Australian captain Steven Smith averages 59.76 with the bat in Test cricket.
South African paceman Dale Steyn averages 22.31 with the ball in Test cricket.
England all-rounder Ben Stokes averages 35.72 with the bat and 33.93 with the ball in Test cricket. Those numbers wouldn’t be considered good enough for either a specialist batsman or bowler.
So how could anyone possibly entertain the idea that Stokes could be the best cricketer?
The clue is rather obviously in the word ‘cricketer’. Smith may be the best batsman but he only bowls a bit. Steyn may be the best bowler but he only bats a bit. Surely to be considered the best cricketer you must contribute significantly with both bat and ball. Regarding Stokes, let’s not forget his fielding prowess either.
If Stokes were a specialist batsman who rarely bowled would he average 45 with the bat or if he were a bowler who batted at eleven would he average 25 with the ball?
If Stokes was the recipient of the award ‘World’s Best Cricketer’, surely Smith would look at Stokes’ batting stats and take umbrage. Surely Steyn would look at the England all-rounder’s bowling stats and go “Eh?”.
Taking a step backwards for a moment: Who is the greatest cricketer of all-time?
Many many people would answer by saying the name Sir Donald Bradman. The New South Wales native averaged an unparallelled 99.94 with the bat but claimed a mere two Test wickets. Bradman is so far ahead (There aren’t many between him and Smith) that he can possibly claim to go from being not just the the best batsman but the best cricketer. However George Lohmann averaged 10.76 with the ball but only totalled 213 Test runs. He might be the best bowler but surely not the best cricketer.
So does the world’s best cricketer have to be an all-rounder and are any of the following the best cricketer of all-time? Are the names listed below better than Bradman because they offer something in both disciplines or is Bradman so far ahead that his lack of bowling contribution is insignificant?
Kapil Dev (India) 31.05/29.64
Richard Hadlee (New Zealand) 27.16/22.29
Ian Botham (England) 33.54/28.40
Imran Khan (Pakistan) 37.69/22.81
Wow, okay. I selected those names off the top of my head but just look at those statistics! Clearly Ben Stokes has some way to go and I think that I’d take Khan over Bradman. Sorry Don!
Ultimately I think that to compare all-rounders with specialists is futile. (Well that was a waste of my time then!) Each player is only one man in the team. Maybe there is no such thing as ‘the best cricketer’ but only ‘the best cricketers’. Rather apt in a team sport.