Category Archives: Champions

Lillee forever, Steyn today – great fast bowlers pick their favourites

Eight great quicks (Hadlee, Ambrose, Roberts, Walsh, Rice, McGrath, Procter and Bond) are asked for their current and historical fave fast bowlers. Notable is how often Lillee (past) and Steyn (present) crop up, though Jimmy Anderson can be pretty proud of his number of mentions among the currents too.

Special prize if you can guess Glenn McGrath’s current fave bowlers!

Lillee forever, Steyn today
CricInfo
November 12, 2011

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Diego Maradona

Love him or loathe him, he’s quite a player. There’s an argument here for picking him over Pele as greatest ever footballer…

Greatest Sportsman of All Time?

Also known as the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), a question to get the Sport Fan’s heart racing!  Here’s one attempt at an answer:

Top 5 Greatest Sportsmen of all time
Dave Mortlock
July 26, 2009

[W]ho are the five best sportsmen of all-time? First some ground-rules:

  • The higher profile the sport, the better (no shame in this). How do you measure ‘profile’? With great difficulty. But you know it when you see it. Football is higher profile than swimming. It just is.
  • I’m likely to favour those sportsmen where at least some degree of physical conditioning is involved; pure ‘skill’? pursuits like darts and snooker score a lower weighting on this count. I’m also picky about what I count as ‘sport’.
  • I’m looking for dominance, complete and total dominance if I can find it. Longevity is also important.
  • Various prejudices I try to avoid: the bias towards sportsmen of a more recent era; the bias towards individual sports (it’s much easier to identify the best tennis player of all-time than the best rugby player); the bias towards sports involving clear and measurable statistics (cricket, baseball etc).

[M]y Top 5 in order of conviction:

1. Sir Donald Bradman: There is a very compelling argument that Bradman is the best sportsman of all-time, across all-sports. His famous test batting average of 99.94 is light years ahead of everyone else. In fact no other player who has completed more than 20 test match innings has finished with a batting average of more than 61. The statistical difference is freaky, bordering on other-worldly. Take a look at any one of the metrics used to measure batting success in baseball (batting average, slugging, home runs); there exists no such colossal gap between one man and the rest. Remember also that the quality of cricket pitches has dramatically improved since Bradman’s day while the human physics involved in the bowling action are little changed (Harold Larwood bowled at 100mph in 1932). So the fact that no modern-day batsman has even threatened Bradman’s stats is all the more remarkable. He scored a century every third innings, he scored a century 6 tests in a row..in fact a quick read of the 20-odd test records he STILL holds (60 years after retiring) is almost over-whelming. Fast-forward another 100 years and I think Bradman’s stats will still be unparalleled. The Don is simply the greatest.

2. Tiger Woods: So let me get this straight? Around 150 professional golfers tee-it-up each week. All playing the same course, all using the same kit and all having access to the same practice facilities. Theoretically, Tiger has a 1-in-150 chance of winning..but he wins 1 in every 3 tournaments he enters? Maybe not as freakish as Bradman’s stats, but not far off. Think about golf also. Tiger is up against 150 other professionals any one of whom can have a ‘career’ weekend with birdies and eagles flying in everywhere. To win the tournament, Tiger has to be better than the guy in the form-of-his-lifeand he is better, 1 out of 3 events. It’s crazy when you sit down and think about it. Why Tiger over Nicklaus?……Tiger is the better golfer in my view. Already with 14 majors in the bank, you won’t find many people who doubt he’ll breeze past the Golden Bear’s record of 18 wins. His impact on golf has been HUGE also. Nicklaus excelled at golf, Tiger changed it. TV audiences, youth interest, minority participation, prize money..they even had to redesign golf courses untouched for over a hundred years to at least provide a challenge for him. Golf is unrecognisable compared to the pre-Tiger era. He is the greatest sportsman of his generation.

3. Michael Jordan: Jordan had a similar impact on basketball as Tiger has had on golf. As a growing teen addicted to sport, I didn’t really pay much attention to the NBA. I’d probably heard of Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar but knew little about them or who they played for. And then along came Jordan…and suddenly we were all NBA fans, we all supported the Chicago Bulls and we were all buying a pair of Nike ‘Air Jordan’s’. You want impact?……there it is. Has there ever been a more dominant basketball player? When Jordan was fit and interested, it almost took an act of god for the opposition to win. He won a College Title with UNC and 6 NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls. Individual achievements?…..10 All-NBA First Team elections, 5 MVP awards, 14 all-star game appearances, 10 scoring titles, 3 steals titles, 8 defensive player of the year awards, plus he holds the records for highest career regular-season scoring average (30.1 points per game) and highest career playoff scoring average (33.4 points per game). Any good?

4. Diego Maradona: I can almost smell the controversy so from here. Well, first I wanted a footballer. Any list of greatest sportsman without representation from the only real global sport (and the highest profile global sport at that) just wouldn’t be right. Three stand-out: George Best, Diego Maradona and Pele. Best doesn’t pass my longevity test; super talent (some say the best ever on his day), but his day didn’t last that long (temptations away from football sadly took care of that). That leaves Argentina vs Brazil. Maybe there’s a case for including both? You certainly can’t argue with Pele’s impact on the game (possibly the first footballing galactic … god I hate that word). Then you’ve got his 3 world cups (the only player ever to win 3), oh..he scored 1,000 goals during his career also (that’s a lot by the way). There’s also the character issue; Pele renowned for his fair play and the ultimate ambassador for football versus Maradona and the drugs, hand of god? and general bizarre behaviour. But in terms of the ability to go out and win football matches single-handedly..you cannot better Maradona. Pele played in some great Brazilian teams (Jairzinho, Carlos Alberto and co), but when you’ve got a spare 5 minutes, take a look at the Argentinean team that started the 1986 world cup final. With the greatest of respect to the likes of Valdano and Burruchaga, Maradona was surrounded by mediocrities and nobodies; meaning he virtually won a world cup on his own. Oh yeah..Napoli (the Sunderland of Italian football?) They’ve won the Serie A title twice in their 90 year history..coincidentally both titles came during Maradona’s stint at the club. Could it be that he won one of the toughest leagues in Europe single-handedly as well? Enough of the stats; simply ask yourself this: could even Pele jink his way through an opposition team like Maradona could?……the ball impossibly glued to his foot. When I hit the tapes on both players; highlights of Pele in his pomp are impressive but the Maradona footage takes my breath away. Defenders couldn’t get near the little Argentinean nevermind tackle him. And for sheer natural talent, nor can any other footballer get near him. If you were picking a side from scratch and both Pele and Maradona were available to you at their peak, who would you pick first? I’d pick Maradona, and that’s why he’s on the list.

5. Wayne Gretzky: Not many people play ice hockey which is no real surprise given you first need a large patch of ice not to mention some pretty expensive kit. Nor do many people watch ice hockey outside the Nordic countries and North America. So you’re gonna have to be pretty good as an ice hockey player if want a spot in my Top 5which is exactly what Gretzky was. No, sorry..he wasn’t good.he was untouchable. Right, for those who aren’t into ice hockey (and that includes me), you get a point for scoring a goal and a point for an assist (creating a goal for someone else). At the end of the season these points are added-up and whoever has the most points wins the prestigious Art Ross Trophy?. Gretzky won the Art Ross Trophy a short 10 times in his career. The detail is even more impressive: only one player has ever scored over 200 points in a seasonour Wayne..and he did it 4 times. Take all the other winners of the Art Ross Trophy since 1980 (so excluding Gretzky’s 10 wins), average number of points required to win it?…..119. Average points across the 10 years Gretzky won it?….182. We’re getting into the realms of Bradman-esque statistical anomaliesand that’s why Gretzky steals 5th spot on the list. For those wondering whether he was just an individual stand-out player; he was part of 4 winning Stanley Cup teams. And finally, his shirt number (99) has been retired by ALL professional ice hockey teams (not just the teams he played for)..there is a reason his nickname is ‘The Great One’?

Near misses:

  • Boxing: As great as people say Muhammad Ali was, he lost 3 times. Yes his impact on boxing as a sport was enormous, but how can you say he’s the best boxer of all-time when the likes of Rocky Marciano and Joe Calzaghe have both retired undefeated?
  • Football: Pele I’ve discussed above, the list of great footballers who you could consider is endless: Yashin, Puskas, Mathews, Zidane, Cruyff, Best, Maldini, di Stefano, Eusebio, Moore, Beckenbaur, Gullit
    Athletics: I’ve never been so excited watching any form of athletics than when Michael Johnson was at his peak. Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Haile Gebrselassie and Ed Moses deserve mentions. Usain Bolt could feature in due course presuming he’s clean (and god help athletics if he’s not).
  • Cycling: Legend that he is, I’m not convinced Lance Armstrong was any more dominant than the likes of Miguel Indurain or Eddy Merckx. Cycling simply isn’t high profile enough either.
  • Golf: So let’s compare winning percentages. Tiger has played 12 years on the PGA tour and his win ratio is 29%; Nicklaus won 19% of tournaments he entered in his first 12 years. In fact you have to pick the Golden Bear’s greatest 5 years (71-75) to find a Tiger-esque 29% winning hit-rate. And I would argue the fields Nicklaus was up against were not as strong or as deep as those Tiger faces. Bobby Jones & Ben Hogan were both great golfers with some awesome stats, but lack the major wins of Tiger and Nicklaus to be seriously considered.
    Tennis: Although now establishing himself as the greatest tennis player of all-time, Roger Federer hasn’t yet distanced himself sufficiently from the achievements of Sampras (maybe he will go on to do so).
  • Cricket: No all-rounder has had bowling and batting stats like Sir Garfield Sobers. Shane Warne definitely deserves a mention also.
  • Motor-racing: As skilled as Michael Schumacher was, so long as the ‘how much is the driver, how much is the car?’ debate rumbles on, I just don’t think you can include motor racing drivers on all-time lists. The fact that Jenson Button went from the back of the grid to world champion-elect in such quick order doesn’t help Schumacher’s cause.
  • Rugby & NFL: it’s almost as though each position is a different sport given the massive variations in skill-set and physiques and this makes it difficult to make a case for rugby and American Football players. Jerry Rice is often considered the best athlete in NFL history. Great rugby players?…..a lot of great players but no stand-outs spring to mind.

Bounce: How Champions are Made – Matthew Syed

Have just read Matthew Syed’s excellent book Bounce: How Champions are Made in two days, and strongly recommend it. Syed, ex-England table tennis no.1, is up there with Atherton (who positively reviews the book) as top athletes whose writing ability matches their sporting talent.

The essential thesis of the book is that great human success (in sport, the arts, or wherever) is down to hard work and focused practice rather than “talent”. He deploys a wealth of scientific research to back this argument up, and the conclusion should be welcomed – we are not imprisoned by our genetic heritage, and the simplistic idea that “blacks are better at sprinting” is demolished en route. It means for example that I myself am a mere 10,000 hours of good practice from the Wimbledon title.

Here’s a short and a longer video where Syed himself talks about the book.