Is there any greater pleasure in the game than watching Virat Kohli bat? Only one, perhaps, and that's watching AB de Villiers bat. This blog has often dwelt on the emerging state of the New Batsmanship, its first intimations coming with the cult of Sehwagology and its immortal, irreducible credo 'see ball, hit ball', and on through its power-fuelled expansion: Gayle's vision and its currency of six-hitting; the re-evaluation of wicket as 'resource', a new disposability, the age of McCullum's 'I'm coming anyway' and so on; the switch-hit, the Dilscoop, the ramp... Warner, Sammy, Maxwell, and into a brutal future where a double hundred in a T20 innings feels vaguely possible, or at least plausible.
And yet something strange and unexpected - at least to me - has happened. Kohli and de Villiers have assumed mastery of all three forms of the game with a technique I'd describe as Heightened Classical. The odd backhanded swipe or head-high smear aside, their batting has a framework that adapts to all scenarios: the shorter the game, the more of it they use. Both will be all-time greats.
Watching them prompted another question. Who was the last great batsman that England produced? The simple answer would be Kevin Pietersen, except that England didn't produce him. So if not KP, then who? Ian Bell has a technique comparable to Virat or AB, but not that extra gear that gives them such edge, such life. Michael Vaughan was a classicist too, and touched the heights until his knee gave way and the captaincy came along. Alastair Cook's volume of runs will brook little argument once his Test career is complete, and yet his batting doesn't reach across formats.
England produced great teams under Fletcher and Flower, but, Pietersen aside, there was no dominant player in the way that Australia had Ponting, India Sachin, South Africa Kallis, West Indies Lara, Pakistan Inzamam and so on. The fractured 90s gave us men of grit cast against overwhelming odds: Atherton, Stewart and Thorpe played great innings but it's hard to set them amongst the gods.
For all of their faith and investment, England may have to go back to Gooch and to Boycott to find batsmen of unequivocal, home-grown greatness. Gooch made his Test debut in 1975. Boycott's was in 1964. It has been a long wait, and it's hard to see an end in sight: would you put your money on Root or Buttler? Not now, not yet.
The truth that coaches don't want to hear is that great players produce themselves. It is a light that comes from within. England's wait goes on.
On Talking and Writing about Cricket
2 months ago