Indeed, determining the best cricket players in the world is a complex task, given the diverse formats and demanding schedules they face. While the ICC rankings offer some insight, they don't provide the full picture. Creating such a list involves a delicate balance, considering T20 specialists alongside established Test legends and factoring in current form as well as historical performance.
The debate also brings into question whether all-rounders enjoy a natural advantage in these rankings. Should multi-format stars be ranked differently than red-ball masters or short-form experts? These are crucial considerations when compiling a top 10 list of the best cricket players in the world. It's a comprehensive evaluation that recognizes the diverse skills and contributions of these athletes across the spectrum of cricket formats.
For all the statistics at our disposal to analyse modern cricketers, this list is still subjective. All cricket fans will have their own view on who should be included and in which order.
10. Shaheen Shah Afridi
Since making his debut for Pakistan as a teenager, Shaheen Shah Afridi has wasted no time in establishing himself as one of the best cricket players in the world, especially in the bowling department. Standing tall at 6 feet 6 inches, Afridi boasts exceptional pace and has the ability to extract tricky bounce, even on the flattest of pitches in Pakistan and the UAE.
What sets him apart is his versatility as a bowler across all three formats of the game. In Test matches, Afridi showcases remarkable control and swing, effectively constraining the scoring rate and keeping batsmen under constant pressure. Transitioning to the white-ball arena, his repertoire includes a deadly mix of yorkers and hostile short deliveries, making him a formidable force both with the new ball and during the crucial death overs. Afridi's prowess with the ball makes him a vital asset in the world of cricket and a player who consistently ranks among the best.
9. Suryakumar Yadav
Suryakumar Yadav, an established T20 sensation, particularly with the Mumbai Indians in the IPL, presents an intriguing challenge when it comes to ranking the best cricket players in the world. Widely regarded as the finest T20 batsman on the planet, Yadav's limited exposure in just 20 ODIs and no Test matches complicates his ranking.
Yadav's rise to the global stage occurred relatively late in his career, owing in part to being a late-bloomer and, to some extent, India's delayed call-up. However, what he has unequivocally demonstrated in the IPL and his brief stint in international cricket is his status as a genuine 360-degree hitter. Once he finds his rhythm, he becomes an unstoppable force and a nightmare for bowlers. Suryakumar Yadav's ability to consistently deliver exceptional performances in T20 cricket has solidified his reputation as one of the best cricket players in the world.
8. Steve Smith
Steve Smith's cricketing record unquestionably establishes him as one of the best cricket players in the world. With a Test batting average of over 60, his prowess in the longest format is truly remarkable. While his white-ball cricket contributions are relatively limited, he boasts an impressive record in ODIs.
Notably, after averaging over 110 during the 2019 Ashes series, Smith's Test performances have seen a slight dip, but he remains firmly in the upper echelon of Test batters. What sets him apart is his ability to excel on all types of cricketing surfaces, making him a prominent figure in the world of cricket. When the time comes for his retirement, Steve Smith will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest batters of the 21st century.
7. Kagiso Rabada
Similar to Afridi, Kagiso Rabada burst onto the international cricket scene at a tender age and has since consistently proven himself to be among the best cricket players in the world. Rabada's exceptional skills transcend all three formats, characterized by his pace and bounce, which make him a potent force even on surfaces that offer limited assistance to fast bowlers.
In the wake of a golden era for South African fast bowling spearheaded by legends like Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, Rabada has seamlessly assumed the role of the team's bowling leader. His performance statistics are nothing short of outstanding, with a historically remarkable Test match strike rate further solidifying his status as one of the premier cricketers in the world today.
6. Babar Azam
Babar Azam's cricketing journey began with a stellar performance for Pakistan in white-ball formats, but he has since evolved into one of the nation's all-time greatest batters. Azam boasts impressive statistics across Tests, ODIs, and T20s, often shouldering the burden of carrying a subpar Pakistan batting lineup.
Drawing inevitable comparisons to the illustrious Fab Four, Babar Azam has, in recent years, eclipsed several members of that quartet. Remarkably, he won't even turn 30 until October 2024, setting the stage for what could be an all-time great career, placing him in the esteemed company of past Pakistani icons like Younis Khan, Inzamam-ul-Haq, and Mohammad Yousuf. In the current cricketing landscape, Babar Azam undoubtedly stands as one of the best cricket players in the world, with a bright future ahead.
5. Joe Root
While Joe Root's batting averages may not shine as brightly as some of the other elite batters around the world, it's important to consider that a significant portion of his cricket career has unfolded on the challenging pitches of England. Despite this, Root has unquestionably established himself as one of the finest players of his generation, making a strong case as England's greatest ever batter.
It's worth noting that his absence from England's white-ball teams could potentially be used against him in discussions about the best cricket player in the world. However, this is more a reflection of the depth and quality of England's batting options in shorter formats rather than a limitation of Root's talents. Root's remarkable cricketing skills and consistent performances in Test cricket have solidified his place among the cricketing elite.
4. Jasprit Bumrah
When Jasprit Bumrah is in peak form and fitness, he undeniably stands as the most complete fast bowler in world cricket. His unique, jerky action, combined with a short run-up, poses a formidable challenge for batters, making it exceedingly difficult for them to read his deliveries. Bumrah's repertoire of skills allows him to torment batters in various ways.
Whether it's swinging and seaming the red ball to create awkward angles or deploying a hostile bouncer with the white ball, Bumrah exhibits a remarkable range of variations and an uncanny ability to deliver pinpoint yorkers. His unorthodox approach is precisely what makes him the quintessential modern pace bowler, capable of adapting to different formats and conditions. In discussions about the best cricket player in the world, Jasprit Bumrah's diverse skillset and consistent performance rightfully earn him a prominent spot among the cricketing elite.
3. Shakib Al Hasan
Shakib Al Hasan's cricketing journey has often been overlooked, making him one of the most underrated players in the sport's history. Using a traditional and somewhat simplistic measure of an all-rounder, it's notable that Shakib boasts a higher batting average than his bowling average in Tests, ODIs, and T20s. Furthermore, he holds the coveted position of the number one all-rounder in both T20Is and ODIs, and he's ranked third in Tests according to the ICC rankings.
Despite moments of controversy in his career, Shakib's true value may only be fully appreciated once he decides to retire from the game. He remains the standout performer for Bangladesh and has consistently delivered exceptional performances, making him not only one of the best cricket players in the world but also a symbol of inspiration for his nation.
2. Rashid Khan
Rashid Khan, while not relying on significant spin, has masterfully wielded his leg-spinners to become one of the most lethal weapons in white-ball cricket. His red-ball career has also shown remarkable promise, particularly with Afghanistan's newfound Test status.
Known for his pinpoint accuracy and a googly that is notoriously hard to read, Khan has excelled across various short-form leagues and boasts a stellar record in over 150 white-ball matches for Afghanistan. In addition to his bowling prowess, Rashid Khan has demonstrated his worth as a versatile all-rounder, often contributing valuable runs to the team when wielding the willow. His consistent performances have rightfully earned him recognition as one of the best cricket players in the world, particularly in the limited-overs formats.
1. Ben Stokes
Ben Stokes may not hold the title of the best batsman or the best bowler in the world, and he might not even top the statistical charts as the best all-rounder. However, when the pressure is at its peak, Stokes is undeniably the man you want with either bat or ball in hand. His career is punctuated by headlines such as two World Cup triumphs and the nearly unbelievable heroics at Headingley in 2019. Yet, beyond these historic moments, Stokes has consistently been the match-winner for his team on countless occasions.
In 2022, when he took on the Test captaincy, the Christchurch-born all-rounder orchestrated a remarkable transformation, turning England from one of the world's weakest teams into an unstoppable force. In the process, he reinvented the way the world perceives the five-day game.
Although Stokes's statistics may not always stand out, and he has recently retired from ODI cricket, he has remained a match-winner across all formats throughout his illustrious career. His leadership has proven transformative, making him a captain who can reshape a team's destiny. When assembling a lineup for a one-off match in any format, few cricketers can stake a claim to inclusion as firmly as Ben Stokes. He is, without a doubt, one of the best cricket players in the world.