The inability of English cricketers to sit at the top table of the global game has perplexed this nation’s ardent following for a long time. We gave the game to the world, and the world produced the kind of players we could only dream of; or, more accurately, gave us nightmares for decades on end. Of course, we have produced world-beaters. Truman, Gooch, Botham, Flintoff, Pietersen, Harmison were all for a time peerless. The key phrase here, however, is ‘for a time’; no English player has dominated world cricket with any amount of longevity, but in the kind of fits and starts that simply don’t feature in the curriculum vitae of Sachin Tendulkar, or Brian Lara, or Jacques Kallis.
However, this curve has been waning for a while, and was this week ended forever. In Alastair Cook and James Anderson, England have the highest run-scorer and the highest wicket-taker currently playing test match cricket; 12th and 6th in the all-time lists respectively. At 33, Anderson has been terrorising batsmen for over a decade, taking big wickets with the kind of consistency of the next men in his sights, Courtney Walsh and Glenn McGrath. An absolute master of the art of swing bowling, Anderson’s success is testament to his ability to continually improve, developing new deliveries, wrist positions, and batsman-specific plans.
Whilst Anderson unequivocally deserves his status as an all-time great, one suspects there is a limit to how far he can go. The bare biomechanics of fast bowling are such that the sheer strain on his frame can only go on so long, and the absurd wicket totals reached by the holy trinity of slow bowling – Kumble, Warne and Muralitharan – will most likely remain out of reach.
However, the same cannot be said for Alastair Cook. Firstly, this week saw him become the youngest man ever to reach 10,000 test runs, at 31, eclipsing Tendulkar’s record. Bearing in mind that Tendulkar now rests at the zenith of the list – with over 15,000 runs – the future looks bright for England’s skipper. But perhaps most allusive in this respect are Cook’s true strengths. He has never been an expansive shot-maker; he has never relied on power or physical prowess, but on metal, bottle, and concentration. He has shown in recent years – as his place in the side has been called into question and the rigours of captaincy have piled immense pressure onto his shoulders – that these powers are by no means diminishing. Whilst he may not be the most aesthetically pleasing of batsmen, sit back and enjoy. You could well be watching the greatest ever.
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