January 16, 2017

Head and shoulders above the rest

Anindya Dutta
Picking an XI from among the tallest cricketers to have ever played
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Did you really think we'd even consider a tall players XI without Big Bird? © Getty Images

Vivian Richards. Sachin Tendulkar. Sunil Gavaskar. Brian Lara.

None of them make the cut. They just didn't have it in them.

Virat Kohli. Steven Smith. Kane Williamson.

They don't 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 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 to 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.

Peter Fulton: you can see him well enough in the nosebleed sections © Getty Images

Prudence demands, however, that given how injuries are a regular feature of modern-day cricket, we pick a squad 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.

So then, as Maria says in The Sound of Music, let's start at the very beginning.

Opening the batting for our GOC (Giants of Cricket) XI are two players with sharply contrasting approaches to batting. At the top of the order is Will Jefferson, at 6'10", the tallest opener to have ever played professional cricket. Jefferson was an attacking 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 Michael 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 rather unfortunate international career of this talented left-hander from Colombo. For years, Vandort waited for a chance to open the batting for Sri Lanka. But a set combination of Sanath Jayasuriya and Marvan Atapattu denied him. He played against Bangladesh in 2002 when the seniors were rested, scored a century and then waited three and a half years before he played again. In all, Vandort played 20 Tests, scoring 1144 runs at an average of 37 with four 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.

Tony Greig (front, extreme left) will find himself unusually dwarfed by his charges at the Giants of Cricket XI © Getty Images

At No. 3 in comes "Two-Metre Peter" Fulton, at 6'6", the tallest New Zealand 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 two centuries. But in a team of big men, on his day, Fulton - who would also be a back-up opener, given he often did the job for New Zealand too - 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 Australian top-order batsmen, and a natural leader of men to boot. He was also a useful medium-pace swing bowler. While his record is at best reasonable in his eight Tests, he played 76 ODIs for Australia with some success and was a member of two World-Cup winning squads.

At No. 5, a position he played the most at for England through the 1970s, is the captain of the GOC XI and the most complete cricketer in the world of his time: Tony Greig, 6'6". Greig dominated the cricket field, with confidence and charisma to match his height. With 3599 Test runs, eight centuries and a batting average over 40 to go with a haul of 141 wickets in 58 Test matches, Greig was a true allrounder.

Greig is followed at No. 6 by left-hand 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 allrounder. A hard-hitting batsman and a useful fast-medium bowler, Oram suffered successive injuries that cut short his career. He was a far better allrounder than his batting average of 36 and bowling average of 33 in 33 Tests suggests.

Mitchell Starc (without cap) fills the current cricketer quota in the XI © Cricket Australia/Getty Images

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. For the GOC XI, Rollins is the hands-down favourite for the job.

The embarrassment of riches that the fast-bowling department offers us from a height perspective must be well used, for it's the bowling that is the cornerstone of any 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 spell in Perth in 1993, when, as the vaunted Australian 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 Australia's Glenn McGrath. The (almost) undisputed greatest Australian fast bowler of all time was one of the most difficult bowlers in the world to face, as his 563 Test wickets at 21.64 and 381 ODI wickets at 22.02 will testify.

Replacing Ambrose after his fiery opening spell is an inclusion that may surprise some: Mitchell Starc of Australia. At 6'6", with fast deliveries swinging into the right hander and Wasim Akram-like yorkers, Starc can often be unplayable. At the 2015 World Cup, his 22 victims at 10.18 runs per wicket earned him the Player-of-the-Tournament award, and an automatic place in our GOC XI.

To round things off, at a towering 6'8" is "Big Bird" Joel Garner, a mainstay of the fearsome West Indian pace attack of the 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, your stumps often lay shattered before you could say "Big Bird".

How do you take a selfie with Mohammad Irfan? © AFP

With these 11 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 as back-up, making up the squad of 14, 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 is someone who is still young and fit: the current West Indies captain, measuring in at 6'7", Jason Holder, an allrounder with a lot of promise and plenty of guts and determination.

As a back-up to Starc, we have one of his predecessors from the Australian national side, Bruce Reid. A similar left-arm fast bowler, Reid at 6'8" is the tallest Australian to play Test cricket till date. He was a big part of the Australian attack in the late-1980s but injuries caused him to retire early.

To complete the 14, we have the tallest cricketer to ever play at the highest level. At 7'1", Mohammad Irfan of Pakistan. The incredible bounce that he gets from a great height and the natural angle of the left-arm fast bowler make him a difficult customer to handle.

With that, the GOC XI is all set to go on the road. Any takers?

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Cric_Writer_Anindya on February 9, 2017, 23:34 GMT

    @DEJFRITH - True but Ivo Bligh's Test batting average was 10 and First class Batting average was 20! So I doubt he would make the team on any count except that he was an Earl!

  • Cric_Writer_Anindya on February 9, 2017, 22:44 GMT

    @JOSE...P and @MARCIO

    It's Dwayne Loverock. Also called "Sluggo". Who can forget that catch?

  • Jose...P on February 9, 2017, 13:35 GMT

    @MARCIO:

    He is at No.10 (Not Downing street, but in my list) - LOVEROCK. From the name itself, we should have guessed, he would LOVE to ROCK the earth, even though he was bowling just gentle spin! ( P,S. I forgot his first name, though)

  • Cric_Writer_Anindya on February 9, 2017, 6:13 GMT

    @JOSE...P and @DEARDEN - That should be quite a match guys! May I make a few suggestions for the Lightweight XI for your kind consideration?

    Lightweight XI - Wk: David Williams (WI) WK/Batsman: Tich Cornford (Eng) - The shortest player ever at 5' and lightweight to boot! Spinner: Tatenda Taibu

    Thinking of others for you.

  • Marcio on February 9, 2017, 2:36 GMT

    Jose P, you forgot that guy from Bermuda "("...and the Earth shook!") from a few WCs ago.

  • Dearden on February 8, 2017, 13:19 GMT

    Jose...P's XI, may be renamed as "Heavy Weight XI" taking a cue from boxing, and changing the boundaries (weight-band, not waist band) to suit our game. Anyway, we are so used to changing boundary lines for different formats!

    If it is agreeable, I can try to come up with a "Light Weight XI" to play against this "Heavy Weight XI". I am throwing my cap into the ring with two names. One, from my own country, HAMEED. And the second one from my current host country, CHAHAL.

  • dejfrith on February 8, 2017, 11:49 GMT

    I think that Ivo Bligh (nearer seven feet tall than six) may have been overlooked here. He was the very man who was in on the creation of the Ashes in 1882-83.

  • Jose...P on February 8, 2017, 11:26 GMT

    Here is my "Broad Chested XI"

    1. WG Grace* (Captain)

    2. David Boon

    3. Mike Gatting

    4. Inzzy

    5. Ranatunga

    6. Boof

    7. Shehzad (WK) (Afg)

    8. Warne

    9. Powar

    10. Loverock (Bermuda)

    11. Merv Hughes

    Since it is only an invitational XI to play in India, I have 3 spinners (Warne, Powar, & Loverock) and just one Seamer (Merv). Expect Gatting to bowl some seam up).

    Reserves are Ashok Malhotra & Samit Patel

    Additions & deletions are welcome.

  • Cric_Writer_Anindya on February 8, 2017, 8:58 GMT

    @MARCIO - Yes these men would struggle to find a place among the likes of Ambrose, McGrath etc. Walsh was a miss I regret. It should have been a 16-member team clearly so the legends could play and take rest while the relentless attack carried on against the hapless batsmen!

  • Marcio on February 8, 2017, 8:24 GMT

    For some reason I can't quite fathom, people have forgotten the Tall Timber from the previous England Ashes tour to Australia: Finn, Tremlett and that unfortunate Irish bloke. All 2m+. Sadly, these guys were slightly embarrassed by short-stuff Johnson, at 189cm.

    Being more serious, no Courtney Walsh? 6'6". But then again, no shortage of tallies for the fast bowling ranks.

    What would be interesting would be a shorty fast-bowling line-up, say, 5'10 or below. Malcolm Marshal, Rodney Hogg, Roy Gilchrist...