The reason why I’ve chosen 2005 as the cut off for this article is because for me, that was a watershed moment for English cricket. During the Ashes, I remember being glued to the television for the conclusion of the Edgbaston test, jumping for joy as Kasprowicz gloved Harmison behind. From then, I, like many others, was hooked.
Since then, English cricket has gone through many ups and downs from being whitewashed down under to becoming the number 1 team in the world.
This article will rank who I believe to be the Top 10 English batsmen since 2005. I have no real authority on the matter, I simply love the game and following English cricket is a genuine passion of mine. At the very least, hopefully this article can be some form of entertaining procrastination for ten minutes.
This time period starts at the first test against Australia at Lords, 2005 and only includes test cricket feats, so, for example, Stokes’ World Cup heroics will not be considered.
Without further ado, let’s jump in.
10 – Gary Ballance
This one is so controversial. I can’t even believe I’m writing it. I know what you’re thinking, Gary Ballance only played 23 tests! The man was as inconsistent as the weather!
But hear me out.
Although he only played 23 tests between 2014 and 2017, his average was 37.45. To put that in perspective, Jonny Bairstow has an average of 34.74 and Andrew Flintoff had an average of only 31.77. Ballance also hit 4 centuries and 7 fifties with a best of 156. The first century he hit came in only his second test against Sri Lanka in 2014 at Lords.
In India in 2014, Ballance scored a gritty 110 after England struggled on 113/4, before scoring 156 in the 3rd test.
Ballance’s stats are not to be sniffed at.
Eventually, he got dropped for Jonny Bairstow following a dip in form.
A recall remains unlikely, given the fact that England appear to be keen on selecting younger up-and-coming players, but I do want to point out that Balance was named as a Wisden cricketer of the year in 2015.
I’m not saying that he was Rahul Dravid. But I am saying that he was a good player with decent stats that probably deserves to be remembered a bit more fondly than he is.
9 – Matt Prior
Every great team needs a good keeper. A good keeper, I would suggest is an aggressive batsman, who takes the attack to the bowler and Prior did just that.
Who can forget his debut 126 off 128 balls? The highest score by an England wicketkeeper on debut at the time.
Prior followed that up with 7 hundreds and 28 (yes 28!) fifties in tests for England at an average of 40.18 (!).
Prior was there for some England’s greatest moments of the past few decades – an Ashes victory down under in 2010-11 and England’s 4-0 victory over India in 2011 which made them the number 1 ranked team in the world.
Prior’s place in this line-up is more than justified.
8 – Paul Collingwood
Ah Colly. Mr Military Medium. Probably not the first person you expect to see on a list like this but I must say I miss having him in the England team. He was a very reliable figure in the squad during the latter half of the 00s.
You wouldn’t say he was the most fluent technique-wise, but he did get the job done. How many Englishmen can say they have an Ashes double hundred in Australia? Paul Collingwood’s 206 at Adelaide in 2006-07 was ultimately in a game that England lost but for someone who was considered by many a bit of a dibbly-dobbler kind of cricketer who was perhaps borrowing his place in the team, rather than making the spot his own, I would suggest that that kind of innings shows great character.
Collingwood was a master at batting with the lower order. In the opening test match against Australia at Cardiff in 2009, Collingwood, after having made 64 in the first innings, came in with England stuttering at 31-3, looking to save the match with an unlikely looking draw. He went on to bat for 344 minutes scoring a total of 74, batting with the likes of Flintoff, Prior and Broad.
I am a fan of Colly, but even I was surprised when I saw his career average of 40.56 from 115 innings.
I think overall Collingwood slots into the ‘slightly underrated’ category of modern English cricketers.
7 – Ben Stokes
Ben Stokes. When opposing teams see that name on the team sheet, I can only imagine their fear.
Everyone who follows English cricket knows that this man can change any game. Headingly 2019 is testament to that fact.
Making his debut in the 2013-14 ashes series in Australia, Stokes made his maiden test century in the 3rd test match at Perth.
An attacking lower-middle order batsman, Stokes has gone on to play 63 tests for England with a, slightly lower than I expected average of 36.54. That said, 2019 was really the year that Stokes truly announced himself as a world-class batsman, averaging 45.6 in tests scoring two centuries and four half-centuries.
Stokes has been known to play some remarkable innings for England, and I find myself struggling to pick his best one.
That 135* at Headingly vs Australia obviously springs to mind. The temperament and then the pure aggression of that innings was one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in cricket. Stokes single-handedly kept England in the Ashes.
However, there is one more of his innings that stands out. The 258 against South Africa at Cape Town in 2016 was outstanding hitting. Needing only 198 balls, scoring a total of 41 boundaries (11 sixes and 30 fours), Stokes tore apart a South African attack boasting bowlers such as Rabada and Morkel.
Stokes deservedly won SPOTY last year and perhaps if I were writing this a year or two later he would be higher up this illustrious list.
6 – Jonathan Trott
Jonathan Trott seamlessly slid into the Michael Vaughan shaped hole in the England side when he made his debut in 2009. Trott truly hit the ground running with a century in only his second innings in an England shirt against a decent Australian attack. Moreover, Trott only took 23 innings to reach 1000 runs in test cricket, level with both Kevin Pietersen and current commentator and former captain Mike Atherton.
Trott was always an assured figure in England’s line up and his main achievements for England came between 2009 and 2012, perhaps his greatest compliment being named one of the Wisden Cricketer’s of the Year as well as the ICC Cricketer of the Year in 2011.
With an average of 44.08 which dipped significantly at the tail-end of his career, who can say that he was not an England great? Over the course of his international career, Trott amassed nine centuries and nineteen fifties with a best of 226 against Bangladesh.
The reason why Trott is not higher up this list is because of the disastrous end to his career. After hitting 203 against Sri Lanka in 2011 Trott’s average was 66.77 from 19 matches in which he hit 6 centuries.
However, in his final 24 test innings, his highest score was 76, averaging only 26.95 and his retirement came after a very shaky return to the side in the West Indies.
Despite this, his form between 2009 and around 2012 proved his class on the international stage.
5 – Ian Bell
Ian Bell goes somewhat under-rated as a test cricketer. When you think about the best batsmen of the early 21st century, your mind would forgivably wander to the likes of Ponting, Kallis, De Villiers, Pietersen and Sangakkara. But how long would it take before Bell cropped up in that discussion?
His stats aren’t fantastic, an average of 42.69 is well below some of the batters mentioned above and a haul of 22 hundreds in that time is hardly meteoric.
But I’m sure it would surprise many to know that over the span of Bell’s time in the England test squad, only Sangakkara, Cook, Clarke and Pietersen scored more runs in test cricket. Bell’s solid technique helped him amass some massive scores and he rarely looked troubled at the crease when he was in his best form.
Considering how shaky he looked in his debut Ashes series in 2005, Bell came a long way.
The 2013 Ashes saw Ian Bell named man of the Series, scoring 562 runs at an average of 62.44 was probably what I assume to be Bell’s crowning achievement. The second-best batter in that series was Australia’s Shane Watson with 418 runs.
In a slightly more rogue stat, Bell particularly enjoyed batting against Bangladesh. In 6 matches he scored 633 runs at an average of 105.5 scoring 3 hundreds.
Overall, how I remember Bell was as an incredibly reliable middle-order batsmen who frequently chipped in with vital runs that often got England out of trouble. His technique was not as flamboyant as Pietersen nor was his personality one of the biggest in the changing room.
However, Ian Bell got runs.
4 – Andrew Strauss
A veteran of 100 matches and captain for 50, this man was perhaps remembered more for what he achieved as leader of the side than his batting. Strauss led England to two Ashes victories, including the famous victory in Australia in 2010-11, as well as being at the helm as England became the number one ranked test side in the world. When Strauss was captain, out of 10 tests against Australia, England won 5 and lost 2. Compare that to Flintoff’s reign as captain, whose ratio against the old enemy was 0-5.
That is not to say his batting was bad. It most certainly wasn’t. Strauss enjoyed a flying start to his England career, scoring 112 and 82 in the first and second innings on debut against New Zealand in 2004. This puts him in the illustrious club of being only the fourth English player to score a century and half-century on debut.
Strauss enjoyed a purple patch of form between 2008 and 2009, averaging 48.60 and 53.27 respectively. In these two years, Strauss blasted 8 centuries, achieving his highest test score of 177.
However, the luck eventually run out. At one point, Strauss reached 100 only once in fifty innings in the latter half of his career. A series defeat against South Africa in 2012 ultimately led to him standing down as captain and thereby losing his place in the side.
Nonetheless, Strauss was, on his day, a fantastic batsman who formed a formidable opening partnership with Alastair Cook for many years.
3 – Joe Root
The current captain of the side goes straight into the business end of my top 10 list.
Aged 29 and with already 92 tests under his belt, Joe Root has some of the best stats on this list. A current average of 48.40 (which has only recently dipped below 50) along with 17 hundreds and 48 fifties, Root has been the lynchpin of the England batting line-up for a number of years now.
Following a highly successful stint in 2014, and continuing that form through to 2015, Root became the number one batsman in the ICC world rankings after England regained the Ashes that year. At that stage in his career, after 31 matches, Root averaged 56.58.
Root’s form has rarely waivered; only in two years of his England career has his yearly average dipped below 40 (2014 and 2019). Following Cook’s abdication of the position, the captaincy beckoned.
Despite having barely captained in his professional career, Root took on the responsibility for England and the fact that he is still one of our most reliable players is testament to his mental toughness and ability. Root is still able to score significant scores shown by his recent 226 against New Zealand.
Perhaps what makes him great is his versatility. Root has batted in in every position from opener to number 7, with his lowest average of 38.13 coming when he bats at 3 and his highest average of 69.12 coming when he bats at 5.
Overall, Joe Root is a classic test match batsman with a hint of modern flair which, in my opinion, makes him integral to the side in other formats of the game. He will mature into the captaincy further, but his batting remains his best asset.
2 – Kevin Pietersen
Admittedly it was a bit of a toss-up for the top two spaces in this list and on balance I think KP just misses out on top spot.
I know I said that this list only included test feats but I do want to include the fact that on the exact same day as Strauss was confirmed as the ECB director, effectively ending Pietersen’s England career, he went out and smashed 355* in a first-class game for Surrey. That sort of epitomises Pietersen. With bat in hand he was a total maverick with a devil-may-care attitude that would give bowlers including the great Glen McGrath sleepless nights.
When Pietersen came onto the scene he took the test cricketing world by storm. In his first test, with a peroxide blonde streak through his hair, he smashed 57 followed by 64 against one of the strongest Australian bowling line ups since the turn of the century.
Pietersen transformed test cricket. He had something no one else did. His arsenal of shots included the flamingo shot, the reverse sweep, the baseball shot back past the bowler. When he was on form, there was no-one better.
And he was so frequently on form. His average is up there with the best of them, reaching 47.28 with 23 test centuries, many of which came in hugely important circumstances. There was the 151 against Sri Lanka in 2012, the 158 to draw the last test in the 2005 Ashes series and the 227 against Australia again.
Pietersen won 4 Ashes series, beat India in India and was part of the T20 World Cup winning side in 2010. He is England’s second-highest run-scorer of all time across all three formats.
Pietersen was the kind of player that split opinions and eventually, off-field issues made for his England career after the 2013/14 Ashes whitewash down under.
Despite the sour end to a glittering career, no one can take away from his truly remarkable technique, power and sheer will to score runs.
Despite being runner-up on this list, make no mistake, Kevin Pietersen was a winner.
1 – Alastair Cook
As I’ve already mentioned it was such a tight run race between Pietersen and Cook but, for me, Cook just about takes the biscuit.
When you are naming your Test XI side of the Century, I can’t believe many of you would leave Cook out of the side.
Alastair Cook, as a young 21-year-old, broke into the England side is awesome fashion, scoring his maiden test century in only his second innings. Since then, Cook went on to be a a stalwart in the England side.
Cook’s list of records speaks for itself. He holds the record for most England caps, most England centuries, most England runs, as well as being the only English batsman to have over 10,000 test runs (he got 12,472 overall), and most England matches as skipper.
He was truly a legend of the English game. For a man who seemingly literally scored all his runs either cutting or flicking the ball off his legs, his achievements are stunning. Since the departure of Andrew Strauss, Cook rarely had a consistent opening partner, going through 15 of them in his England career, but that never bothered him. He quietly went about his business, amassing runs against quality bowling attacks all around the world.
Who can forget his accomplishments in Australia during England’s famous win in 2010/11, perhaps more aptly named, “Cook’s Ashes”? Scoring 766 runs, including a double century and two other ‘normal’ centuries, as an Englishman in Australia is amazing.
Since then, Cook became completely irreplaceable in the England side. Despite occasional dips in form, he was never dropped from the side, playing all 161 of his tests back-to-back. A replacement will be nearly impossible to find.
His average is perhaps not what it could/should be at 45.35 but when you take into account the sheer amount of games he played, it is understandable.
In a completely fitting end to his England career, Cook despite having endured a torrid series thus far, rolled back the years to score a spellbinding 147 against India in his final test in 2018.
The greatest English test batsman ever?
Thanks for reading!