Jeff Crowe picks Sir Garry too
Donald George Bradman. Australia. Greatest Ever Batsman. Just rolls off the tongue, easy peasy. Question is, who comes next behind the great man? Daylight? No, a bit flippant. So how do we decide? Let me name four candidates from four different eras and then make a decision.
Do I need to go back to the start, to the 19th century? Not really, cricket was a bit raw back then. So how about we start with Bradman’s era? Does this first candidate’s name start with an H? It does, but it’s not Hammond, it’s George Headley, the Black Bradman, from the West Indies.
Headley over Hammond because he scored a century exactly every four innings, Hammond one nearly every seven. So Headley’s ratio was closer to Bradman’s than anyone else. Also similar to the Don was Headley’s mindset. He spent a lot of time visualising what he wanted. He often didn’t sleep prior to a match, so when he got to the middle he was calm and relaxed. Headley is the first candidate.
Next era is 20 years on and another West Indian, Garry Sobers, the flamboyant, brilliant left-hander from Barbados. It’s not so much the record, which is lofty, but the way in which he played and dominated.
Like Bradman, he was the best of his day. He succeeded in all conditions and in all situations.
He scored big, he scored fast, he scored consistent Test centuries, one every six innings, on top of his all-round duties. Sobers is candidate No. 2.
Moving on to the next 20 years and to the batsmen who faced the might of the greatest fast-bowling attack ever, the vaunted West Indian big men.
This was the hardest assignment of all: to survive, attack and conquer this uncompromising blitz of short fast bowling.
The man to do it best was Sunil Gavaskar from India. Roberts, Garner, Holding, Croft, and Marshall - the little master stood up to them and scored seven fine centuries against them, amongst his 34 Test hundreds overall. Gavaskar pips Viv Richards and Greg Chappell from that era for that one reason alone, that he passed the hardest exam, a test not even Viv would have topped. Gavaskar is candidate No. 3.
Twenty more years on, the final man is easily found; it’s the other little Indian master, Sachin Tendulkar.
Bradman himself thought Tendulkar looked the most like him - high praise indeed.
Tendulkar continues to show us why. The greatest run-scorer, century-maker and household name, he is candidate No. 4.
So who will it be: Headley, Sobers, Gavaskar or Tendulkar? It’s almost impossible to know where to start, to start removing anyone of these unbelievable batsmen.
So I will add a new premise to finding the next best after Bradman. It is who would be the ideal batting partner to join Bradman?
After all, isn’t batting all about the partnership? So if you had the right-handed Bradman at one end, who would you want to see join him to bat with? Or if you were a bowler, who would you prefer not to see?
I have my answer. I believe the greatest batting partnership you could ever wish to lay your eyes on would be Don Bradman and Garry Sobers, the greatest left-hander of all time.
The Australian and the West Indian; the short, fast-moving run machine and the tall, languid, carefree freak. The ideal contrasting yet complementary pair.
So there it is, close your eyes and dream the dream, Bradman and Sobers batting together at Lord’s on a great pitch, with the sun blazing down on a full house. Enjoy it. It’s heavenly.