Cricket! The word is enough to give excitement, goosebumps, and a different kind of emotions all together at once to any die-hard cricket fan. Just like me, there are many in this country who can feel the same emotions when they hear this word. The cliché is that cricket is not just a game but it is a religion in India. For me, it is the same as well but then I am an atheist, as I don’t consider any cricketer as god but time and again I do update my list of favorite cricketers from the various eras ever since I have started watching this great game.
The semi-final between England and India of the 1983 cricket world cup is my first fully watched cricket match, it is obvious that readers would find more cricketers from that era and the era that followed than the current ones in this list of mine. But then this is a personal choice and personal choices can’t be forced upon anybody, right? So, let us now check the top 5 favorite cricketers of mine in decreasing order.
My Top 5 Most Favorite Cricketers of All Time
But before starting the list I would like to discuss that cricketer who is beyond choice, beyond comparison, or beyond being favorite or not. He is the cricketer who can be likable or favorite by default if you love the game of cricket.
The favorite cherry on the cake – Sachin Tendulkar
It is my honor and probably my luck that I started watching Sachin Tendulkar from the very beginning of his cricketing career and I was also the witness of his first Pakistan tour. I too watched that friendly match between Pakistan and India live on TV, where Sachin hit Abdul Qadir for four sixes in an over. From that very moment, Sachin became my favorite. We, the then youngsters knew that something really big is coming from him in future years but this big, which later turned out to be? We were not ready for that.
No matter whether it was a Test match or an ODI Sachin would always carry, as they say, ‘a billion hopes’ on his shoulders. Yes, I have seen a few people switching off their TV sets once Sachin got out although being the pure cricket fan and knowing that this is the greatest game of uncertainty, I was one of those rare species who used to continue watching even after his departure and wait for the ultimate outcome of the match.
Three incidents of Sachin’s entire career have embossed in my mind forever. First, that desert storm game and the game after that. He nearly won us the game when sand storm interrupted, but then he made sure that we win the next game, which was the all-important final match. The way he bossed the bowling of Flemming and Kasparowicz was unthinkable at that time.
The second most memorable Sachin moment for me was the game against Kenya in the 1999 ICC Cricket World Cup when he came back to England within a few days’ time, after giving the last rites to his late father in Mumbai. It was an emotional moment for him and for all of us watching him playing on the TV. When he scored the century and bowed to his father by looking up there, no eyes would have remained dry for sure. The respect for Sachin was increased in many folds, that day.
The third Sachin moment for me happened in Chennai when he was the lone fighter and almost snatched the Test match against the old enemies Pakistan. But after finishing his duty almost, by putting his team on the doors of victory before getting out, the tail-enders did sort of a betrayal job and India lost the game. There are stories about him crying in the dressing room and hence he couldn’t come to receive the man of the match award could be felt by every Indian cricket fan because we too were in a similar shock.
As mentioned before, if you love the game of cricket, then there is no reason why you don’t like Sachin Tendulkar. If you don’t like him then you must have strong reasons to support that dislike.
Favorite No. 5: Mahendra Singh Dhoni (India)
The best finisher of the game, the best wicketkeeper not only India but the world has ever seen, and the best captain Team India ever had to date. Indian cricket was lucky to have Mahendra Singh Dhoni as a cricketer, as a wicketkeeper, and as a captain just after ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 debacle, when Team India was kicked out of the tournament in the first round itself. The heroes became villains in the matter of one game and a drastic change in the team’s hierarchy was the need of the hour.
The first-ever ICC World Twenty20 tournament in South Africa for which the BCCI was first reluctant to even participate, came as a stepping stone for the revival of Indian cricket and thanks to the leadership of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, that made India win the tournament, and made the Indian cricket is what it is today. He was never a favorite of mine as a starter as he dropped Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly from the tri-series played in Australia during his first stint as full-time ODI captain overseas.
But then big decisions need to be proved correct and he did just that by winning that tri-series and that changed my way to look at Dhoni and his captaincy. In that first-ever T20 World Cup too his presence of mind gave us two of the best examples of his different captaincy style which I would never forget. The first one when he stood right behind the stumps during that famous bowl-out against Pakistan. That helped our bowlers to sight the stumps better and they hit them every single time because of that presence of mind only.
And the second example is of course of giving the last over to Joginder Sharma in the final when Pakistan was on the verge of winning the game. Yes, he had very less or no option with him but to give the bowl to Joginder but then that is where the best captains are born, by giving the utmost trust to your players.
Plenty has been said about Dhoni and his captaincy, but for me, his ability to take the risk, making quick changes in field settings and bowling, his cool head, his poker face, whether the team is winning or not, and his clear mindset about the game are the qualities which makes him my favorite. No matter how he performed during the latter part of his career, he is the only Indian captain to date, who has won us the T20 World Cup, the 50 overs World Cup, the Champions Trophy, and the ICC Test mace.
He could have planned his retirement better than how it unfolded ultimately, but then no one in this world is perfect.
Favorite No. 4: Sourav Ganguly (India)
He is Indian cricket’s best ‘comeback kid’ to say the least. He made the comeback in the mid-1990s when he was wiped out of the memories due to his so-called off-the-field tantrums in the 1992 Australian tour. I remember Bishen Singh Bedi criticized his inclusion, in an interview given to Harsha Bhogle, just before that England tour started. After that tour never heard anything from Bedi about him. He again made a comeback in the mid-2000s when he was unceremoniously kicked out of the Indian cricket team by the dictatorial coach Greg Chappell.
Sourav Ganguly first drew my attention during that historic Sahara Cup series against Pakistan in Toronto where he was adjudged Man of the series where he scored many runs and also took plenty of wickets and India drubbed Pakistan by 4-1. The passion he showed on the field during that series made me his instant fan. Then there was again a tri-series in Singapore and in a dead rubber game Sachin Tendulkar, the actual captain took a rest and gave the reins to ‘Dada’. Although India lost that game Ganguly’s captaining style impressed me a lot and I could see him as a future Indian captain at that time only.
I had to wait not so much to see my favorite cricketer as captain of my national cricket team. The match-fixing scandal jolted Indian cricket the most and after Azharuddin, the BCCI rightly saw Ganguly as someone who can take Indian cricket out of such a deep mud where the trust of the Indian public in our cricketers was almost lost.
Sourav Ganguly slowly built up a team where Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, and VVS Laxman along with Javagal Srinath, Anil Kumble, and himself remained the mainstay and the then youngsters like Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Yuvraj Singh, Zaheer Khan, Mohammad Kaif gave the team the X-factor it needed the most.
Under Dada Team India certainly not became the world-beater but it definitely shows the path to become a world-beater. Although the Dravid-Chappell years did derail this journey, the DNA which Sourav Ganguly had already inserted started giving fruits when MS Dhoni took over the charge from Dravid.
If you check the videos widely available on YouTube where players from the Ganguly era and Ganguly himself are talking about that time, you would understand how great that team was gelled together and how they used to respect each other in the same manner regardless of their seniority. As the BCCI boss too Sourav Ganguly has brought more professionalism into the institution which was the need of the hour at that time.
Favorite No.3: Sir Isaac Alexander Vivian Richards (West Indies)
If flamboyancy has another name then it should be or it must be Sir Isaac Alexander Vivian Richards. Although I was too young to remember his good innings but I do remember his ultra-positive body language, whenever he used to bat, even now when I am writing about him. Not only when he was batting but also when he was approaching the pitch from the dressing room he was scary to me.
As a kid when the Indian team used to get the first West Indies wicket, I used to get no happiness as fear used to take over. Fear of Sir Viv Richards, the fear of that thought that now our bowlers will be punished heavily for getting one of the West Indies opening batsmen out, and that punishment will be given by Sir Viv Richards. When Sir Viv used to walk from the pavilion to the pitch, that sight was enough to give jitters to a youngster like me if they are not from the West Indies.
That walk was fearless, extremely positive, and of an alpha male. Sir Viv continuously used to chew bubble-gum right from walking out from the pavilion till he gets back to the pavilion. Even after hitting the ball for six of a four that chewing process showed us the kids that he cares nothing about our bowlers.
But yes it was a treat to watch him when he was not playing against us. Although there was very less international cricket on TV at that time 1986 World Series and the 1987 ICC Cricket World Cup were two occasions where I had a chance to watch him playing against other countries. I would be extremely honest if I accept the fact that Sir Viv Richards became my favorite not out of love but out of fear.
After getting old and after having more understating about this great game, I realized that Sir Viv Richards was not just a fear factor but he was a great batsman and a great entertainer in the days when Test cricket was slow and dull who could take the game away from the opposition like a storm.
Favorite No. 2: Shane Warne (Australia)
I enjoyed it a lot when Sachin Tendulkar and Ravi Shastri took Shane Warne to the cleaners in the Sydney Test that was his debut series as well. I overjoyed when he was made next to nothing on Indian pitches whenever he has traveled here. But still, Shane Warne is my favorite cricketer and I rate him as high as No. 2 in my all-time favorite cricketers’ list. Why? Two reasons.
The first reason is that he was one of the rare breeds of intelligent cricketers. He used to plan his wickets and invariably he used to get successful execution. If Shane Warne has bowled an over in a Test match then you would see that many times all the six deliveries bowled, were different than one another. Plus, leg-spin, leg-spin, leg-spin, and googly or leg-spin, leg-spin, leg-spin, and flipper were often his way to get the wickets that made opposition batsmen baffled time and again.
He has even made batsmen fool by bringing variations in flight. If you see a ball in the air, going towards the right side of your TV screen, pitching, and then turning towards off stump, then that ball must have been delivered by Shane Warne, nine out of ten times, such control over the ball he had.
The second reason for liking Shane Warne is that he revived the art of leg-spinning. India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka the lands of spinning tracks couldn’t come up with great leg spinners regularly after the 1980s, but Warne an Australian, with his utmost intelligence brought the glamour back in the art of leg-spin.
For me, as I always say about Ravi Shastri that he is the best captain India never had, Shane Warne too is the best captain Australia never had. But one could blame Ravi Shastri’s bad luck or the bad timing of the era in which he played cricket for India that had too many captains but can’t say the same about Warnie. His off-field antics were enough to keep him away from the position that can inspire many, especially the kids and the younger lot.
But it was Shane Warne’s captaincy only that made the underdogs Rajasthan Royals winning the first edition of the Indian Premier League in 2008. A mixture of young, known, and unknown players was never in the race to win the title, but Shane Warne as a captain showed them the way to the victory.
Favorite No. 1: Sunil Gavaskar (India)
Those who know me personally must have the idea who must be on the top of this list of my favorite cricketers even before starting to read this blog. Just like the kids of the 1990s grew up watching Sachin Tendulkar the kids of the 1970s like me grew up listening and reading about Sunil Gavaskar and his greatness and thus he became the only choice and reason to watch cricket whenever it is available on the TV during those days.
Sunil Gavaskar impressed me with his centuries and also the faith people of India used to put on him during those. Just like Tendulkar the entire Indian Test batting was dependent on Sunil Gavaskar during the 1970s and 1980s. For me, Sunil Gavaskar’s batting stance was one the most balanced ones I have ever seen, the next to him is only Arvinda de’ Silva of Sri Lanka who I feel had the best and balanced batting stance.
The flick, the cover drives, and of course the straight drives by Sunil Gavaskar were an absolute delight to watch. The best Sunil Gavaskar moments for me came when he crossed Sir Don Bradman’s most number of centuries mark in Delhi when he crossed the 10,000 runs mark in Ahmedabad and as the victorious captain down under in the World Series in 1986.
The reason why I and every Sunil Gavaskar fan could hold their head high forever is that he retired on his own terms. That is a rare phenomenon in Indian cricket. Even what Sachin Tendulkar or Mahendra Singh Dhoni couldn’t do that, but Sunil Gavaskar did that and not only once but twice and both the time he was at the highest point of his career.
First time just after winning the World Series in Australia, Sunil Gavaskar declared that he is retiring from the captaincy and will never ever captain the Indian team again. The second time when he declared his decision to retire from all types of cricket and at that time he was making runs like a machine. I remember I couldn’t eat my dinner when I heard the news about the second decision on the radio. But then while thinking about the same today, I feel that how it is necessary for a sportsman to retire when his career is on the high because a sportsman always is as good as his last game is.
Nowadays ‘Sunnybhai’ is giving his expert comments wherever Team India is playing. Despite in his mid-70s, he can still make the young watchers enjoy with his humorous and witty comments. His chemistry with this generation of commentators is also commendable. He never minces a word when it comes to criticizing a cricketer, no matter how big he is, or to criticize BCCI or even ICC, despite getting paid by both those institutions. Whenever Team India has face discrimination, especially by the ICC and that too in a foreign land, Sunil Gavaskar is always the first person to thrash such disseminations, without even caring about the consequences. This is where his greatness excels.
Hope you have liked this blog. It is a personal list of favorite cricketers so there is no intention to start the race or to compare this with other lists or lists to prove that my list is better than the others. You may still give your list of the top 5 of your favorite cricketers in the comment section given below. I would love to read them as being a pure cricket lover, I love to read, admire, and like about every cricketer who has given his best to make this game extremely popular, watchable, and enjoyable.
19th June 2021, Saturday