I was asked a while ago about my favourite shot in cricket. Instantly I thought of two. Alastair Cook's cut shot and Ian Bell's cover drive. With all this self-isolation, I've had plenty of time to think, and so I thought I'd take it a step further. I started to think about creating the perfect English batsmen, using historical players and their shots/characteristics and traits.
My rules were simple. You could only choose one shot from any one player, and they had to have represented England at test level.
Here is my perfect English batsman:
Alastair Cook - Cut Shot
Cook ended his test career on 12,472 runs and there is little doubt that he was good enough to continue playing past his chosen retirement. Cook's cut shot was used to devastating effect all around the world. Any ball that was short of a length and outside off-stump was despatched to the boundary, rocking back onto the back foot and getting on top of the ball, nobody played the cut shot better than Alastair Cook.
Ian Bell - Cover Drive
I don't care what anyone says, there is no better player of the cover drive than Ian Bell. It's as simple as that. When Bell was on form he was poetry in motion, his cover drive made you absolutely drool. Whether the ball was a good length, full length, half volley or full volley, if it was just a touch outside off, Bell was on it in a flash. He'd pick the ball up so early, step forward and drive with the perfect balance. 118 tests, 7,727 runs and 22 centuries, the cover drive would have accounted for a fair few of those runs.
Wally Hammond - Mid-Off Drive
Wally Hammond was without a doubt one of the finest batsmen to ever live and if you read the match reports from the 1930s, you'll see that he was one hell of a slip fielder as well. Hammond could play any shot in the book and is widely considered to be one of the best of the best. However, contemporary accounts of the time referred to his off-side driving as the key to his success. With a still and balanced stance at the crease, he would pick up the ball and play on the back foot, driving majestically through the off-side. He appeared in 85 Tests for England, scoring 7,249 runs at an average of 58.45.
Graham Gooch - Mid-On Drive
Gooch could have been in here for a number of shots, however, I went back to take a look at a few of his best innings. He cut beautifully and he used the pull shot to devastating effect, however, it was the drives through mid-on that really caught my eye. Gooch always said that the key to batting is your head positioning. He would start on leg, and then move over to middle stump, enabling him to pick up any ball that strayed onto his pads and nonchalantly knock it through mid-on. He wasn't afraid to knock it over the head of the man at mid-on either. 118 tests for Gooch, 8,900 runs with 20 centuries.
Denis Compton - Sweep Shot
One of the great entertainers in cricket history, Denis Compton was ahead of his time when it came to the sweep shot. Seen as one of the more dangerous shots to play, nobody in world cricket played it with such regularity as Denis and according to the man himself, he rarely got out playing it. In truth, he could have been on here for any number of strokes, but he was a fine sweeper of the ball, and often gave spinners real nightmares. Compton played 78 tests for England, scoring 5,807 runs at an average of 50.06.
Michael Vaughan - Pull Shot
Michael Vaughan was a fine puller of the ball, he may not have been to the Ricky Ponting standard in this regard, but he was a superb player of the short ball on bouncy tracks. In the early 2000s it was the Vaughan pull-shot that enabled England to get on top of the Australian bowling. When on form, Vaughan could pull the ball from back or front foot stances and I remember a few decent McGrath deliveries disappearing to the boundary thanks to this shot in 2002. Vaughan appeared in 82 Tests for England, scoring 5,719 runs with 18 hundreds.
David Gower - Late Cut
I love watching clips of David Gower, it was often remarked that if he was anymore laid back at the crease he would be lying down. Gower used a lighter bat than most (usually around half a pound lighter) which enabled him to flick the ball and play it extremely late. His late-cut was absolutely exquisite, you'd actually think he was about to get bowled and then all of a sudden the flick of willow and the ball was racing to the boundary. 117 Tests for 8,231 runs including 18 centuries.
W.G Grace - Straight Drive
You can't build the ultimate English cricketer without including the great Gloucestershire man himself. Would it be too much to say that Grace basically invented the batting technique as we know it? Side on, straight bat, head over the ball during the stroke. Frank Crozier once commented that Grace was the most powerful straight-driver that he ever saw. When a technically sound batsmen makes contact with a ball and deposits it where it came from, there is no better sight. 22 Tests, 1,098 runs, 54,896 runs in first-class cricket.
Joe Root - Square Drive
This is the shot that tends to get Joe Root up and running, the back-foot square-drive, timed to perfection and racing away to the boundary. if this shot is coming off early in the inning, there's a good chance that Joe is seeing the ball well and will go on to make a score. Bowlers sometimes have a habit of dropping the ball short of a length, but if Root has his timing set, any ball outside off that is dropped short will be driven square with disdain. It's an absolutely beautiful shot and nobody plays it better. The England captain has played in 92 tests, accumulating 7,559 runs which include 17 centuries.
Len Hutton - Leg Glance
Hutton was one of the finest batsmen to ever grace our beautiful cricket fields, and although he was famous for his off-drives, I've got him in here for his leg-glances. Hutton's technique would be to play off the back-foot, letting the ball come to him, playing it late. He was the opposite to Compton, he was a Yorkshire man who didn't like to take risks, instead opting for the safe shot along the ground. There are several accounts of him being a fine leg-side player with his ability to play the ball late enabling him to glance runs down to the boundary. Hutton played 79 tests, scoring 6,971 runs for an average of 56.67
Geoffrey Boycott - Forward Defensive
Boycott was a fine batsman, and according to a lot of contemporaries, he worked extremely hard at it as well. Boycott was so successful because his defensive game enabled him to prolong innings and pick off bad balls. His concentration alone was an incredible asset, but it was his forward defensive that became famous. With sound technique, Boycott would experience pains in his shoulders and arms, due to his high elbow ensuring a sound defensive stroke. He managed to keep out balls that would have taken wickets against most batsmen, and this enabled him to make huge scores, and consistently too. 108 Tests, 8,114 runs which included 22 centuries and a top score of 246*.
Jack Hobbs - Footwork
Hobbs could have been anywhere on this list, however considering how good he was against all types of bowling, all around the world, on all kinds of pitches, I'm taking his footwork. The cricket writer R.C Robertson-Glasgow once said of Hobbs "his footwork was, as near as is humanly possible, perfect. In every stroke, he moved into line with the ball with so little effort that he could bat for hours without over-taxing energy of mind or body.". He read the flight of the ball so quickly and moved his feet to the pitch of the ball, combine this innate ability with his shot-making ability and it's easy to see why some considered him to be the better batsman than Don Bradman. Hobbs played in 61 tests, scoring 5,410 runs for an average of 56.94.
Ben Stokes - Heart
I probably don't have to explain this one too much. Ben Stokes is as talented a cricketer that I've ever had the pleasure of watching. Stokes is one of those players where in 30 years our children or grandchildren are going to say "You were so lucky to see him live", just like I do to older generations around Compton or Boycott. His world cup heroics, his innings at Headingley, his unwavering commitment even when exhausted. Ben Stokes will run through a brick wall, get up and run through another. 63 Tests, 4,056 runs to go with 147 wickets, and there is so much more to come.
Kevin Pietersen- Creativity
When KP was flowing, the entertainment level was pushed to the max. Reverse sweeps, slog sweeps, switch hits, he was bringing ODI and T20 batting (before it even existed) into the test arena. I remember watching that 2005 Ashes, just wondering how someone could be so incredibly gifted and different to anything I'd ever seen. He took some crazy chances and he sometimes lost his wicket cheaply, but his creativity and ability to take on McGrath and Warne set him apart. I'd take KP's creativity any day of the week. 104 Tests, 8,181 runs with 23 centuries.
Grit - Michael Atherton
I really wanted to get Michael Atherton on here, because he was a player that I respected massively. He played at a time when England were quite poor on the whole, and there were numerous occasions where he had to grit out an inning. He faced down Donald with the South African spitting feathers, his 185 against South Africa to rescue a draw, an inning that lasted over 10 hours, was something to behold. Backs against the wall, I'd back Atherton to grim and bear it and put together a good inning. 115 Tests, 7,728 runs including 16 centuries.
Ian Botham - Flair
You have to have Beefy in here somewhere, don't you? Botham was an absolute rock start and drew the crowds into English grounds. Botham was strong enough to clear the boundaries, but he was technically a very pleasant batsman to watch as well. He had a flair to him, when Botham was in the game, no target was safe for the opposition and no ask too much for England. He was exuberant, sometimes to the detriment of his game according to some contemporaries. His flair carried over to all facets of his game, bowling, batting and fielding.
Marcus Trescothick - Patience & Judgment
I absolutely loved watching Marcus Trescothick bat, he had a superb cover drive and a first-class uppercut that would race over the slips and to the boundary, but for me, he was so successful because he knew which balls to attack and which balls to leave. So many young players get into trouble because they don't know which balls to leave, Marcus played with a straight bat and was rarely tempted at playing balls outside his off-stump, early in his innings. He was patient enough to let the good balls past and punish the bad ones.
Mike Brearley - Leadership
When someone publishes a book entitled "The art of captaincy" you know he's a man confident of his own leadership skills. Brearley steered England to a world cup final, as well as 19 tests on home soil unbeaten. He had the knack for getting the very best out of his players, most notably our flair man Ian Botham. Australia fast bowler Rodney Hogg once said that Brearly had " a degree in people" which is a great compliment for any leader. His stats as a test cricketer were average...verging on poor. However, his 58% win percentage as a captain says it all.