Monday 28 April 2014

Who was the last great batsman that England produced?

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.


Anonymous said...

Its hard to define great, without the benefit of serious hindsight. Are we looking at weight of runs? If we're talking naturally gifted you'd surely have to seriously consider Gower.

diarmid weir said...

Yes, Gower was certainly the one that came to my mind. Do you too remember his first ball in Tests?

Anonymous said...

Hard to imagine Boycott's batting reaching across the formats either..........

Cricket Lovers said...

I have seen Michael Vaughan batting style, he was the perfect cricket test match player but I don’t think he was best cricket batsman England ever produces. I guess, Boycott is the perfect name in this list . His playing style was phenomenal.

John Halliwell said...

This had me rummaging through the decades. I’d hoped I would stop earlier than the 1970s but, using the criteria: outstanding on all wickets: wet, dry, sticky, ridged, and roughed-up, and devastating against the best of the fastest, slowest, tweakers, curlers, and swingers; a grinder when grinding was needed; carefree after 250 on the board; an international average of about 58.45, and an overall good egg, I ended up with Wally Hammond. An outcome that was as surprising as it was disappointing. I therefore decided to lower my expectations and landed at Kennington Oval around 1957, and there stood PBH May, widely recognised as late as the 1980s as the greatest English batsman to emerge since the end of the war. I then decided ‘This can’t be right; there must have been ‘great’ English batsmen over the past three decades). Boycott great? No! Gooch? Close! (No - not Brian Close). Then it has to be Gower! Glorious languidity; timing as good as von Blucher’s arrival at Waterloo; but, oh, the carelessness outside off stump; but then even the greatest have their weaknesses. I’ll opt, rather tentatively, for Gower as the last great English batsman. If David’s modesty and humility prevent him accepting the accolade, then I’m back to May. And don’t look too hard at the stats; like tippy tappy football, they tell only part of the story.

Tim Newman said...

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned Botham. He'd have been a huge hit in the IPL, and I think he's the only player opposing teams would have been very, very wary of.

Shirshendu said...

The last English batsman to have finished with test career average of 50+... Denis Compton

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