The World Twenty20 is underway and, as befitting this form of cricket, it started with a bang.
The West Indies’ Chris Gayle, he of golden bats, misjudged pitch-side comments and a backlift to strike fear in the heart of any bowler, was the man to deliver, bludgeoning an unbeaten century against an excitable England side.
Gayle is a showman for the ages; perfectly suited to T20s and the life of a journeyman cricketer, he has ditched the noble and historical trade of Test cricket – ostensibly due to a back injury – in favour of the spotlight of lucrative T20 tournaments the world over.
What, though, of those that weren’t so lucky when it came to the timing stakes – players past who would have made quite the spectacle today? Here’s a look at players known (and less well known), who would have had something a bit different to offer to T20 cricket today.
1. Romesh Kaluwitharana (Sri Lanka)
To find batsmen before their time, you don’t have to go that far back before coming across two of Sri Lanka’s finest – pocket rockets Romesh Kaluwitharana and Aravinda de Silva.
De Silva will long be remembered as the more masterful of the two with career stats to match, but Kaluwitharana had an unrivalled ability to build an explosive platform for his team on his day.
With an unorthodox technique akin to the modern day Jos Buttler, Kaluwitharana had no inhibitions about going after the opening bowlers from ball one, a novelty for the one-day game then and the setting of a new standard.
2. Janette Brittin (England)
Some of the finer details of the women’s game pre the T20 era are harder to come by, due to insufficient coverage, but Janette Brittin would without doubt have felt right at home in today’s fast-paced game.
While most of her statistical records have been surpassed by others through the increase in volume of women’s cricket, Brittin’s five ODI centuries came in just 55 matches. Charlotte Edwards, by comparison, achieved the feat in 154 matches and Karen Rolton in 68. Only Meg Lanning, arguably the GOAT of women’s cricket, has done it faster, in 55 matches.
3. Martin Crowe (New Zealand)
The death of Martin Crowe earlier this month saw an outpouring of love and affection across social media, interspersed with a number of tributes hailing him as the forerunner of T20 cricket.
Former New Zealand fast bowler Iain O’Brien tweeted, “T20 has Martin Crowe to thank”. Crowe batted by instinct and it was his presence at the crease that many spoke about in keeping him a step ahead of the rest of the pack.
T20 cricket is a game which runs off confidence and momentum and Crowe would have had it in bounds. Interestingly, he wrote after his playing days of his dislike for premeditative shots, a staple of today’s T20s.
4. Javed Miandad (Pakistan)
Miandad has made quite a post-playing career of critiquing Pakistan’s current crop of short-form players and igniting debate everywhere he goes, but back in the day he let his bat do the talking. He enjoyed nothing more than taking it to the old enemy, with his average against India, of 51, far greater than his 41 against all nations. Miandad was a big game player.
Miandad wasn’t just a conventional big striker of the ball either, his style of play emphasised the importance of small margins with aggressive running between wickets and astute shot placement. With games often coming down to the wire in modern T20s, it was those small margins that would have made the difference.
5. Mushtaq Mohammad (Pakistan)
Mohammad only played in ten ODIs as this form of the game was only introduced fairly late into his career (Mohammad’s first ODI was only the fifth recorded match of this format), so there’s not much to glean from his stats.
What is well established, however, is that Mohammad was the first to use the reverse sweep on the international stage – a shot he claimed he’d seen his older brother and fellow international, Hanif Mohammad, play first. It wasn’t just his batting that brought out variety either, he was a prolific wicket-taker too, which he achieved through a mix of leg breaks, googlies and flippers thrown into his repertoire.
6. Kapil Dev (India)
No golden generation cricket team is complete without this showstopper. Dev’s ODI strike rate with the bat of 95 was one of the greatest at the time and his economy with the ball of 3.71 was also among the best. He also took the most ODI wickets for any player retiring before the turn of the century.
Dev was one of the greatest all-rounders ever to grace the game. With his bowling in particular, Dev’s yorkers – his trademark delivery late in the game – would have been the perfect offering to close out any T20.
7. Ian Smith (wk) (New Zealand)
Nowadays it seems a prerequisite of becoming a cricket commentator that you are able to talk of your greatest cricketing achievements more so than you do the match in hand. In Smith, we have the perfect example.
Still, his anecdotes don’t make for dull listening. Smith was a late order batsman and the kind of player you’d wheel out to smash a few sixes in the dying overs. While his strike rate in ODIs was 99, his one in Tests of 63 wasn’t that far behind. His highest Test score of 173 against India included one over in which he cracked 24 runs. Bish bash bosh.
8. Bernard Bosanquet (England)
The googly has another far less used term – the ‘Bosie’, named after its inventor, Bernard Bosanquet. Eton and Oxford-educated Bosanquet is another, albeit completely contrasting, pioneer in our squad to sit alongside Mushtaq Mohammad.
Bosanquet’s development of the googly was accomplished through a real trial and error method, as he introduced it first into minor league matches before using it for Middlesex, his county, and then in Tests, to great effect. Just as the wrong ‘un and all sorts of variations form the cornerstone of T20 spin-bowling attacks the world over, Bosanquet would have had a repertoire to rival them all.
9. Lyn Fullston (Australia)
Fullston, a slow left-arm orthodox bowler during the Eighties, a period in which Australia’s women were dominant in world cricket, took 73 wickets in 41 matches, the most of anyone before the turn of the century. A dual international – she represented Australia in netball too – her athleticism and handy capability with the bat would have made her the perfect fit in any T20 side today.
10. Joel Garner (West Indies)
When it comes to fast bowlers of eras past, any one of the mighty West Indians of the ’80s would have been a force to contend with – Michael Holding, Curtly Ambrose, Andy Roberts, Malcolm Marshall – you name them.
Garner, however, stood a cut above the rest. Bowling faster than 145km/h and with an economy in ODIs of just 3.09, Garner destroyed batting line-ups the world over. Add to that a pinpoint accurate yorker, at that speed, and Garner would have lit up T20 tournaments the world over.
11. Jeff Thomson (Australia)
If Thomson’s Allan Border medal speech was anything to go by, Thomson was quite a character both on and off the pitch. A reckless tearaway bowler, he’s probably not someone you’d want to tie down an attack, but to get the key wickets and get ’em quick, he’s your man.
Plus Thomson would have a good chat to the batsman after every delivery to tell them what he thought – the perfect showman for the game’s showpiece. If Shaun Tait is ‘The Wild Thing’, Thomson would have been raised by a pack of wolves.
Super-sub: Alan Dawson (South Africa)
A left-field maverick pick but Dawson deserves a mention. An international cricketer with two Test caps and 19 ODIs to his name, he was a decent first-class swing bowler. Nothing to write home about perhaps, but he’s in the squad for his batting, and for one stat in particular.
At the turn of the millennium, Dawson held the unlikely status of being the only man to have a strike rate of 200 in ODIs. In just his first outing with the bat the tall South African hit a six soon after he entered the crease in his side’s penultimate over against a strong Indian side. It came as part of a cameo that lasted three balls and three minutes, and helped South Africa win the final of the LG Cup, a four team ODI tournament in Kenya in October 1999. Short and sweet, T20-style. The finisher.
Dawson didn’t play again until 2001, played only a handful of international matches, and the strike rate comes off the back of one innings and three appearances, but hell, the record is his.
Isabelle Westbury is a freelance broadcast and print journalist with a focus on politics and sport, especially cricket. She has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Times, The Independent, The Mail on Sunday and ESPN Cricinfo. She is also a broadcast journalist for the BBC, calling on both men’s and women’s domestic and international cricket matches. She studied at Oxford University, and is now Middlesex CCC women’s cricket captain. She barracks for Essendon, mainly due to the legal intrigue the club provides. Isabelle tweets from @izzywestbury and can also be found on her website – isabellewestbury.com