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My Greatest Modern-Era England Test XI

With every cricketing badger out there batting only in the mirror, Harry Dennis gives his take on the the best post-2000 England Test XI.

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Image Credit: Tim Felce

With the cricket season just around the corner (well figuratively), it’s a good time for me to do some more ranting about the world’s second most popular sport. To form this team, I’m picking players within my own lifetime – which let’s be honest means that I can remember watching.

1. Andrew Strauss (c)

Matches: 100 Innings: 178 Runs: 7037 High Score: 177 Average: 40.9 100s: 21 50s: 27 Catches: 121 Run-Outs: 3 Win percentage as captain: 48%

The man who guided England to an enormous Ashes victory in 2009 and then whitewashing the Aussies in their own backyard. Strauss also steered England to No.1 in the ICC Test Rankings. Critics often say the main reason England keep trialling with different opening batsmen is because of how great Strauss was.

2. Sir Alastair Cook

Matches:  161 Innings: 291 Runs: 12472 High Score: 294 Average: 45.4 100s: 33 50s: 57 Catches: 175 Run-Outs: 4 Wickets: 1

Sir Alastair Cook is one of a few players who have more than foot in most ‘World’s Greatest XIs’. The greatest opening batsman to have worn the three lions. His average for an opener is simply breath-taking. Bucket hands in the slips (except when he took one to the plums!), most will remember Chef as became known in the dressing room for scoring a century on debut and his last game vs India at the Oval in 2018…oh and one wicket too!

3. Joe Root

Matches: 92 Innings: 169 Runs: 7599 High Score: 254 Average: 48.4 100s: 17 50s: 48 Catches: 114 Run-Outs: 1 Wickets: 28 BB: 4/87 4Wi: 1 5Wi: 0

Two senior English batsman also vied for this spot in my team (see below), and although Root would refuse to bat 3 – in this team he wouldn’t be given a choice! What gets Root into this esteemed XI is his consistency, he may seem almost incapable of converting 50s to 100s recently but his average simply speaks for itself. A cover drive to challenge Joe Denly’s as the best in English cricket right now. The addition of his ever-improving spin makes him another option in any captain’s armoury – now sometimes showing the specialist spinner how it is done. On his day, one of the top batsmen in the world.

4. Kevin Pietersen

Matches: 104 Innings: 181 Runs: 8181 High Score: 227 Average: 47.3 100s: 23 50s: 35 Catches: 62 Run-outs: 8

Critics will say his antics off the field and personality make him unpickable, and with Strauss as captain too?!?! However, most will tell you there is one reason we see batsman across the world playing more flamboyantly, more destructive and generally looking to unsettle the bowler – the reason is Kevin Pietersen. Arguably South Africa’s greatest ever export. Using his mother’s British citizenship to get him into the ECB setup, KP took Test cricket by storm during the summer of 2005, planting Brett Lee into the members of Lord’s like he was facing 55mph bowling, not 90+! A career that was cut short, to the loss of English cricket.

5. Ben Stokes

Matches: 63 Innings: 115 Runs: 4056 High Score: 258 Average: 36.5 100s: 9 50s: 21 Wickets: 147 BB: 6/22 Average: 32.7 4Wi: 5 5Wi: 4 Catches: 72 Run-Outs: 4

For many, the greatest Englishman (or New Zealander!) to have played in an English shirt. Nobody will ever forget THAT innings at Headingly where Stokes single-handedly dragged England by their collars over the line against Australia to level the series. Despite horrific injuries to his hands, and shoulder, Stokes often puts his body on the line to bowl England back into contention and is the team’s ‘miracle man’ at the moment. Also helps he is England’s best fielder right now too. Maybe, his bowling wouldn’t be as relied upon but, I’d rather have Stokes than another specialist batsman. This team without Ben Stokes would simply not make sense.

6. Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff

Matches: 79 Innings: 130 Runs: 3845 High Score: 167 Average: 31.8 100s: 5 50s: 26 Wickets: 226 BB: 5/58 Average: 32.8 4Wi: 11 5Wi: 3 Catches: 52 Run-Outs: 3

For this spot I’ve had to choose between two of my favourite players from my lifetime. The question is, do you go for the better batting average of Paul Collingwood, England’s greatest ever fielder, or another ‘miracle man’. However, if considered Flintoff’s bowling prowess and how his average suffered greatly due to his recurring knee issues, it means the new face of ‘Top Gear’ gets the nod. And anyway, its hard to write off the other player who saved England at the Oval in 2005, and saved his final bit of magic for his last test by running out Ricky Ponting at the Oval in 2009 to help seal the series.

7. Matt Prior

Matches: 79 Innings: 123 Runs: 4099 High Score: 131* Average: 40.2 100s: 7 50s: 28 Catches: 243 Stumpings: 13 Run-Outs: 2

You could go with Jos Buttler for his explosive batting which has rarely been seen in a Test shirt. Or Jonny Bairstow who is another top player today, however, Prior has made 123 innings but has an average 6 runs higher than Bairstow who is typically seen as a batsman today. Also helps that Prior was a big voice in the changing room and a good set of gloves too.

8. Graeme Swann

Matches: 60 Innings: 76 Runs: 1370 High Score: 85 Average: 22.1 100s: 0  50s: 5 Catches: 54 Run-Outs: 1 Wickets: 255 BB: 6/65 Average: 30.0 4Wi: 14 5Wi: 17

Often a match-winner, Graeme Swann was the best spinner to wear an England Test Shirt. Swann span the ball miles on his day and was a core of the England Test side that made it to No.1 in the ICC Test Rankings. Helpful batting average down the order too.

9. Stuart Broad

Matches: 138 Innings: 203 Runs: 3211 High Score: 169 Average: 18.7 100s: 1 50s: 12 Catches: 46 Run-Outs: 5 Wickets: 485 BB: 8/15 Average: 28.5 4Wi: 21 5Wi: 17

The Broad and Anderson partnership is one of the best – if not the best to ever wear cricket whites. Despite the strain fast bowling has taken on many a knee, ankle and toe, these two are simply incredible at their best. Broad’s career highlights, so far, include the most ‘Overcast Day 1 at Trent Bridge’ of ‘Overcast Day 1 at Trent Bridge’ performances when he ripped through the touring Australians under Michael Clarke taking 8/15. Before taking a nasty one through his bicycle helmet’s grill, Broad was considered a bowling all-rounder with his 169 at Lord’s against Pakistan.

10. Jofra Archer

Matches: 7 Innings: 12 Runs: 97 High Score: 30 Average: 8.1 Catches: 1 Run-Outs: 0  Wickets: 30 BB: 6/45 Average: 27.4 4Wi: 0 5Wi: 3

Many will certainly be asking – how can you put a player in this side who has only played 7 tests? The answer is simple, and it is with Jofra Archer you can. A better bowling average than Broad and capable of bowling 95mph. Sure, you could argue we haven’t seen enough of Archer to put him in, but I’d argue what he did last summer during the Ashes was one of the best bowling performances across a series I have ever seen. Archer brings that fear factor that few bowlers in world cricket have ever been able to boast.

11. James ‘Jimmy’ Anderson

Matches: 151 Innings: 212 Runs: 1185 High Score: 81 Average: 9.6 50s: 1 Catches: 93 Run-Outs: 10 Wickets: 584 BB: 7/42 Average: 26.8 4Wi: 27 5Wi: 28

Jimmy Anderson – the King of Swing, the greatest seamer of all time, England’s greatest ever bowler and possibly best English player ever. Do I need to say any more? Oh, and yeah, he’d still get in an England team as an opening bowler at the age of 37.

Near misses

1. Ian Bell

Bell was unjustifiably dropped and could have been recalled on several occasions to solve England’s No.3 conundrum.

2. Jonathon Trott

Equally, Trott was a very good batsman for England however, suffered terribly with the mental battles involved with Test match cricket. Another superb South African export to the English cricket team who often provided big runs in England’s run to No.1 in the ICC Test rankings.

3. Jonny Bairstow

Recent struggles aside, Bairstow has been at the heart of the post-Prior era, even when the gloves have been taken away from him. Gets runs when he’s not trying to play white-ball cricket on Day 2, likes to get the crowd going too from the boundary.

4. Paul Collingwood

England’s best ever fielder, now their fielding coach. Made runs, took a few wickets too when needed. A leader and a stalwart in the slip cordon. It was a very hard decision between Collingwood and Flintoff.

5. Matthew Hoggard

It takes quite a lot to take 248 wickets, especially in an era where Australian batsman dominated Ashes series, and England were by far the weaker team.

6. Steve Harmison

Any man who bloodies Ricky Ponting on Day 1 at Lord’s in 2005 has a shot, however, both Harmison and Hoggard don’t make the cut because of two men – Broad and Anderson. You could argue both would challenge Archer. However, Archer knocking over Steve Smith was a defining moment in the Ashes in 2019 and without his raw pace, England would have been pushed aside by Australia.

7. Monty Panesar

Ignoring him being arguably as bad a fielder as myself, Panesar was a good spinner bowling from a different angle (left-arm orthodox). However, Panesar will always be remembered for what he did alongside Jimmy Anderson to draw the 1st Ashes Test in 2009 at Cardiff.

8. Jack Leach

The most important 1 run ever. Oh, and he did pretty well as night watchman against Ireland too. Good spinner who performed very well against Australia last summer given the seam-friendly conditions.

9. Gary Pratt

The GREATEST sub-fielder to ever take to the field. EVER.

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