If only his back could have held up.
This is an XI of the cricketers from the last twenty or so years that had the cricketing world at their feet, all the talent, all the ability, all the makings of great international cricketers, but yet have failed to live up to what they should've been. This hasn't always been their fault, but nevertheless, these are XI eleven cricketers who I will always look at and think about what they should have been...
1. Graeme Hick
A domestic run machine who just couldn't cut it. 65 Test matches with only 6 ton's and an average of just over 30 is such a disappointment for the man who has scored over 64,000 domestic runs, scoring in excess of 1000 a season on 19 occasions and playing in more professional games than any cricketer in history. This towering Zimbabwean should have been an all-time great but the expectation was just to much, hardly surprising when you consider he had 56 first class hundreds before playing a Test match.
2. Vinod Kambli
The forgotten hero of Sachin Tendulkars 664-run unbeaten school boy partnership aged just 16 and 17 respectively. Vinod Kambli played only 17 Test matches in what looked like the start of an astonishing career holding aloft India's batting in the 1990's alongside Tendulkar, but this was not to be. The glitz and glamour of being worshipped as a cricketing god in India that Tendulkar has embraced proved the demise of Kambli. His Test match average was a 'mere' 54 in the games he did play and his first class average that verges on 60 is probably enough evidence that he should have had a glittering career in the top flight. Yet he never played at the top level past the age of 24 and retired all together in 2005. It's amazing to think that he is still only in his late thirties even now in 2010.
3. Mark Ramprakash
The great failure of Mark Ramprakash to perform at the highest level mirrors that of Graeme Hick's. Over 49,000 professional runs and yet he still only averaged 27 in 52 Tests with a miserly 2 tons. A domestic run machine, Ramprakash looked set from a young age to play for England, which he did, and play well, which he didn't. Even in his twilight years now he is still churning out the runs for Surrey at a Bradmanesque rate which is one of the most infuriating elements of English cricket. Anyone who scores over 100 first class ton's and fails in the international arena has got to be viewed as one of the great failures. Least he can dance...
4. Kevin Pietersen?
I put a question mark next to KP because he still has time to become one of England's greatest batsman, if he can switch his brain into gear. Currently averaging 47 in Tests with 16 tons from 66 matches he is a very impressive player but has yet to destroy bowling attacks on any consistent basis that would surely rank him just behind the likes of Sehwag and Viv Richards as a great batsman who can really get runs and get them fast. But this seems a long way off, even though he is one of the worlds cleanest and sweetest timers of willow on leather because when he bats there is always the feeling that he is about to do something stupid... not an ideal trait for any player who thrives on the ambition of being classed as great. If he goes back to being the player he was in 2005-07 then he will surely be one of England's greatest players and potentially one of the greatest. But there is also in my view an equal chance that he could just become another player that was always pretty good but never great.
5. Shahid Afridi
When I hear people speak of sporting stars that have wasted talent I immediately think of this man. Probably the greatest and most effective slogger to grace the game, Shahid Afridi in his early twenties was unbelievable. For such an aggressive player to have scored 5 Test match ton's is a sign of real quality, but now, aged just 30, Afridi is a shadow of his former self. Long gone are the days its seems when teams would fear the arrival of 'boom boom' because they no longer fear the clean hitting and thunderous sixes because they know if he keeps going for an over or two, he's going to slap one straight up in the air because he can't help himself. It's such a shame because now he's just going to become a one-day mercenary, a terrible way to use such an amazing talent. Not to mention he's an extremely talented wrist-spinner to boot! I can't help but think what might have been if the Afridi of old had played 100 Test matches... I don't think there's much doubt to say that he would have been a great player, the all time ultimate destroyer. Was it the fame? or his ego? I don't really care, all that matters is that he is such a wasted talent.
6. Shoaib Akhtar
When he burst on the scene this guy was electric. 100mph thunderbolts all the way from Rawalpindi had batsmen the world over fearing the presence of Shoaib Akhtar. Many thought, including myself that this man was the next Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Imran Khan put together. But now, 13 years on, this image has long since disappeared from my mind. Drugs, fame and team mate spats have meant that one of the fastest bowler in the game, who when hot ripped through all in sight, has played just 46 Test matches in 13 years. The talent wasn't even promising because this guy had it, but just when he should have been the worlds leading bowler, the black chasm that appears to be Pakistan cricket engulfed him. Even now aged 35 he can still hit 90mph, but his days at the top are over. I'm certain that if he'd have kept on the straight and narrow he would be being compared with the real great quick bowlers of the game. But now he's known more for what he did off the field than on it. A terrible shame.
7. Stuart MacGill
At a time when spin-bowlers were rare and quality spinners even rarer and quality wrist-spinners were gold dust, Australian leg-spinner Stuart MacGill has got to be the unluckiest cricketer in modern history. He would have walked into any international team without question except his own, thanks enormously to the presence of S.K Warne. When he did play he was extremely successful, picking wickets up at a strike rate better than either Warne of Muralitharran, but he was always denied a spot by the legendary icon that is Shane Warne. And when Warne finally packed up, MacGill's career was in its twilight. If he'd have played for England he would certainly have been the countries greatest wicket taker, but he will forever be known as Australia's back up spinner and probably the most unlucky cricketer of his generation.
8. Shane Bond
Never has a bad back denied the world of a unquestionably great fast bowler. In an international career spanning a decade he has played just 18 Test matches, missing 47 Tests due to injury. When he did play he was electric, he was easily over the 90mph mark and took his wickets quicker than any fast bowler of the modern age, West Indies bowlers included. Even though he played so few games he's probably still ranked as one of New Zealands greatest bowlers, probably only behind Richard Hadlee. Like George Headley of the West Indies, this man never had a chance to play a lot of international cricket, but was an awesome talent when he did. He's another character that if he'd have played 50 more Tests would probably be up their with the most prolific fast bowlers the game has seen, but that was not to be.
9. Steve Harmison
Harmison has two crucial assets that people look for in a fast bowler. He is tall (6ft4), and when at his best, magnificently fast (Once clocking over 96mph). For a brief spell he was the words best bowler, but Steve Harmison lacks the one thing that has prevented him from becoming a great fast bowler, courage. When it was his day Ricky Ponting was once quoted to say he was the most intimidating bowler in international cricket, but it was so rarely his day. Whenever he was tested, he failed, the 2006/7 Ashes is the perfect example. With England struggling they needed their fast men to fire if they stood a chance, so first ball of the series, he put it straight into Flintoff's hands at second slip. It's infuriating to think that he had everything, which he regularly still exhibits for Durham, but never had the bottle to transfer that talent to the international arena on a consistent basis.
10. Mohammed Asif
Asif doesn't have extreme pace or an unorthodox way of acquiring wickets, he is just unbelievably skillful. So skillful in fact that when he first appeared in the Test match arena that many immediately spotted that he was to be a future great. But like so many in Pakistan before him, fame, drugs, team bust ups and match-fixing has stained what should've been a great career. He's still only 28 and if he plays again he will likely be very successful, but his chance at greatness has been lost in the whirlwind of controversy that has ruined his career. Another terrible loss to the game.
11. The 1969 South Africans
It's hard when thinking of lost opportunities in cricket without thinking about the South African cricketers that had their promising international careers cut short by the advent of Apartheid. In 1969/70 they looked like a team ready to defeat the world. Rich in talent, they should have dominated the 1970's. Graeme Pollock, Barry Richards and Mike Proctor are just three names that spring to mind when thinking of great players that should have been allowed to show just how great they were in the international arena, but alas they were banished into the cricketing wilderness. It's such a pity that we can never really compare these players to the greats of the international game because they never had the chance. Early this year Cricinfo revealed its all time World-XI, and I'm sure that had these great South Africans been allowed long and illustrious careers, they would have made a mark on that team.