.
Next came the Master Blaster. Partly because of the one day game, he became an unstoppable force. He changed the face of Indian cricket single handedly. I will always say, like Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards, Bradman, Viv and countless others, that the best batsman attack the bowling even if it is not there to be attacked. Enter Sachin. From 1996 to 2002, he was in imperious form. The Sharjah whirl-storms, the Chennai masterstroke, the dismantling of Warne all came in that era.
Last came the cerebral genius. Sachin Tendulkar has donned many personas in his awe-striking career. He has reinvented himself again and again. He is almost as good a player now as he was when he started, but in different ways. If longevity were the most important criteria here, Tendulkar would be at number one.
The best aspect of Tendulkar is that he is a purist’s delight. He has the best technique I have ever witnessed, textbook perfect. He possesses all the best features of batting: compact technique, minimal footwork, aggression, instinct, the will to succeed and become better with every game. He is a joy to watch, and he possesses the knack of finding joy in every outing on the field. Where he rises above Lara and Richards is his greater technical skills. He was ranked 2nd by Wisden in their list of all time great batsmen, ahead of Viv.
His record is, well, you know. 51 Test Centuries, 15470 test runs, average 55. 44, 49 ODI centuries, 18426 ODI runs, average 44.83. In one area, though, Tendulkar suffers when compared with other greats is his inability to make really big scores. He has never made a triple century, and “only” made 6 double centuries. Apart from that, he is the man who comes closest to our #1, both in terms of batting style and performance. In other ways too, they were similar. Both were hero worshiped during their time, though Sachin is slightly more under pressure every time he bats. Tendulkar played in a weaker side for the first half of his career, often being the knight in shining armor. His excellence in ODI cricket is better than any other great batsman (including SIr Viv), and it only adds to his legend. To the man who loves scoring runs, and winning matches, it’s cruel that he has played many a great innings in losing causes. But he has never complained. He has never even given a hint. He marches on.
Viv Richards – “He is 99.5% Perfect.”
Brian Lara – “Sachin is a genius , i am a mere mortal!”
Shane Warne - “Sachin Tendulkar is, in my time, the best player without doubt – daylight second, Brian Lara third.”
Matthew Hayden – “I have seen God , he bats at no.4 for India in Tests.”
Andrew Symonds – “To Sachin, the man we all want to be.”
1. Donald George Bradman (Australia)
99.94. The single most mind boggling number of cricket history. Home free. Great technique. Wonderful to watch. Mastered uncovered and sticky pitches. Central point of the “Invincibles” side. Hero worshiped in his time. The gold standard. The platinum standard. The diamond standard. Once averaged 201 in a 5 match test series against South Africa. Another series against India, averaged 178. Scored 29 centuries in 80 innings, 12 double hundreds, 2 triple hundreds and one 299*. Lowest point was averaging 56 in bodyline. Once scored 270 batting at number 7. Once scored 309 runs in a single day (a record). Fastest player to reach 2K, 3K, 4K, 5K, and 6K runs. Made centuries in 6 consecutive tests. Averaged over 100 in seven different calendar years.
No other athlete dominated an international sport to the extent that Bradman did cricket. Want more?
Batsmen who just missed out: Clyde Walcott – Dennis Compton – Neil Harvey – Kumar Sangakkara – Inzamam ul-Haq.