If you were a cricket fan and Australian, then the 1990’s were a great decade for you. The fine work that began when Allan Border took over the captaincy towards the end of the 1980’s bore fruit and turned the Aussies into the best cricket team on the planet. Not only did they become tough to beat with a strong mental attitude but they also had players with supreme talent. This mixture of fight and skill made the Australians practically unbeatable at their peak in the 90’s.
So, let’s take a look at the ten best players from that decade:
10 Michael Slater
If there was ever a player to sum up the approach to cricket from Australia in the 90’s, it was this ‘Slats’. He was uncompromising and mentally strong with a great belief in his ability and an unquenchable desire to win. Added to this was his superb talent at the crease when batting. An opening batsman by trade, his powerful shots and adventurous stroke play led him to a long and successful career with his country through the 1990’s. His front foot pull shot in particular was a joy to behold for any Australian fans watching.
Indeed, it is a travesty in some ways that Slater is not higher than number 10 on our list! Unfortunately for him, the calibre of players around at the same time means that is where he gets in. It is certainly no co-incidence though that the golden period of Australian cricket happened with him as a vital member of the team.
Making his Test debut in 1993 against England, Slater eventually played 74 matches at that level and made 5,312 runs. Special highlights were a swashbuckling 219 against Sri Lanka in 1995/96 and an explosive 176 against England at Brisbane during 1994. He was famously dismissed in ‘nervous 90s’ on many occasions, but Australian fans still saw him produce his trademark celebration of kissing his helmet when he made a century 14 times in his Test career.
9 Jason Gillespie
A right-arm fast bowler, ‘Dizzy’ made his international bow in 1996. Playing through into the following decade, he was a reliable and steady partner for Glenn McGrath when fit and together they formed an exceptional bowling partnership. Gillespie was not super-quick but could make the ball go either way, would bowl long spells in any conditions and had a good length. These qualities made him a fine bowler for his country and explain his long and successful career at the highest level.
Gillespie’s main problem over the years was injuries which seriously ate into his playing time. Various ailments such as stress fractures, broken feet, hip pain and side strains kept him off the pitch and in the physiotherapy clinic. When he was playing, though, he proved his worth especially in tandem with McGrath. In some ways, the movement he got in his bowling was too good as batsmen played and missed with him more than any other Aussie bowler, meaning he didn’t take as many wickets as he deserved.
In all he played 71 Tests and got 259 wickets which is a very respectable return. The great grandson of a Kamilaroi warrior, he had the fight and passion that was the expected requirement to represent his country.
8 Ian Healy
In some ways, Ian Healy sums up what happened to Australian cricket in the 1990’s. From his humble beginnings with an unheralded debut in the late 1980’s, Healy developed into a superb cricketer and set the tone for the Australian’s to dominate in the subsequent decade. All this as a wicket-keeper too! Healy was everything that was good about the Aussies in the 90’s – hard-working with an iron will to win, he refused to accept defeat and was also a fine player.
Healy’s agility and reflexes made him a great man to have behind the stumps and he was also a very useful lower-order batsman who could always be relied upon to add runs to the board. He is perhaps best remembered as the main foil for legendary spinner Shane Warne. If there was one classic sound of Australian cricket in this decade it was his nasal “Bowling, Warnie” whenever a delivery was sent down. This was after practically every ball, no matter how good, in an effort to distract the batsman and boost Warne’s already high confidence!
Healy was also famous for being a vocal character particularly in asking for a dismissal from the umpire. He was very often the first and loudest to appeal when he thought a batsman should be given out and was the heartbeat of the Australian team in the field. He dominated the stage for over a decade, taking 366 catches in 119 Tests, and had a major influence on the team whenever he played.
7 Justin Langer
You have to feel sorry for Justin Langer in some ways as he has never been given quite the credit he deserves. It seems that the public perception of him as a rather pedestrian grafter of a batsman compared to his more exciting team mates has led him to be a name not as warmly remembered as others. However, there is no doubt that Langer became a fine player for his country after making his debut in 1993 against the West Indies.
Langer was extremely adept with bat in hand and formed a superb partnership with his close friend Matthew Hayden when they played together in the following decade. In the 1990’s though, he was still a joy to watch for his cut and drive shots especially. Although he experienced a slow start to his Test career in the 90’s, toward the end of the decade the selectors had seen enough to put him in at number 3 in the batting order and make him the new David Boon. This faith was repaid in the many great innings he produced for Australia, especially his 179 against England in 1998 when he destroyed the bowling attack. His 144 against Pakistan in 1999 also deserves a mention for the stroke play he showed and the way he built the innings.
6 Ricky Ponting
Ricky Ponting – the man, the legend! If there is one player who is almost the template for an Australian cricketer it is this guy. A run-scoring machine when at the crease, he was also superb in the field and, later, a fantastic captain. He was as mentally strong and as tough as they come. All this combined to make him one of the best players the game of cricket has ever seen. Although a lot of his finest work came in the 2000’s, he debuted in 1995 and was so good that he must be included here.
If we start with his batting that is enough to mark him out as special alone. An attacking player, he had beautiful cover drive and pull shots that would almost make you weep they were so breathtaking. Such was his confidence that he made a stunning 96 on his Test debut against Sri Lanka which made every cricket fan sit up and take notice. His best score in the 1990’s was a huge 197 against Pakistan in 1999 which was an attacking tour de force.
His fielding, as we have mentioned, was also sublime and he helped take many wickets from his usual positions at slips, cover or silly point. He had a great eye and arm which saw him run many batters out with direct hits to the stumps.
5 Mark Waugh
A supreme player in his own right, this guy would often suffer due to comparisons with his equally fantastic brother, Steve. This was not entirely fair, though, as Mark Waugh was undoubtedly good enough to be judged on his own merits. A dazzling batsman, he had an elegant style and could appear so effortless when in full flow, he almost seemed disdainful of the bowler. His ability to drive, cut, loft or pull the ball made him very hard to bowl to and saw him make many runs in his career at international level. The only chink in his armour was a tendency to play lazy shots now and then, which would see him get out cheaply.
As well as his talent with the bat, he was brilliant fielder who could take catches or stop balls that others simply couldn’t. This obviously made him even more valuable to the team and he was a key cog in the Australian dominance in the 1990’s. His best score was a sizzling 153 against India in 1998 in which he showed the full range of his elegant style and shot making.
4 Glenn McGrath
Making his debut in 1993 against New Zealand, McGrath would go on to become arguably Australia’s greatest ever bowler. A tall medium-fast player, his main weapons were beautiful line and length. He would regularly put in on a line just outside off-stump to tempt batsmen and his length was always spot-on too. Due to his height, he could generate a good amount of bounce and also had a great off-cutter delivery too. All this combined to make him a sensational bowler for his country over the years.
McGrath also loved the big-stage and playing against the best players the opposition could field. He seemed to up his game when faced with a Brian Lara or Michael Atherton and loved the personal duel to take their wicket. Who can forget his fabulous 8 for 38 against England at Lord’s in 1997 or his 6 for 47 against the West Indies in 1995? Interestingly, he also holds the record for dismissing the most batsmen for ducks in Test cricket at 104. In all he played 124 matches and took 563 wickets which is a testament to his bowling talent and superb work ethic.
3 Steve Waugh
An interesting character and brother of Mark, Steve Waugh is one of the greatest Australian players ever, certainly within the decade we’re looking at. Not the usual type of cricketer, he wrote great tour diaries of his travels when playing abroad and also received great praise for his philanthropic work such as opening a charity for daughters of parents with leprosy.
As a batsman and captain, Waugh was supreme and helped turn Australia into the dominant force within cricket during the 90’s. He was a solid player who simply refused to take any risks when batting to avoid giving his wicket away. Of course, he would jump on and punish any loose balls, but was so disciplined that bowlers always knew they would have to get him out rather than relying on him playing loosely. In many ways, this was the opposite of his brother Mark who was more expansive but could give his wicket away cheaply at times. Steve could still make big scores though – for example, his 200 against the West Indies in 1995 or the twin centuries in same game of the 1997 Ashes series against England.
After succeeding Mark Taylor as Test captain in 1999, Waugh went on to lead his country to a record 15 out of their 16 successive Test victories. In all Waugh played 168 Tests and scored 10,927 runs which, along with his leadership skills, show why he was such a key man for his team.
2 Mark Taylor
In much the same mould as Steve Waugh, Taylor was a brilliant batsman and leader for his country. Also very adept in the field, he was almost an all-rounder despite not bowling! His main role in the side to begin with was as a brutal yet effective opening batsman at the top of the order. Heavily built, he would play classically late and use his impeccable timing to make runs. Very powerful due to his size, he was an excellent opener for the Australians. Particular highlights include a Bradman-equalling 334 in 1998 against Pakistan and a fine 170 against South Africa in 1993.
In the field, he was usually at slip where his safe hands caught a record 157 catches. He was agile for a big man and had great anticipation of where the ball might go which helped him to cling onto the ball. Moving into the captaincy in 1994/95, he soon showed natural leadership along with a creative cricket brain. This allowed him to lead his country to many wins and establish them as THE force in 90’s cricket. Taylor’s superb work as skipper laid the foundations for Steve Waugh to build on when he eventually took over.
1 Shane Warne
When you’re widely regarded as one of the best bowlers in the history of the whole game, then you must be number 1 here! Shane Warne does have that accolade and rightly so – anyone who saw him play will attest to his will to win and extravagant bowling talent. He was the man who made leg-spin bowling sexy and brought it into fashion again with his charismatic personality and awesome range of deliveries. Although his off-pitch life made as many lurid headlines as his cricket, once you look past all the personal stuff you see a man who was simply a genius with the ball in hand.
If there is one match that sums up Warne it his first delivery in the first game of the 1993 Ashes series against England. Most people would be nervous or sending a few warm-up balls down but not this guy! With the experienced Mike Gatting at the other end, he ripped a ball down that pitched on the leg-stump and spun so much it clipped Gatting’s off-stump. This not only announced his talent to the world but summed up why he was so special. To this day, this delivery is referred to as ‘Ball of the Century’.
Warne followed this success with a very successful international career that saw him help make his country the premier team in international cricket. Other highlights on a personal level for him were the 8 for 71 he took against England in 1994 and the fabulous 7 for 23 against Pakistan in 1995. With 145 Tests played and a huge 708 wickets taken, he was certainly the best Aussie player of the 90’s and maybe ever.
There is no doubt that Australia were the best and most dominant force in international cricket in the 1990’s particularly at Test level. When you see the talent they had to choose from though, it is no surprise! The players they had in those golden years were simply amazing and had the will to win and mental toughness to put with their cricketing skill to propel the Aussies to greatness.
Image Credit: Eva Rinaldi