With the Allan Border Medal presentation night coming up next Tuesday, that means that two more distinguished servants of Australian cricket will become the 30th and 31st members of the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame.
Unlike the winner of the Border Medal, the ACHOF laureates can be more difficult, and perhaps more interesting to predict, although the way the media vote, the best player doesn't always (2002 and 2005, but more about that later). So, I'll endeavour to raise the names of a few players and discuss their merits and chances of selection.
The selection criteria are
1) The player must be retired from the game for at least 5 years.
2) Based on more than just statistics.
3) The player must have impacted the way in which the game is played.
4) Should have either played at least 20 Tests or made at least a thousand runs or taken at least 75 wickets.
5) The player should have played in at least one country other than Australia.
The selection committee General Manager of Melbourne Cricket Club, Dr. John Lill, Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry, Cricket Australia and media representatives.
Depending on how the five-year rule is interpreted, the most obvious candidate, and most likely to be inducted would be Steve Waugh. Waugh played his last first-class match in March 2004, so he will be eligible if "years" is interpreted to be cricket seasons, rather than exactly 365 days.
If five seasons is the way the criteria is interpreted, then by the guidelines on minimum matches, run-scoring and wicket-taking, the list would be Steve Waugh, Damien Fleming, Michael Slater, Paul Reiffel, Mark Waugh, Mark Taylor, Tim May, Merv Hughes, Bruce Reid, Geoff Marsh, Craig McDermott, David Boon, Dean Jones, Greg Matthews, Wayne Phillips, Kepler Wessels, Greg Ritchie, Terry Alderman, Geoff Lawson, Bruce Laird, Andrew Hilditch, Rodney Hogg, Jim Higgs, Bruce Yardley, Graeme Wood, John Dyson, Kim Hughes, Ray Bright, Graham Yallop, Rick McCosker, Geoff Dymock, Max Walker, Jeff Thomson, Ross Edwards, Kerry O'Keeffe, Ashley Mallett, Paul Sheahan, John Gleeson, Keith Stackpole, Doug Walters, Bob Cowper, Ian Redpath, Tom Veivers, Alan Connolly, Neil Hawke, Graham McKenzie, Brian Booth, Bill Lawry, Norman O'Neill, Wally Grout, Ken Mackay, Peter Burge, Gil Langley, Jimmy Burke, Colin McDonald, Bill Johnston, Don Tallon, Ian Johnson, Sid Barnes, Bill Brown, Jack Fingleton, Alan Kippax, Johnny Taylor, Jack Ryder, Arthur Mailey, Jack Gregory, Herbie Collins, Charles Kelleway, Warren Bardsley, Vernon Ransford, Tibby Cotter, Hanson Carter, Jack Saunders, Reggie Duff, James Kelly, Syd Gregory, Harry Trott, Charles Turner, William Bruce, George Palmer and Alick Bannerman.
To cut it down to a more manageable list, I would cut it down to a list of perhaps 5-10 plausible candidates per era, keeping in mind that all of the inductees have been regular, core members of the Australian team for the best part of a decade.
Post-WSC: Steve Waugh, Mark Waugh, Mark Taylor, Craig McDermott, Dean Jones
1960s-1970s:Bill Lawry, Jeff Thomson, Doug Walters, Bob Cowper, Graham McKenzie
WWII-1960s: Sid Barnes, Don Tallon, Bill Johnston, Norman O'Neill
Earlier: Alan Kippax, Bill Brown, Jack Ryder, Arthur Mailey, Jack Gregory, Warren Bardsley and Charles Turner.
Of the recent era, Steve Waugh is the clear outstanding candidate. The most prolific and important batsman in Australia's Test dominance since the 1990s, Waugh turned a successful team into a ruthless machine that swept all before it. As a batsman, he was known for his iron will and his famous series in 1995, defying the Ambrose-led West Indian paceman in Trinidad before scoring the series-winning 200 in Sabina Park. Other classic performances included the 1999 World Cup campaign, the world record of 16 consecutive Test wins and the twin centuries on an Old Trafford greentop in 1997. The other five players on the shortlist are unlikely to be inducted unless two recent players are inducted. This is highly unlikely, unless outstanding catching (Taylor, M Waugh) or one-day ability (Jones) is taken into account.
Of the candidates in the 1960s and 1970s, Doug Walters was the most scintillating batsman of the era. A dashing strokeplayer, whenever a young and dynamic batsman has emerged in the last 40 years, such as Michael Clarke or Mark Waugh, they have invariably been comparisons to Walters. Following a period when Australian batting had led by the relatively austere play of Bob Simpson and Bill Lawry, Walters helped to reinvigorate public interest with attacking play and fast-scoring. A crowd favourite, a stand at the SCG was named after him and he remains very much in the consciousness of the cricketing public. On the negative side, Walters was noted for his poor record in England, averaging less than 30 there. Walters was also a medium-pace bowler who was often used to break partnerships; in 74 Tests, he managed 49 at 29.08. Cowper boasts a similar record while he was playing as a batsman and off spinner, but he retired for work reasons just as he was entering his prime, and played Tests for only four years. Lawry had the longevity of the two former batsmen, but lacked ability with the ball, and was a dour batsman who was the antithesis of Walters. His defensive nature is unlikely to appeal to fellow panellist Benaud, who was known for exuberant play, but Lawry does have the advantage of being in the public consciousness.
Of the bowlers, Thomson would appear the likeliest of the candidates because of the way in which he captured the public's imagination with his extreme pace and belligerent approach to cricket, in comparison to McKenzie's swing bowling, which is likely to be overlooked given that he played immediately after the retirement of the great Alan Davidson and was hampered by the lack of a potent pace bowling partner during the 1960s.
Bill Johnston, although perhaps rather forgotten in the contemporary age, was a key member of Don Bradman's Invincibles. During the 1948 tour, Johnston was the leading wicket-taker, with 102, and was the equal leading wicket-taker with Ray Lindwall in the Tests (27); he was a frontline left arm fast bowler, but could also revert to orthodox spin, which gave extra flexibility to the Australian attack of the 1940s and 1950s. His performances in 1948 prompted Wisden to say that "no Australian made a greater personal contribution to the playing success of the 1948 side". Bradman called him "Australia’s greatest left-hand bowler", although this may have been recorded before the arrival of Alan Davidson. In five consecutive Test series from 1948 to 1952-53, Johnston was Australia's leading wicket-taker and his first 111 Test wickets came at 19.22 before a chronic knee injury caused his downfall. Although Johnston is not the most well-known of players, and may escape the attention due to recentism, he did play with Benaud, while Lawry has often mentioned him in discussing the leading left-arm bowlers of past eras during his television commentary.
Of the other post-WWII players, Don Tallon was said by those who played with him to be the most outstanding gloveman that they had seen, known for his extreme speed and classical technique up to the stumps. However, his best years were lost to the war, and his Test career was somewhat disappointing, especially in terms of his batting not living up his potential, and a deterioration in form following the Ashes tour. Norman O'Neill was an attractive and dynamic batsman often likened to Doug Walters, and early in his career, burdened with comparisons to Bradman. He averaged over 60 in the first part of his career, and was also known for his outstanding fielding, which was of unprecedented quality for his time and resulted in approaches from Major League Baseball outfits. The last name is rather a smoky. Because of the period that he lost to WWII, as well as his self-imposed exile to concentrate on business, Sid Barnes' did not have an extended career, and this should count against him. However, when he was on the field, he was an outstanding and prolific opener and was arguably Australia's best batsman other than Bradman from 1945 to 1948. Barnes did break new ground as a player; he fielded an unprecedently close range at short leg, although nobody else was willing to emulate him. He was also a hard-nosed self-promoter and frequently clashed with cricket authorities, something, which although was not copied by his contemporaries, has certainly become all too prevalent in this era.
Jack Gregory should be the most likely inductee among the pre-WWII players. Immediately after the war, he and EA McDonald formed a noted fast-bowling pair for Australia, which marked a step in the evolution of fast bowling into the hostile trade of modern times. He was also a hard-hitting left-handed batsman with an average touching 37 and held the world record for the fastest ever Test century. He was a prolific six-hitter, in this manner, he was not unlike Keith Miller, to whom he is often compared when discussing Australia's greatest allrounder (along with Warwick Armstrong and Monty Noble). His belligerent, powerful style was quite a departure from the golden age that preceded his era. Jack Ryder is another candidate, that I sense has a strong claim to a place in the Hall of Fame. Ryder was a hard-hitting batsman who played between the wars, and averaged above 50 in 20 Tests. He also bowled regularly, taking 237 first-class wickets, although only 17 were in Tests. His legendary status in Victoria, gained through his prolific exploits in local cricket that saw the Jack Ryder Medal named in his honour, as well as his long stint as a national selector may help to keep his name in the minds of the judging panel.
The other players were all excellent servants of Australian cricket, but it is hard to see any of them being remembered more than Gregory and Ryder. Charles Turner, who took 101 wickets at 16.50 in the 19th century, was often regarded by his contemporaries as the best bowler of his time, and was named "Terror". In all first-class matches he took 993 wickets at 14.25 but, sadly, he is rarely spoken of in this era. Bill Brown remains quite well known because of his longevity, but the fact that Bardsley was one of Australia's best openers and left-handers may not linger so deeply in the memory of most. Alan Kippax was dubbed the "Prince of Stylists" and old-timers compare his elegance to the likes of Trumper, Archie Jackson and Stan McCabe, but his lack of performance at Test level is likely to count against him.
So, down to the final verdict. The YellowMonkey is predicting that, given eligibility, the two inductees this year will be Steve Waugh and Jack Gregory. It is hard to argue against these two, although Charles Turner is as deserving as either. If Waugh remains ineligible, I expect Gregory to be named, although I have a feeling that Turner will be passed over in favour of Walters or Lawry. Rather sad in my opinion, but I think that the ghosts of Turner and Bill Johnston could be waiting for a long time until their contributions to Australian cricket are duly recognised.