The Top 100 Cricketers of All Time, By Christopher Martin-Jenkins

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The Independent Culture

In a book released in time to provide alternative entertainment during the longueurs that are the inevitable accompaniment to the incomparable five-day game, Christopher Martin-Jenkins has selected a century of cricketers who electrified spectators and terrified the opposition. It is hard to imagine a pantheon in any other sport that would include figures as disparate as the "stoically unselfish" fast bowler Brian Statham - "the only thing he ever complained about was sore feet" - and CB Fry, "a brilliant dominating conversationalist" who notched up 94 first class hundreds before turning down "an invitation to rule Albania in lieu of King Zog".

Similarly, it is difficult to conceive of a parallel work on football or snooker that would include a leading dramatist (Harold Pinter's 1986 poem Hutton in its entirety: "I saw Hutton in his prime,/ Another time/ another time.") or compare a player "with an air of such cool command" to Shelley's Ozymandias. This was "Lord" Ted Dexter, his test hundreds outshone by a "thunderous" 70 against West Indies in 1963 that "glows in the memory of every witness".

CMJ describes his golden elite with precision and economy. As he describes fast-medium bowler Maurice "Chub" Tate as "one of the finest and cheeriest cricketers of all time", we learn how the young Martin-Jenkins heard of his death in 1956. "The PE master... came into my dormitory overwhelmed by the news and in a hushed voice began to recall some of his deeds... He took no fewer than 848 wickets between 1922 and 1925."

Readers may ponder if the revealing description of Geoffrey Boycott might cause a certain frostiness when the great batsman joins CMJ at the microphone: "Very few team-mates got close to him and one or two vehemently disliked him... His success and acquisitiveness enabled him to accumulate considerable wealth, helped by a generous bequest from an admiring widow." It seems that Boycott was placated by the generous praise for his pungent insights: "a shrewd judge who gave his views trenchantly but fairly."

We can follow cricket's progress from the sedate Fifties of PBH May ("courteous and modest to a fault") to the unbuttoned Seventies of Ian Botham and his "flamboyant enjoyment of the good things available to an international sporting celebrity." This culture clash is captured in Jeff Thomson's recollection of Colin Cowdrey coming out to bat in Perth at the age of 41. "How do you do?" said the venerable batsman. "I don't think we've met. My name's Cowdrey." "In the middle of a bloody Test match," recalled the Aussie terror. "I couldn't bloody believe it." "Thommo" bowled out Cowdrey for 22.