Some players excel with the bat, others with the ball, but a select few cricketers are strong in both suits and truly earn the title of all-rounder.
The discussion of which player is the best all-rounder is one that is dominated by opinion, but it is possible to use the statistics available to try and establish who the best one is.
One way to do this is to use each player’s batting and bowling averages and find a net average across the two aspects of their game, and then compare it to those of their peers.
That’s what we’re going to do here, so read on as we try and select the best all-rounder in Test matches based on their net average.
*All stats courtesy of ESPNCricinfo.
Before we start, however, let’s first examine our methodology and parameters that go into this exercise.
Firstly, to find a player’s net average, we will take their final bowling average in Test matches and subtract it from their batting average.
What that gives us is a net average, which will get higher as we move up the list of players in reflection of their abilities.
Ideally, a player wants a high batting average and a low bowling average, and the closer they come to fulfilling this difficult criteria the higher up our list they will sit.
In putting this together, we also have to consider some parameters for the all-rounders we will be placing under the microscope.
To examine their batting, each player in our list must have a batting average above 30 and scored a minimum of 1,000 runs in Test matches.
For bowling, they must have a bowling average no higher than 35 and taken a minimum of 100 Test wickets.
This ensures that players are required to have had good Test careers at the very least, with many of course going much further than that.
Now that has been explained, we are left with just 17 all-rounders in the history of world cricket who fulfil all these criteria and so can count themselves among the best.
Let's see who they are.
Country: New Zealand/ICC World XI
4,516 runs; 30.10 batting average; 140 highest score
360 wickets; 34.42 bowling average; 7-87 BBI
Net average: -4.31
Still playing for his country at the age of 35 when healthy, Daniel Vettori of New Zealand first came to prominence as a bowler before improving his batting immeasurably.
Now one of the most prolific players to come to the crease at No. 8, Vettori has also captained his country and remains very consistent across all forms of the game.
Country: England/ICC World XI
3,845 runs; 31.77 batting average; 167 highest score
226 wickets; 32.78 bowling average; 5-58 BBI
Net average: -1.01
Above Vettori comes Andrew Flintoff of England, another who will be regarded by history as a good all-rounder rather than a great one.
His impact went far beyond pure statistics though, as he remained a crucial cog in the English team when he was healthy and on form.
2,109 runs; 31.47 batting average; 231 highest score
162 wickets; 32.32 bowling average; 8-52 BBI
Net average: -0.85
One of the greatest all-rounders in the history of Indian cricket, Vinoo Mankad helped his country greatly as they took their first steps in Test cricket.
He tasted victory just five times in his Test career, meaning his achievements for India with bat and ball are all the more incredible.
1,105 runs; 31.57 batting average; 102 highest score
100 wickets; 32.26 bowling average; 7-59 BBI
Net average: -0.69
Just above Mankad comes another Indian with time still on his side—Irfan Pathan.
One of the most talented swing bowlers to emerge in recent times, Pathan has had an inconsistent international career but may find he has more opportunities to put that right.
5,248 runs; 31.05 batting average; 163 highest score
434 wickets; 29.64 bowling average; 9-83 BBI
Net average: 1.41
Another Indian follows at No. 13 and he is one of their best ever—1983 World Cup winner Kapil Dev.
Perhaps known as more of a bowling all-rounder, Dev was India’s greatest fast bowler but also had the ability to turn a match with his explosive batting.
2,325 runs; 30.19 batting average; 179 highest score
127 wickets; 26.96 bowling average; 8-68 BBI
Net average: 3.23
One of England’s first great cricketers, Wilfred Rhodes batted in every position in the batting order and also took plenty of wickets for good measure.
Also the oldest man to play Tests at the ripe old age of 52, Rhodes’ career spanned over 30 years and was enormously successful in a golden age for cricket.
2,185 runs; 37.03 batting average; 144 highest score
116 wickets; 33.15 bowling average; 7-36 BBI
Net average: 3.88
Above Rhodes comes Bangladesh’s superstar all-rounder Shakib Al Hasan, another with time to improve his standing in this list.
An enormously talented batsman and bowler, it is easy to forget he is just 26 years old and should still have plenty of years left at the top level.
Country: New Zealand
3,320 runs; 33.53 batting average; 158 highest score
218 wickets; 29.40 bowling average; 7-27 BBI
Net average: 4.13
Better known as a limited-overs master, Chris Cairns was also a superb Test all-rounder when he was fit and firing.
Capable of turning a match with a superb spell of bowling or an aggressive period of batting, Cairns was a hugely talented player.
5,200 runs; 33.54 batting average; 208 highest score
383 wickets; 28.40 bowling average; 8-34 BBI
Net average: 5.14
A giant of English cricket, Ian Botham comes into this list at No. 9 thanks to his crucial role in international cricket for over a decade.
He was so important to England both as a top-order batsman and a seam bowler, and he was the fastest man to reach 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in Test matches.
1,997 runs; 30.25 batting average; 133 highest score
121 wickets; 25.00 bowling average; 7-17 BBI
Net average: 5.25
Perhaps one of the best cricketers ever produced by Australia, Monty Noble could bat, bowl, field and also captain with distinction.
Captain of his country in three Ashes series, Noble maintained a very consistent level of play despite difficult conditions of the time and remains highly-regarded in Australian cricket.
3,599 runs; 40.43 batting average; 148 highest score
141 wickets; 32.30 bowling average; 8-86 BBI
Net average: 8.13
Another to captain his country and be a great all-rounder was Tony Greig, who comes in at No. 7 in our list.
A giant of a man in every sense of the word, Greig was one of the most complete cricketers of his generation and was widely mourned when he died in late 2012.
Country: South Africa
2,516 runs; 34.46 batting average; 112 highest score
123 wickets; 26.22 bowling average; 6-52 BBI
Net average: 8.24
A great all-rounder who is not as well-known as he perhaps should be, South African Trevor Goddard enters this list at No. 6.
Not only did he bowl with consistency and accuracy, Goddard also opened the batting on numerous occasions and helped make South Africa into a powerhouse of world cricket.
Country: South Africa
3,781 runs; 32.31 batting average; 111 highest score
421 wickets; 23.11 bowling average; 7-87 BBI
Net average: 9.20
Above Goddard comes another South African who helped make the Proteas one of the world’s best in the 1990s and 2000s—Shaun Pollock.
Alongside Allan Donald, he formed one of the most fearsome new-ball partnerships of recent decades and with the bat he was capable of aggression despite coming in down the order.
2,958 runs; 36.97 batting average; 147 highest score
170 wickets; 22.97 bowling average; 7-60 BBI
Net average: 14.00
Moving into the upper section of our list now, and at No. 4 comes the legendary Australian Keith Miller.
An incredibly gifted cricketer, Miller could dominate a match with either bat or ball and was also a flamboyant character off the field who was always aware that cricket was just a game, as noted by David Frith of ESPNCricinfo.
3,807 runs; 37.69 batting average; 136 highest score
362 wickets; 22.81 bowling average; 8-58 BBI
Net average: 14.88
The greatest cricketer to come out of Pakistan, and now a politician in his home country, Imran Khan was an incredible batsman, bowler and captain who led his side to the 1992 World Cup.
A dominant figure in the 1980s especially, he is credited for making cricket even more popular in Pakistan alongside the rise of televising the sport.
Country: South Africa
13,289 runs; 55.37 batting average; 224 highest score
292 wickets; 32.65 bowling average; 6-54 BBI
Net average: 22.72
Above Khan comes one of the greatest modern all-rounders, if not the greatest, the recently retired Jacques Kallis.
Managing to be consistent in South Africa’s top order for over a decade, Kallis also bowled a great deal of overs and he will be an enormous hole to fill in the coming years for the Proteas.
Country: West Indies
8,032 runs; 57.78 batting average; 365* highest score
235 wickets; 34.03 bowling average; 6-73 BBI
Net average: 23.75
Standing above all others comes Garry Sobers of the West Indies, still regarded as one of the best cricketers of all time.
He excelled in all facets of the game, made runs in an exuberant style and took wickets at regular intervals with either seam or spin to be a true colossus of West Indian cricket.