I'll get to Marshall vs. Murali some other time. While I have the time, I'll mention how hard it was not to put Brian Lara in there. I'll fully admit it! I have completely underrated Lara in the past and he's gone unappreciated by me. In recent years I've sort of come around to acknowledge his rightful place as being mentioned as one of the best West Indian batsmaen ever. Time was I'd never have him close to Viv Richards. These days he is close. While I feel fine with my selection three to eight (though not in their order), don't think, in terms of greatness, in players aren't close. Based on one criteria or another, if I ranked the top 20 best cricketers ever, the 20th cricketer is probably only a shade behind the people in my 3-8 range.
The reason Lara didn't make my list? Well I don't want to start something up here, but I personally think Tendulkar is better than Lara. Not by a lot obviously, but there is a clear (though tiny) margin of difference in my mind. Having Lara at 9 and Tendulkar at 8 sort of felt wrong to me. That might sound stupid, but when I'm decided on who's better, I think the margin should maybe be three or four places, not one or two places. Whereas, for example, I'm not convinced Hobbs was better than Imran, I just lean towards Hobbs slightly, so they're only separated by two places. So any undecision means players will be close. Any clarity means there might be a slightly larger distance between them.
So that was my reasoning for Lara... but I have to say, he's awefully unlucky not to be in the list. It feels wrong. I think it's OK to say Sobers, Richards and Lara rank as the three best West Indian batsmen ever, and I now put Lara in the same sentence as Richards. For that reason and more, it's impossible for me not to feel bad omitting him from my list.
I wouldn't have Warne so high, he's massively over rated for mine.
I think a lot of people will agree with you, and I'm anticipating at least one poster to give me some sort of backlash for putting him so high. Placing Warne is very contentious. A few things I kept in mind:
1. At his best, which in my opinion was 1994, he played in a team where the bowling wasn't that great. People think it was great, but McGrath didn't flourish until 1995. You would never imagine, at the time, Glenn McGrath would turn out the way he did. Craig McDermott battled injuries and losses of form. And whomever else was in the team, it may have been Paul Riefel, was a pretty pedestrian bowler. Warne took 71 wickets in 8 tests that year. That's 71 out of a potential 160! However, a bowler taking a lot of wickets when there isn't much competition isn't anything new. But Warne had a strike-rate of around 42 balls per wicket, which is just freaky. I think a lot of people underestimate how single handedly Warne carried the bowling for Australia around 1993-1994. I have vivid memories of Warne being the only difference between victory and defeat for Australia in many ODI's in 1995 as well.
2. I can't shrug off the fact that 99% of the time, Warne delivered when other greats didn't. I don't want to make comparisons with other greats... but I just can't see the greats of the 90s and 00s taking a team as beaten as Australia were in the 1999 world cup semi final, and taking them to victory. It's as if history calls to Warne and tells him to do something memorable. I perhaps use that semi final as an example far too much, Warne has other times when he's saved Australia... forgotten times. I remember in 2004, McGrath was floundering in Sri Lanka and Australia, in all three Tests against Sri Lanka, were behind after both teams had batted in the first innings. This was Warne's comeback and each time in the second innnings he dig deep a little more. Australia won that series 3-0 despite being behind in all three games. Warne just had to perform on his comeback, history would ask no less of him.
OK I'll make one comparison. Glenn McGrath, great as he is, IMO, couldn't redeem Australia in that 1999 semi final. He couldn't redeem them in Sri Lanka. He couldn't redeem them in the 2005 Ashes (though that may be unfair since he struggled for fitness). Not to say he didn't win Australia an absolute hoard of matches... but a truly great comeback that defends the Aussie reputation is something I don't recall seeing in the McGrath legacy. At Australia's most vital moments, the moments history remembers, Warne did it for Australia. I used McGrath as an example for comparison. But I honestly have never seen any other cricketer, be it a batsman or bowler, in my entire life, who could rise to the occasion.
I mean I think of him the same way I think of Maradonna scoring that goal in 1986... in fact they're very similar in that they were both controversial (both were banned for taking illegal drugs), but both left memories of greatness on the highest stage. Thierry Henry was the best football player in the world for quite a while IMO. I have never seen a finisher like him! But he hasn't quite performed to his highest standard at say the world cup. On the greatest stage of them all, when a hero was needed, Warne was there to redeem Australia.
Like I said, I have little doubt if Warne played for any other team, they would have enjoyed some kind of monumental success. They wouldn't have enjoyed close to the success Australia did, but something of great significance would have happened to them because Warne's the only champion who could rise to the impossible occasion. I think Brian Lara's heroics in 1999 against Australia are the closest any modern cricketer has come to completely redeeming his country with a force of will. Yet another reason why Lara was hard done by not to make my list.
I'm not arguing your stance, just further explaining why Warne was there in my top 3. Certainly he was placed at a contentious spot where, say, Imran Khan wouldn't look out of place... but to me, he is the Maradonna is cricket - controversial, brilliant, and commanding like nobody else when needed the most. Of course he had his moments of mediocrity, but all cricketers do.