Upon request I have journeyed deep into my memory to come to the point of selecting Allan Border as my favourite cricketer of all time. At the time that his career concluded I was just out of primary school and I am sure he was not the player that I aspired to be. My history however has the years rolling by with me continuing to turn over who my favourite player was at any one point, and likewise having been asked I have settled (with surprising ease) on Border as the one most worthy of my admiration.
My undoubted first love was Craig McDermott, now Australia's bowling coach. He was the fast bowler leading Australia's attack at the time I remember first watching cricket on TV and all I wanted to do was bowl fast. In hindsight it is a strange choice for two reasons. One, these formative memories have Sir Vivian Richards pasting McDermott and others all around Australia on his final visit to our shores; and two, my own cricket career finished with me an unspectacular opening batsman rather than a feared fast bowler.
But I did not stop there with the fast men, Glenn McGrath then followed in my affections. Maybe he carried to further height a similar style to McDermott, consistency and fire being in the right balance. Today, I remain enamoured with a fast bowler out of the current crop. Without a doubt it is Peter Siddle whom I love to watch play cricket most. But this is more about his overall attitude to the game than skills. As an adult now I have perspective on how misguided we can be that cricket is more than a game. Siddle is a breath of fresh air, he just loves playing the game, running in and bowling fast.
I have seen all the great modern Australian batsman score centuries live but none really stick in my memory as particularly inspiring. Of batsmen however, Steve Waugh during the 1989 Ashes was a favourite based purely on making the first centuries of his career with a Gunn and Moore bat (my first bat was a G&M also). I will also go to my grave claiming Mark Taylor is Australia's greatest captain ever.
But it is not the statistics or great memories that leave Border sitting atop my list. He was not the most classically gifted batsman as Greg Chappell was, nor could he play an innings of absolute power as Adam Gilchrist became known for. Yet Border climbed to the top of the batting world at a time where pitches varied wildly and each nation boasted an array of world-class bowling talent. He did so through willpower and technique alone. What elevates him above all others is who he was in Australian cricket history and what he means now to the historical landscape of Australian cricket. Allan Robert Border, no matter what position they found themselves in, represented Australian Cricket.
Getting his chance while the World Series players were out of the way, he quickly became a worthy First XI selection in a team of Second XI talent. Within only a few years he was a constant and a leader in a team that was as volatile off the field as it was on. He was a controlled player that underpinned the flashiness surrounding him.
When Australian cricket was at its lowest ebb, as a captain departed in tears and the core of the great side left as one, there Border remained, though still in his twenties, a man among the boys. He took on a role that today's leadership experts and sports psychologists would probably steer his type away from. In fact Border himself did not appear assured in accepting the role, being aware of his limitations in areas beyond batting.
He rolled through series after series of being battered by a West Indian pace attack that was as unforgiving as it was fast. If you look at his career he nearly outlasted three generations of these fearsome bowlers and of the greats, only Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh continued beyond him. Imagine turning up to your workplace day after day and being confronted by the message 'try as you might, you will fail today': This was Australian cricket in the 1980s.
Minimal footage exists of his 1984 test in Port of Spain where he dug in for 98* and 100*, but newspaper descriptions of it are enough to fire my enthusiasm for tough test cricket. West Indian wicketkeeper Jeff Dujon has gone on record saying it was the saddest thing he saw in his cricket career that AB didn't get a hundred in each innings. He was unforgiving in nature also. Less than established in the test team, Dean Jones found this out in the middle of India's M.A. Chidambaram Stadium. Though Jones scored a double hundred in immense heat, vomiting all the way, Border still asked more of him and the tied result of the match maybe justified his stance.
Despite never getting the ultimate success (for the age) against the West Indies, Border's career concluded with Australia as number two and taking off for the glory years. Border was still a constant and a force in the breakthrough 1987 World Cup and the 1989 Ashes victories. While others were on glorious runs of form in both of these tournaments, the captain held his game together as solidly as ever in the middle order. He retired after Australian cricket returned to South Africa and left behind a core of players that built on his legacy.
Both Waugh twins, Ian Healy, and Mark Taylor became the leaders of the next generation of Australian cricket and all learned much about mental toughness and winning hard from their former leader. Even while Shane Warne was spinning a web around the hapless Englishmen there was still one man who could still attack him. Warne himself has admitted that he has never been played as well as by Border (in training) in his early career. Despite his unspectacular batting nature you can do a lot worse than to watch footage of Border batting against spinners to learn the art of playing the slow men.
I never saw a Border century live, and struggle to remember seeing one on television except maybe for glimpses of his second test double century, this against England in 1993. I maintain Taylor as the best captain that Australian cricket had tactically and in understanding the game, but give me Border to bat or captain for my life any day. He did not inspire me as a child during his career, but in retrospect he has become the marker of what I consider quality cricket. Maybe why I love watching Peter Siddle today as it is he who epitomises individuals who play as though they want to squeeze every last drop of success out of their talent.
With questions abounding Australian cricket of what group of players will lead the way back up to the top the question for me is not how much do they want success? It is whether they want it as much as AB did?