In the 143 years that Test cricket has been played, only 70 men have scored 1,000 runs and taken 100 wickets in their careers. Tighten the criteria to 2000 runs and 150 wickets, there are only 24 men to have crossed both those milestones in their careers.
It is an achievement that is understandably rare in the format that is considered the toughest, most challenging by anyone who has played the game at the highest level. Many a cricketer would happily settle for either one of those achievements in their career. But to be an all-rounder of note is one of the most admired feats in the game and very few can stake claim to being genuinely good in multiple departments.
Every international side craves a good all-rounder to lend balance to their team. Every great side the game has seen, usually has a player who will make it to the XI either as a pure batsman or a genuine bowler. The white-ball formats typically feature more all-rounders but to be consistently good over time in red-ball cricket (a format where specialists thrive) is no easy task.
Here, we look at what the numbers say about the greatest all-rounders in Test cricket:
(Scroll across or swipe right to view all columns in the tables below)
The elite list
Test all-rounders with 4,000 runs & 200 wickets
|Player||Mat||Runs||HS||Bat ave||100s||Wkts||Bowl ave||5-fors|
Only five men in the history of Test cricket have scored more than 4,000 runs and taken more than 200 wickets: it’s a list that not just shows who is the best of the best, but also, the importance of longevity.
Of course, only one man has done the incredible double: Kapil Dev, the Indian legend, signed off from Test cricket as the solitary player with over 4000 runs and 400-plus wickets.
In terms of batting average, it is no surprise to see Sir Garfield Sobers at the top of this list. For many, he is undoubtedly the greatest all-rounder the game has ever seen and the argument is usually for who follows.
Sobers, simply put, could do it all.
Playing for World XI against Australia in 1972 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Sobers played what many regard as his finest innings. A second-innings 254 that made Bradman say: “Having seen all the players of the last 50 years, I believe that Sobers’ was the greatest exhibition of batting seen in Australia. I have seen nothing equal to it in this country.”
As for his bowling, Sobers quite literally was an all-rounder all unto one. He could bowl seam-up with the new ball and trouble the best batsmen with his in-swingers. He could bowl slow left-arm finger-spin when the pitch took turn. And to bamboozle lower-order players, he could bring out the meanest left-arm wrist-spin. A genius, if ever there was one.
South African Jacques Kallis is the closest in many respects to Sobers, and without doubt, the most complete cricketer the modern game has seen, with a whopping 13,289 runs and 292 wickets in 166 matches. Bucketload of runs: check. Plenty of wickets: check. Longevity: check.
Often called underrated for where he features in the discussion of greatest cricketers, Kallis might have been guilty of flying under the radar for most of his career but to finish with 45 Test centuries (second only to Sachin Tendulkar) and 292 wickets is as good as an all-rounder can ever hope for.
Ian Botham, not surprisingly, features in the list next. Not many can claim to have dominated an entire series (with bat and ball) so as to have it named after them. Botham did not have the runs of Sobers and Kallis or the wickets of Kapil, but he was a match-winner in both respects.
In the aforementioned table, the final name is perhaps one that does not come up in too many debates about the best all-rounders. And, perhaps, that’s fitting, given Daniel Vettori went about his work in the most unassuming manner for most of his career. The former New Zealand captain was always regarded as a bowler of great pedigree but his resolute lower-order batting came to the fore as his career progressed. It was only 13 years into his career, that he scored more than one Test century in a calendar year (three in 2009).
Which brings us to some obvious names that are missing from the elite list mentioned above: Keith Miller, Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee and Shaun Pollock.
Among those names, Imran is the one that stands out for the sheer weight of numbers as he missed being part of the elite list by a matter of 193 runs. A stellar career for Pakistan saw Imran pick up 362 wickets at an average of 22.72 to go with his 3807 runs in 88 Test matches. Much like Vettori, Imran’s consistency with the bat improved in the latter half of his career. The year 1987 was arguably his most prolific as he made 515 runs with two centuries at an average of 57.22. With the ball, he could be a match-winner on most days.
It is no surprise, therefore, to see the Pakistan legend at No 3 in the all-time list when one considers the difference between batting and bowling averages (a high batting average and a low bowling average are the typical markers for great players and therefore the difference is a good yardstick to see who the greatest are).
Fixing the criteria as 2,000 Test runs and 100 wickets, the best average difference list features more of the usual suspects. Indeed, once again, Sobers and Kallis occupy the top two positions followed by Imran. Fourth on the list is Australian Keith Miller, who many of the old-timers regard as a legitimate all-time great, who played fewer Tests than most others in this discussion.
Shaun Pollock and Richard Hadlee’s presence in this list confirms their status as two of the greatest bowling all-rounders the game has seen.
Best average diff. for all-rounders in Tests
|Player||Matches||Runs||Bat avg.||Wkts||Bowl avg.||Average diff|
Doing it all
Only four men in the history of Test cricket have completed the double of 100 runs and 10 wickets in one match.
Scored 100 runs & taken 10 wkts in one match
|AK Davidson||124||11||44 & 80||5/135 & 6/87||v West Indies||Brisbane||9 Dec 1960|
|IT Botham||114||13||114 & -||6/58 & 7/48||v India||Mumbai||15 Feb 1980|
|Imran Khan||117||11||117 & -||6/98 & 5/82||v India||Faisalabad||3 Jan 1983|
|Shakib AH||143||10||137 & 6|| 5/80 & 5/44||v Zimbabwe||Khulna||3 Nov 2014|
On 32 different occasions, a player has scored a century and picked up a five-for in an innings (1 and 2 OR 3 and 4, for instance) but only six of them have done the feat more than once. Botham has performed that feat a whopping five times while another under-rated Pakistan star features in this list for achieving that double twice: Mushtaq Mohammed.
Multiple times with 100 & 5-for in one innings
|Player||No of times|
|Sobers, Kallis, Ashwin, Shakib, M Mohammed||2|
Similarly, only four men in the history have completed the double of 250 runs and 20 wickets in a single series multiple times. Botham and Sobers have both performed that feat an incredible three times while Miller and Kapil Dev have achieved it twice.
Among Indians, R Ashwin is the only other to have performed this double in a series (England in India Test Series, 2016-’17) while Moeen Ali (South Africa in England Test series, 2017) and Richard Hadlee (New Zealand in England Test Series, 1983) are the only two players to have done this double in a four-match series.
Most times 250 runs + 20 wkts in a series
|Player||No of times|
|Ian Botham / Garfield Sobers||3|
|Keith Miller / Kapil Dev||2|
Top 10 all-rounders of all-time as per ICC
|Ranking||Player||Country||Highest rating||DATE ATTAINED|
|1||Garry Sobers||WI||669||669 v India, 04/01/1967|
|2||Ian Botham||ENG||645||645 v India, 19/02/1980|
|3||Jacques Kallis||SA||615||615 v Pakistan, 30/12/2002|
|4||Keith Miller||AUS||572||572 v West Indies, 29/01/1952|
|5||Richie Benaud||AUS||532||532 v Pakistan, 17/11/1959|
|6||Imran Khan||PAK||517||517 v India, 18/01/1983|
|7||Tony Greig||ENG||508||508 v New Zealand, 04/03/1975|
|8||Andrew Flintoff||ENG||501||501 v Pakistan, 16/11/2005|
|9||Aubrey Faulkner||SA||501||501 v Australia, 11/01/1911|
|10||Chris Cairns||NZ||500||500 v Zimbabwe, 23/09/2000|
Interestingly (or otherwise), Kapil Dev does not feature in the top 20 as per the International Cricket Council’s all-time ratings for all-rounders in Tests. (The ICC uses an all-rounder index: take the player’s batting and bowling points from the separate rankings, multiply them together and divide it by 1000.) The only Indian in the top 20 is Ashwin (at 11th). Sobers, Botham and Kallis make up the top three while the under-rated Tony Greig features at eighth in the list just above Andrew Flintoff, who perhaps gave modern cricket fans the most definitive all-round performance in an entire series.
The ICC rankings currently see West Indies captain Jason Holder at the top followed by arguably the best all-rounder in world cricket currently: Ben Stokes. Holder has quietly built up a reputation of being a great Test cricketer along with being a smart captain. Every time West Indies play these days, there is a debate about his batting position. As a bowler, he can be a handful on a pitch that offers bounce.
Stokes could well go on to feature in the elite list by the time he hangs up his boots but for that to happen, his bowling numbers would have to improve significantly. He has the reputation of coming up with the crucial wickets for his team in red-ball cricket, with his characteristically lung-busting spells, but a bowling average of 32.68 will need to improve for him to feature in the conversation alongside the likes of Sobers and Kallis.
Two Indians feature in the top five: spinners Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin. It is fair to say their graphs in this particular table are heading in opposite directions. Ashwin’s batting form has suffered a significant dip while Jadeja’s has improved consistently but their bowling figures are not too far apart.
The one player not in the top five currently but can stake a claim to be the best of the modern era is Shakib al Hasan. The Bangladesh all-rounder, currently serving a ban, is the only active cricketer to feature in the all-time top-10 list (table 2 above) among cricketers with 2,000 runs and 100 wickets with the best average difference.
Current top five all-rounders in Tests (ICC)
|Player||Matches||Runs||HS||Bat Ave||Wickets||Best||Bowl Ave||Ave diff|
Bonus viewing: This discussion during the Australia-South Africa series in 2012 features Mark Nicholas adjudicating a discussion on the greatest all-rounders in the game with South African Mike Procter and former Australia captain Ian Chappell. No surprises, both of them had Gary Sobers at No 1.
So, based on these numbers, who makes it to your top five? Let us know in the comments section or write to us @thefield_in on Twitter.
(Statistics: ESPNCricinfo Statsguru and Scroll.in research)