Top 10 England Test cricketers

As with all sports English cricket has been brought to a halt by the coronavirus crisis, offering the opportunity to reflect on some of the greats the nation has produced down the years.

Here the PA news agency picks 10 of the finest players to have represented England in Tests.

WG Grace (1880-1899)

W. G. GRACE
Dr WG Grace playing cricket for Eltham Cricket Club at Gravesend, 1913 (PA)

It is well over a century since he died, but if there was a Mount Rushmore of legacy cricketers the long, distinctive beard of William Gilbert Grace would be front and centre upon it. By most reasonable estimates the sport would not exist as mass entertainment were it not for the star power he exuded across more than four decades.

SF Barnes (1901-1914)

Cricket – Sydney Barnes – Lord’s
Sydney Barnes at Lord’s (PA)

A mythical figure, whose heady mixture of seam, swing, spin and pace is passed down by word of mouth as some kind of unrepeatable sorcery. Barnes claimed 24 five-wicket hauls in just 27 caps – only four fewer than England’s all-time record wicket-taker James Anderson has posted in 151 appearances. A bowling average of 16.43 provides further evidence of his pedigree.

Sir Jack Hobbs (1908-1930)

Cricket – Surrey County Cricket Club – Jack Hobbs – The Oval
Surrey batsman Jack Hobbs scored over 60,000 first-class runs (PA Archive).

The small matter of 61,760 first-class runs and 199 centuries – more than any other cricketer has ever recorded – settles Hobbs’ place in any all-time list. That number would have been even more impressive had it not been for the First World War, but whether it was for Surrey or England there was always considerable style to underpin the statistics. Churned out scores well past his 50th birthday and remains Test cricket’s oldest centurion, at 46.

Wally Hammond (1927-1947)

Cricket – Walter Hammond
Wally Hammond starred for Gloucestershire and England (PA)

In a career that ran almost exactly parallel to the most celebrated batsman in history – Australia’s Sir Donald Bradman – Hammond still managed to forge a remarkable reputation. He averaged 58.45 across two decades in England colours, with 22 hundreds topped by an unbeaten triple in 1933. Superior in almost all regards he was unusually athletic for his era, a talented seam bowler and top-tier slip.

Sir Len Hutton (1937-1955)

Sir Len Hutton – The Oval, London
Sir Len Hutton scored a then world record 364 for England against Australia in 1938 (Malcolm Croft/PA)

A name that most aspiring cricket players learn before they have mastered their first cover drive and feted as one of the most elegant batsmen to play the game. Upon his death in 1990 he was described as “a God to me” by the substantial figure of Ray Illingworth. England’s first professional captain and scorer of a then world record 364 in just his sixth Test.

Fred Trueman (1952-1965)

Cricket – Yorkshire CCC – Fred Trueman
Yorkshire and England fast bowler Fred Trueman was the first man to reach 300 Test wickets (PA)

‘Fiery Fred’ was the definitive Yorkshireman and the definitive rambunctious fast bowler, a dangerous mix for anyone standing 22 yards away. He was the first ever man to reach 300 Test wickets and at the time it seemed feasible he would be the only one. Trueman raised the bar for those he played with and set it high for any who followed.

Sir Ian Botham (1977-1992)

Botham celebrates.
Ian Botham raises his arms after dismissing New Zealand’s Jeff Crowe in August 1986 to become the then highest wicket-taker in Test history with 356 victims (PA)

A force of nature, a rock star in whites and the man who hoisted cricket to the forefront of the public imagination throughout the 1980s. His personal life played out like a soap opera at times but it was always his on-field achievements that captivated most. ‘Botham’s Ashes’ lingers as a defining moment in the sport’s greatest rivalry almost three decades on. With 14 Test centuries and 383 wickets – a national record until 2015 – he remains the high bar for English all-rounders.

James Anderson (2003-still playing)

England v India – Fifth Test – Day Four – The Kia Oval
James Anderson is England’s all-time record Test wicket-taker (Adam Davy/PA)

A true master of swing bowling and a marvel of longevity in the demanding discipline of pace bowling. It was Anderson who relieved Botham of his wickets record and he has gone on to extend that mark to an unimpeachable 584. No seamer of any nationality has dismissed more batsmen, played more matches or bowled more deliveries at the highest level.

Kevin Pietersen (2005-2014)

Cricket – Fifth Investec Ashes Test – Day Five – England v Australia – The Kia Oval
Kevin Pietersen was a rare cricketing talent (Adam Davy/PA)

‘KP’ enjoyed/endured one of the most colourful international careers in recent memory, taking in bust-ups, reconciliations and a brief, acrimonious tilt at the captaincy. As time passes he will be better remembered – and more joyously – as one of the most creatively-minded innovators of his or any other generation. Gifted to the point of genius, his methods nudged the accelerator on cricketing progress.

Sir Alastair Cook (2006-2018)

England v India – Fifth Test – Day Four – The Kia Oval
Record-breaker Alastair Cook celebrates reaching his century in his final Test innings for England against India at the Kia Oval in 2018 (Adam Davy/PA)

Ken Barrington and Herbert Sutcliffe were more celebrated in their time, David Gower more beloved by the purists and Graham Gooch more impactful as a leader. It is Cook who retired with a clutch of England records to trump them all, though: most Tests (161), most runs (12,472) and most centuries (33). An exemplar in cricketing alchemy – converting finite ability into towering returns.

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