There’s nothing better to remind you of how much you love English cricket than remembering the legends of the past. Foremost amongst these greats of the game is the mercurial all-rounder, a position in the team only few could aspire too.
You not only had to be handy with the bat but also hold your own with the ball. We pull on the gloves and round up ten of the greatest who ever donned the whites for England:
10. Ray Illingworth
Ray Illingworth is a name that warrants a mention due to his excellent international career with England. Most notably a right arm off break bowler, Illingworth was also handy at the crease with a tight defence being his most notable trait.
Born in Pudsey in 1932, he made his first class debut for Yorkshire in 1955 aged just 19. A mainstay of the Yorkshire team during the late fifties/sixties, his county form was impressive making 24,134 runs and taking 2,072 wickets in 787 matches by the time he retired.
He made his international debut in 1958 against New Zealand and didn’t exit until 15 years later in 1973 against the West Indies. His test figures stood up to inspection playing 61 matches, making 1,836 runs and taking 122 wickets along the way. A more impressive stat was that, in his test career, he only conceded an average of 1.91 runs an over, which meant he was handy tool in a captain’s armoury if he needed to slow the opposition’s scoring down.
During a five year stint from 1969 to 1973, Illingworth was England captain and this was perhaps where his greatest worth to the team shone through. A gruff, straight-talking Yorkshire man, he demanded and got the best from his team who responded to his leadership to play for him. He also was a shrewd tactician who was not afraid to make changes if needed, such as switching bowlers in the 1969 test against the West Indies to get Basil Butcher out when he was scoring too freely.
9. Fred Titmus
Fred Titmus was a giant of English cricket whose career spanned five decades. He became only the fourth man behind W.G. Grace, Wilfred Rhodes and George Hirst to make 20,000 runs in first class cricket and take 2,500 wickets. Best known as a bowler for his tricky off-spin, he was also a handy lower order batsman.
He was born in 1932, quickly showing promise at cricket from an early age. Titmus progressed and made his first class debut for Middlesex in 1949. The following seasons were interrupted by national service but Titmus hit full flight again in 1953 where his form led to an international call up.
He was given a start for MCC against South Africa and his 8-43 in the second innings was good enough for a call up to the England team. Unfortunately, the two tests he played following this didn’t go well and he was cast into the international wilderness for some time, even though his county form was incredible.
The England selectors finally acknowledged this and he was recalled for the third and fourth test against Pakistan. Titmus did well and was included for the Ashes tour in 1962/63. This proved to be a career highlight, as he took more wickets than any other bowler including 7 for 79 in the third test. Titmus played for England regularly for the next five years and produced some outstanding displays in this time.
8. Paul Collingwood
While not as big a name as others on here, Paul Collingwood really does warrant a mention. A right arm medium bowler and right-handed batsman, he was also a superb athlete in the field.
Collingwood was born in Shotley Bridge, County Durham on 26 May 1976 and was first introduced to cricket at school. He soon caught his local team Durham’s attention and signed for them in 1995, making his first class debut in 1996. He scored 91 in his first innings and took the wicket of David Capel with his first ball. Not a bad start at all!
Slow and steady progress within the game at Durham, alongside a spell in Australia at Melbourne, ensured he made his international bow in 2001. His big breakthrough was in 2005 where he played in the team against India. This would prove to be one of the high points of his England career, scoring 112 from 86 balls and taking six wickets. This made Collingwood the first ever English player to score a century and take six wickets in a one day international.
Collingwood, or Shep, as he is affectionately known, was also in the Ashes squad in 2005 when England won. His stand with Kevin Pieterson ensured the final match was a draw and the series an England victory. Following on from that he continued to play for England, touring overseas regularly in subsequent years and captaining the One Day side. In 2007, he became the first English player to score a double century in Australia since Wally Hammond. This highlights how powerful and destructive Collingwood was as a player.
7. Tony Greig
Anthony William ‘Tony’ Greig was born in South Africa in 1946 and qualified to play for England through his Scottish parentage. Greig was a right-handed batter and bowler, specialising in sending the ball down at medium or slow off break pace.
He was prominent on the county cricket scene where he played mainly for Sussex. Growing up in South Africa, coaching staff at the local university team who had Sussex connections noted his talent and arranged for him to go to England to join them. It was reported that his father was initially not keen but must have been happy when Grieg scored 156 in his first game. This kind of scoring soon drew the attention of the English selectors.
Greig made his debut for England in 1972 against Australia and went on to have a long and successful career at test level. He played a total of 58 matches, notching 3,599 runs and 141 wickets before his retirement.
His most famous England game was against the West Indies in 1974 when he was involved in a run out controversy. After the last ball of the day was pushed into the field, batsman Alvin Kallicharran started making his way towards the pavilion before the umpire had called “over.” Greig, sensing an opportunity, threw down the stumps and appealed for a run out. Kallicharran was given out (correctly, in a technical sense), causing a near riot in the crowd. Indeed, Greig had an uncanny knack for getting into scrapes!
6. Basil D’Olivera
Nicknamed ‘Dolly’ due to his surname, Basil D’Olivera was a powerful batter and a right arm medium bowler. He was a tough personality and a man who enjoyed winning. ‘Dolly’ was born in Cape Town in 1931 and found his love for cricket though watching games at the local Newlands Cricket Club. Emigrating to England in 1960, he joined Middleton first before playing the rest of his career for Worcestershire. He retired in 1980 after amassing 19,490 runs and snagging 551 wickets in 367 matches.
His exploits at Worcestershire brought him to the attention of the England selectors who picked him to face the West Indies for his debut in 1966. He made a steady, if unspectacular, debut scoring 27 and bringing in bowling figures of 1-24 and 1-26. Although England eventually lost the series 3-1 to the Windies, ‘Dolly’ had acquitted himself well and made his name as a talented all rounder. He would go on to average a shade over 40 with the bat at Test level.
The most famous incident he was involved in was the so-called ‘D’Olivera’ affair in 1968. This concerned the English tour to apartheid era South Africa. As a coloured player, South Africa did not want him included in the England squad and exerted pressure on the English selectors to exclude him. Injury to Tom Cartwright meant they had little choice and his inclusion in the squad led to the tour being cancelled by the South Africans. This had the effect of turning world opinion against the apartheid rule though and D’Olivera became famous for helping to overthrow this regime.
His final test figures stand at 2,484 runs and 47 wickets in 44 matches which show how good he was and why he is a must for inclusion here.
5. Andrew Flintoff
Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff holds a special place in the hearts of English cricket lovers. Devastating with the bat, lethal with the ball and an expert slip fielder his value to the England team was immense. I think what the English public love most about Flintoff though is his cheeky personality and off field antics. Who can forget the ‘Freddilo’ incident during the 2007 World Cup when he drunkenly took a peddalo out to sea?!
Born on the 6th December 1977 in Preston, England, he did well at school. However, Freddie only had one goal in life and left after completing his GCSE’s to pursue his cricket career.
At a county level, he joined Lancashire’s ranks as a professional and made his first class debut in 1995 finally retiring in 2014. His figures for Lancashire during his main period with them show why he was such a highly regarded player, notching up 9,027 runs and 350 wickets in 183 matches.
Flintoff made his international debut in 1998 against South Africa. Comparisons with Botham started early on with the English public desperate for a new hero. While his international career didn’t start off too well mainly due to injuries, it soon started to pick up. In 2002, he scored his maiden test century and followed that by going on an improved run of form for England from 2003 onwards.
Nothing could highlight this more than the Ashes series win for England in 2005 especially ‘Fred’s Test’ at Edgbaston in August 2005. In this match he broke Sir Ian Botham’s record of six sixes in a text match, smashing five in the first innings and four in the second. His performances across the whole Ashes series were crucial to England regaining the urn. After this he continued to have a long and successful England career.
4. George Hirst
What can be said about George Hirst that hasn’t been said already? This guy can truly battle with the likes of W.G. Grace to be called the best English all-rounder of all time.
Hirst was born in Yorkshire, England in 1871 and was known as a right-handed batsman but left arm medium fast bowler. He played for Yorkshire at county level where he made 36,356 runs and took 2,742 wickets in 826 matches. A contemporary of Wilfred Rhodes, he was at first a specialist batsman but worked on his bowling until he found a way of making the ball swing in the air after release. This technique made him a nightmare for batsman to face and turned him into a true all-rounder.
Hirst made his test debut in 1897 versus Australia and they were his opponents again on his last test outing in 1909. His biggest impact for England came in the 1902 series against the visiting Australians where he played in all five matches. His batting partnership with Johnny Tyldesley of 94 in 80 minutes was considered the turning point of the first test and set the tone for a successful England campaign. He then took figures of 3-15 when the Aussies batted afterwards to help bowl the out for 36.
In terms of style, Hirst was brash and brave often excelling on pitches that others thought hard to bat on. He was aggressive and often was the player his team counted on to get them out of trouble if quick runs were needed. He seemed to favour the pull and hook although did possess an excellent off drive. Hirst also made a name as an outstanding fielder especially at mid-off where he took some exceptional catches. As a bowler, he tended to bowl over the wicket, arrowing the ball across the batsman with his customary swing for maximum impact.
3. Wilfred Rhodes
Wilfred Rhodes followed closely behind W.G. Grace and in some ways could be seen as a successor to the great man. Unusually he was a right-handed batsman but a left arm bowler. He was a slow bowler and noted for his skill at this as well as the bat.
Rhodes was born in Yorkshire in 1877. His father, Alfred Rhodes, was a cricket man who captained the Kirkheaton team and passed his enthusiasm for the game onto Rhodes. He made his debut for Yorkshire in 1898 and played for them all through his domestic career until 1930. He was a key figure for Yorkshire clocking up 1,100 matches in which he scored 39,969 runs and took 4,204 wickets.
Internationally, he made his England debut in 1899 against Australia playing 58 tests in all. His figures for England were even more impressive notching up 2,325 runs and 127 wickets. His most famous international performances were perhaps those of the 1911/12 tour of Australia. England won the series 4-1 and Rhodes was instrumental in this due to his opening partnership with Jack Hobbs. The English success was built on the first wicket stands that Rhodes & Hobbs made.
Rhodes was noted for his talent with the ball as much as the bat. He was described as a fantastic slow left arm bowler with a rhythmical action and ability to make the ball turn on pitches affected by rain. He was particularly good at the stock left arm spinner’s ball but also slipped in the odd ball that came straight on to confuse the opponent.
As a batsman, Rhodes was seen as an extremely good driver and possessed a solid defence. It must be said that Rhodes was more of a pragmatist than entertainer in style but he was capable of hitting out if needed.
2. W.G. Grace
William Gilbert ‘W.G’ Grace is a legend and one of the greatest English all-round cricketers ever. Born in 1848 near Bristol, W.G was a right-handed batsman and right arm medium bowler who had an exceptional career. A powerful batter with a mastery of every stroke, he also developed into a useful slower pace bowler later in his career.
Grace was coached as a junior by his uncle, Alfred Pocock, who drilled into him the need to play with a straight bat. As an adult, he played for West Gloucestershire Cricket Club amongst others although technically as an amateur. In what is still a record his domestic career spanned 44 seasons from 1865 to 1908.
He made his biggest mark on the international stage for England where his figures of 1098 runs in just 22 matches and a career top score of 170 illustrate his prowess. Grace made his test debut in 1880 against Australia and would have been pleased with his debut, scoring a century. He played all his test games against Australia but mostly at home – he only played overseas once in Australia in 1891/92.
Grace was a fiery, determined character and he showed this in 1896 when, against Australia, Ernie Jones bowled a ball that passed straight through his beard. Grace naturally took exception to this and demanded an apology from the bowler. He was also notorious for hating to lose and employing a certain amount of gamesmanship out on the field to gain victory.
1. Ian Botham
Sir Ian Botham OBE is not just one of England’s greatest all-rounders, he is one of world cricket’s greatest players. A fearsome right hand batter and fast-medium bowler, he was a very useful slip fielder as well.
Born in Heswall on 24th November 1955, Botham started playing for Somerset Under 15’s and soon graduated to first class cricket with Somerset in 1974. He stayed with Somerset until 1986 before moving to Worcestershire and then Durham. His first class career stats were amazing with 19,399 runs scored and 1,172 wickets in 402 matches.
He made his international debut in 1977 against Australia and would go on to have a long and successful England career. At the time he finished at Test level his stats were impressive with 5,200 runs at a 33.54 average and 383 wickets at a 28.40 average.
When we talk about Ian Botham and England though, there’s only one thing that springs to mind – Botham’s Ashes. The 1981 Ashes series had started pretty badly with Botham resigning the captaincy after a loss & draw in the first two matches.
Not many held out hope of England turning it around and during the third Test Australia batted first clocking up 401 before declaring and making England bat. England soon fell to 105-5 and it looked like another loss was on the cards. Then stepped in Botham! Taking a nothing-to-lose attitude, Botham decided to let rip at the Aussie bowlers. He eventually scored 149 not out and left England with an unlikely lead which he helped turn into a victory.
This form carried onto for the rest of the series and inspired the once beaten England team to Ashes triumph. No other England player could have done this, which is why he’s regarded as such a great player.
As you can see from the above list, English cricket has had some great all-rounders in the past that have given all cricket fans fantastic memories. There’s something about the way they played the game that made you love them – all snarling charisma and swashbuckling attitude. If they can produce half this number going forward, English cricket will be in good shape!
Image Credit: Herbert Rose Barraud