My countdown is complete -and no Australian is in the top three -but few can dispute the brilliance of my final top ten
1 Sachin Tendulkar (India)
Test matches 140 Runs 11,150 at 54.92
You have to watch India in India truly to appreciate the pressure that Sachin Tendulkar is under every time he bats. Outside grounds, people wait until he goes in before paying to enter. They seem to want a wicket to fall even though it is their own side that will suffer. This is cricket as Sachin has known it since the age of 16. He grew up under incredible weight of expectation and never buckled once -not under poor umpiring decisions or anything else. I place him very slightly ahead of Lara because I found him slightly tougher mentally. It is such a close call, but here is an example of what I mean: in Australia in 2003-04 he was worried about getting out cover driving so he decided to cut out the shot. I saw the wagon wheel for his next innings: he scored 248 without a single cover drive.
Like Lara, he has scored runs all over the world. I have seen him run down the pitch and hit Glenn McGrath over the top for six, and I have seen him hit me for six against the spin going around the wicket. I have been lucky to get to know him off the field as well. He is quiet and humble. A great player and a great man.
2 Brian Lara (West Indies)
Test matches 131 Runs 11,953 at 52.88
Whether you played with him or against him, you were in awe of Brian Charles Lara.
I loved his strut, his swagger and his ability to hit four after four with his high backlift and incredible placement. He had an amazing knack of playing match-winning innings all through his career and has constructed two of the three highest scores in Test history. He reserved some of his best batting for Australia. At times I felt as though we could bowl 100mph or spin it 14 feet and he still would not get out.
3 Curtly Ambrose (West Indies)
Test matches 98 Wickets 405 at 20.99
It was very difficult to split Curtly and Glenn McGrath, but I think Curtly had that extra half-gear as well as being just as accurate and clinical. He could take your head off if he wanted, and he did have that nasty streak. I don’t remember him ever giving me a half-volley -or anybody else for that matter. He turned a game -and the series -in Perth in 1992-93 with a spell of seven wickets for one run. Early in my career, I watched in amazement at his brilliance.
4 Allan Border (Australia)
Test matches 156 Runs 11,174 at 50.56 AB is the top Australian in my list.
I probably learnt more from him than anybody, bar Ian Chappell. The toughest cricketer I have played with, he was also an outstanding batsman and had been for more than a decade by the time I came into the side. People remember his determination, but he also had plenty of shots. He led from the front and remains a great example to youngsters.
5 Glenn McGrath (Australia)
Test matches 124 Wickets 563 at 21.64
He kept everything simple but effective. Although batsmen knew exactly what McGrath was about, he still beat them almost every time. He had that ability to take the big wicket and his longevity was incredible. By keeping things so tight, he helped me to get a lot of wickets at the other end. Don’t let him fool you over his batting: it really was terrible.
6 Wasim Akram (Pakistan)
Test matches 104 Wickets 414 at 23.62 Runs 2,898 at 22.64
Being a left-armer gave an advantage but the ability to swing the ball from over or round the wicket, reverse or conventional, puts him among the great bowlers of my time. His whippy action made him harder to face and there was a spell at Rawalpindi in 1994 that was as fast as anything I have seen. Good enough with the bat to score a Test double hundred.
7 Muttiah Muralitharan (Sri Lanka)
Test matches 113 Wickets 700 at 21.33
No matter what anybody thinks about his action, he is wonderful to bat against for the experience of facing a ball that turns so much. He has helped to turn Sri Lanka into a formidable side at home. It is also worth remembering the work he did in the aftermath of the tsunami when he gave so much hope to people in despair.
And we all love that smile.
8 Ricky Ponting (Australia)
Test matches 110 Runs 9,368 at 59.29
By the time he finishes, I think Ricky will have smashed all Test batting records. He can play for at least another two Ashes series. People say that he was gifted with natural talent, which is true, but he has built on that and has improved beyond recognition against the short ball and spin. He is a really athletic fielder and the 2005 experience helped to turn him into an excellent captain.
9 Mark Taylor (Australia)
Test matches 104 Runs 7,525 at 43.49
I played under four Australia captains, but “Tubby” was the pick. He seemed to have an instinct for what was right and was never afraid to break conventions if he thought it was right. His sharp brain has now made him a good commentator. I owe him for holding some incredible slip catches, but his first role was as a very, very solid player.
10 Ian Healy (Australia)
Test matches 119 Runs 4,356 at 27.39 Catches 366 Stumpings 29
He was the best wicketkeeper I saw. I can’t remember him making a mistake during the 1993 Ashes series, either standing up to the spinners or back to the quicks. What people did not see was the practice he put in to reach that level. He was a dangerous lower-order batsman, but these days the requirement seems to be for keeper-batsmen, not batsmen-keepers.
The other 40 in reverse order are…
50 Jamie Siddons 49 Darren Berry 48 Brian McMillan 47 Chris Cairns 46 Dilip Vengsarkar 45 Waqar Younis 44 Alec Stewart 43 Michael Atherton 42 Ravi Shastri 41 Justin Langer 40 Kapil Dev 39 Stuart MacGill 38 Sanath Jayasuriya 37 Stephen Harmison 36 Andy Flower 35 Michael Vaughan 34 Bruce Reid 33 Allan Donald 32 Robin Smith 31 Tim May 30 Kevin Pietersen 29 Shoaib Akhtar / Craig McDermott 28 Saeed Anwar / Mohammad Yousuf 27 Jacques Kallis / Shaun Pollock 26 Steve Waugh 25 Darren Lehmann 24 Brett Lee 23 Stephen Fleming 22 Martin Crowe 21 David Boon 20 Adam Gilchrist 19 Aravinda de Silva 18 Merv Hughes 17 Matthew Hayden 16 Andrew Flintoff 15 Graham Gooch 14 Rahul Dravid 13 Anil Kumble 12 Mark Waugh 11 Courtney Walsh
Some interesting facts of the players I have nominated are……
20 – Australians in Warne’s favourite 50 (53 as it turned out). There are eight Englishmen, six Indians, five Pakistanis, four South Africans, three New Zealanders, three Sri Lankans, three West Indians and a Zimbabwean.
4,615 – Test caps won by Warne’s elite, making an average of 87 each
18 – Ashes winners for Australia
5 – Ashes winners for England (Harmison, Vaughan, Pietersen, Flintoff and Gooch)
20 – Members of a World Cup-winning squad. Three for India in 1983 (Vengsarkar, Shastri, Dev); six for Australia in 1987 (Reid, May, McDermott, S Waugh, Boon, Border); one for Pakistan in 1992 (Wasim Akram); three for Sri Lanka in 1996 (Jayasuriya, De Silva, Muralitharan) and seven for Australia in 1999, 2003 and/or 2007 (Lehmann, Lee, Gilchrist, McGrath, Hayden, Ponting and M Waugh).