In Australian cricket, there’s no denying that as a country we have deep talent. But if I were to ask you to name the best Australian player of the last 50 years, who would jump to mind?
For many Australians, it’d be easy to assume household names like Ricky Ponting or Adam Gilchrist would be at the top of the list. Or perhaps Steve Smith or Shane Warne? What about Glenn McGrath or Steve Waugh? Growing up in a family that lived and breathed (men’s) cricket, these were some of the names that would’ve topped my list.
But, as the Women’s Big Bash League continues in Sydney at the moment, it’s never been clearer to me that women’s cricket in Australia is one of the most exciting and talent heavy sports in the world.
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And you only need to look back to March this year to see just how unstoppable the World Cup winning Australian women’s cricket team is when competing on the world stage.
In sports journalist and comedy writer Dan Liebke’s newly released book The 50 Greatest Australian Cricketers (of the past 50 years), he ranks the finest Australian cricket players of the past 50 years.
Who comes out on top? Non other than “the most genuine all-rounder imaginable”, Ellyse Perry.
“If I told you that Australia had a batter who averaged 78.00 in tests, 52.10 in ODIs and 28.32 in T2OIs, you’d probably consider them the kind of player you’d want batting in your top order,” Liebke writes about Perry in the book.
“If I told you that Australia had a bowler who averaged 18.19 in tests, 24.29 in ODIS and 19.37 in T2O1s, you’d surely want them to lead your bowling attack.
“If I told you that those figures belonged to the same cricketer, you’d probably smack me upside the head and tell me to stop lying.
“After all, the Australian men’s team, as a rule, haven’t had a true allrounder – one who could comfortable hold their spot with their prowess in either discipline – for decades.”
Across Tests, one-day internationals (ODIs) and T20 internationals (T2OIs) as well as different eras of cricket, Liebke brings statistics together of Australia’s top cricketers to decipher who has the greatest record since 1970.
He compared players under consideration in pairs, and then asked the question: which of the two players most improved their team’s chances of winning, taking into consideration the eras and formats of the game in which they played?
“In the last 50 years, which man comes close?” Liebke asks, when discussing Perry’s top ranking.
“Shane Watson was handy with the ball, but if you had to choose him as a bowler only, you’d be in a perilous state of affairs. Steve Waugh in his youth was a handy ODI allrounder, as was Simon O’Donnell. But neither reached that standard in Tests. Mitchell Johnson has a Test century, but no sane person would ever have picked him as a specialist batter.”
In the book, Liebke tracks Perry’s rise to the top of Australian cricket from when she was just a teenager. At age 16, she became the youngest cricketer to ever represent Australia, when she debuted for the national ODI side in 2007. Six months later, she cracked into the T20 side (where she was awarded player of the match, no less), and a week later, she made her Test debut.
“Not yet old enough to vote or legally drink, Ellyse Perry was an all-rounder in all three formats of the game,” Liebke writes.
It’s also easy to forget just how far Perry’s talent extends. At age 16, Perry debuted for the Matildas and played both sports at the international level for a number of years.
For Liebke, what is most impressive about Perry has been her ability to improve her batting over the years, while maintaining her spectacular bowling form at every turn.
“From the middle of 2013 on, however, Perry suddenly decided to become not just a handy lower order batter, but instead one of the best batters in the world. Perhaps, given that her international soccer career was winding down, she was bored and looking for a new challenge.”
Perry’s record is nothing short of “mind-boggling”, and it’s one she’s maintained over a long and continuing career in the sport.
“And so if I told you that Ellyse Perry was Australia’s greatest cricketer of the last 50 years, you’d have to at least consider the possibility that I was telling the truth,” Liebke concludes.
“Which is convenient, because that’s exactly what I am telling you: Ellyse Perry is the greatest Australian cricketer of the last 50 years.”
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