Vivian Richards. Sachin Tendulkar. Sunil Gavaskar. Brian Lara – None of them make the cut. They just did not have it in them. Virat Kohli. Steven Smith. Kane Williamson – They do not make it either. The bar, unfortunately, is set too high for these wonderful cricketers.
In fact, the bar is set several inches higher than the longest hair on the highest pate on that list — at 6 feet 5 inches to be precise.
As the discerning reader has guessed by now, I am indeed talking about the search for the tallest cricketers to have ever played the game.
And to make a real treasure hunt of this search, we look across geographies and formats to form a team that would (literally) have to stoop to conquer. Mind you, this is no easy task, for, not surprisingly, most of the tallest cricketers to have played the game, were bowlers. And fast bowlers at that.
The height from which the ball comes at incredible speed, the bounce it generates and the angles it achieves, not to mention the sheer intimidation factor, are stuff that the worst pre-dawn nightmares of batsmen are made of.
But it would be a mistake to assume that the tall men only make it into the highest levels of cricket as bowlers.
On the contrary, a journey through the ages brings up accounts of enough vertically advantaged players to create a real conundrum about who to pick for our playing XI.
Prudence demands however, that given how injuries are a regular feature of modern day cricket, we pick a team of 14 to ensure that players have ample time to recover while they are on tour playing the top teams in the world comprised of players not so well endowed as themselves in the height department.
But, as Maria says in Sound of Music, let’s start at the very beginning.
Opening the batting for our GOC (Giants of Cricket) XI are two very interesting players with sharply contrasting approaches to batting.
At the top of the order is Will Jefferson, at 6’10”, the tallest opening batsman to have ever played professional cricket. Jefferson was an attacking opening batsman with a range of strokes, and made his debut for Essex in 2000. He played 119 First-Class matches averaging just below 36 with a high score of 222 and 17 centuries to his credit. An injury plagued career meant however that Jefferson retired in 2012, never having played for England.
The perfect foil to Jefferson is his opening partner at the other end,Miachael Vandort from Sri Lanka. At 6’5”, Vandort just about makes the cut in this team. And that is more than can be said about the unfortunate international career of this talented left-hander from Colombo.
For years, Vandort waited in the wings for a chance to open the batting for Sri Lanka. But a set combination of Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvin Attapatu, denied him that. He played against Bangladesh in 2001 when the seniors were rested, scored a century in the second test, and then waited three-and-a-half years before he was picked again. Vandort played 20 Tests, scoring 1144 runs at an average of 37 with 4 centuries. And now at the age of 37, opening the batting for the GOC XI is perhaps the most he can expect out of the rest of his career.
At No. 3 in comes “Two Metre Peter” Fulton, at 6’6”, the tallest Kiwi batsman to have ever played the game at this level. Fulton came into the limelight with a free flowing 301 not out for Canterbury against Auckland in 2003. Although he had an intimidating presence when he was at the crease, and in form, in a career spanning 23 Tests, he could only average 25 with 2 centuries. But in a team of big men, on his day, Fulton is a menacing presence at the top of the order.
Occupying the No. 4 slot (where he should have played instead of being sacrificed as an opening batsman), is Tom Moody. At 6’7”, Moody was capable of hitting through the covers and along the ground with great power. He was a very good slip fielder, in the best tradition of Aussie top-order batsmen, and natural leader of men to boot. He was also a useful medium-pace swing bowler. While his record is at best reasonable in a career spanning 8 Tests, he played 76 ODIs for Australia with some success, and was the first man along with Steve Waugh, to win two World Cups.
At No. 5, a position in the England team that he owned through the 1970s, is the captain of the GOC XI and the most complete cricketer in the world of his time, Tony Greig.
At 6’6”, Greig dominated the cricket field, wherever he went, with confidence and charisma to match his height. With 3,600 runs, 8 centuries and a batting average over 40 to go with a haul of 141 wickets bowling his off-spin, in 58 Test matches, Greig was a true all-rounder.
As if Greig the all-rounder is not enough, he is followed at No. 6 by left-handed batsman and right-arm fast-medium bowler Jacob Oram. At 6’6” New Zealand’s Oram walks into this team as a dominating modern day all-rounder. A hard-hitting, aggressive batsman and a useful fast-medium bowler, Oram suffered from successive injuries that cut short his career. He was a far better all-rounder than his average of 36 in Tests with 5 centuries, and 60 wickets at 33 apiece, suggest.
At No. 7, is the absolute oxymoron in cricket, a tall wicketkeeper. At 6’5”, Adrian Rollins was an opening batsman by choice but a wicketkeeper by default. Derbyshire asked him to keep in 1993, and Rollins did the job admirably, considering the average wicketkeeper is usually a foot shorter from a job description perspective. For the GOC XI, Rollins is the hands down favourite for the job.
And while the GOC XI already has Moody, Oram and Greig manning the bowling, the embarrassment of riches that the fast bowling department offers us from a height perspective, must be well used, for it is the bowling that forms the cornerstone of this formidable cricket team.
Opening the bowling at 6’7” is a man who terrified the best batsmen in the world for 12 years between 1988 and 2000. Curtly Ambrose’s specialty was in utilising the “corridor of uncertainty”, and in extracting uneven bounce on any surface in the world. No one who has followed cricket in the last few decades will ever forget Ambrose’s bowling spell at Perth in 1993, when, as the vaunted Aussie batting lay in tatters, Ambrose’s spell on the scoreboard showed an incredible 7 wickets for 1 run in 32 deliveries.
Ambrose’s opening ball partner will ensure that the already demoralised batsmen have no time to recover. At 6’5”, given the mastery and accuracy of his fast bowling, the height factor was almost irrelevant for Glenn McGrath. The (almost) undisputed greatest Australian fast bowler of all time was one of the most difficult bowlers in the world to face given his pace and accuracy, as his 563 Test wickets at 21.64 and 381 ODI wickets at 22 will testify.
Replacing Curtly Ambrose after his fiery opening spell may perhaps be an inclusion in this line up that may surprise some — Mitchell Starc, of Australia. At 6’6”, with fast swinging deliveries into the right-hander and Wasim Akram-like yorkers, Starc can often be unplayable. At the 2015 ODI World Cup, his 22 victims at 10.18 runs per wicket earned him the Player of the Tournament tag, and an automatic place in our GOC XI.
Bringing up the tail and second change after Glenn McGrath, at a towering 6’8” is “Big Bird” Joel Garner. Garner was a mainstay of the fearsome West Indian pace attack of th e 1980s with his toe-crushing yorkers and unplayable bouncers. With 259 test wickets at an average below 21, Garner was an awesome sight to behold, when he ran in with those loping strides and your stumps lay shattered before you could say “Big Bird”.
With these eleven unbelievable cricketers at our disposal, the GOC XI looks like a line-up that every team in the world needs to be afraid of.
And just as backup, making up the squad of fourteen, are three players who are clearly unlucky to be left out of the Playing XI for the first match.
It is only fitting that the 12th man be someone who is young and fit. And who better to have at this position than the young current West Indian Captain, 6’7” tall Jason Holder? An all-rounder with a lot of promise, Holder currently average about 29 as a batsman from his 20 Tests, and 24 from 49 ODIs.
As backup to Starc, we have one of his predecessors from the Australian national side, Bruce Reid. A similar left arm fast bowler, the 6’8” Reid is the tallest Australian to play Test cricket till date. He was the mainstay of the Aussie attack in the late 1980’s but injuries caused him to retire early having played 27 Tests and 61 ODIs.
To complete the 14, we have the tallest cricketer to ever play at the highest level of the game, at 7’1”,
Mohammad Irfan of Pakistan. He made a late entry into international cricket, at the age of 30, but the incredible bounce that he gets from a great height, and the natural angle of the left arm fast bowler, has made him a difficult customer to handle.
With that, the GOC XI is all set to go on the road. Any takers?
Giants of Cricket XI: Will Jefferson (6’10”), Michael Vandort (6’5”), Peter Fulton (6’6”), Tom Moody (6’7”), Tony Greig (c, 6’6”), Jacob Oram (6’6”), Adrian Rollins (wk, 6’5”), Mitchell Starc (6’6”), Curtly Ambrose (6’7”), Joel Garner (6’8”), Glenn McGrath (6’5”).
Reserves: Bruce Reid (6’8”), Mohammad Irfan (7’1”).