Date: 4th February 2013 at 4:49 pm
Written by: spedwards | Comments (0)

Aaaaah, Test Cricket. How shall I count the ways? Whilst I don’t mind the bish-bosh of T20 or the measured chaos of an ODI, there is something about test cricket that sets it apart. Maybe it’s the ebb and flow, when a match can be turned in half an hour’s play. Maybe it’s the sheer dedication of the players. Hell, it might just be because I’m a bit of a masochist.

In the end, test cricket is the perfect game to me. That’s why I thought it would be fun to run through the five men that I believe to be at the absolute top of their game right now. Whether they’re keepers, bowlers or batsmen, these are the six players that would cause the coach a coronary if they pulled a hammy six minutes before a match started.

And yes, five would have been a bit more of a normal length-list, but these six guys really are a cut above:

Jimmy Anderson. England’s current attack leader has developed over the last few years to become an absolute master of swing bowling, bewitching and confusing such gifted batsmen as Michael Hussey and Sachin Tendulkar (who he has now dismissed nine times in tests) amongst others. Having developed new skills such as the ‘wobble seam’ delivery, learned from former Pakistani bowler Mohammad Asif, Anderson has also learned to become more effective on subcontinent tracks. The recent final test against India saw him employ his mastery of reverse swing to take 4-80 on a pitch where double the runs conceded would still have constituted a wonderful performance. With ten tests against Australia coming up in 2013, it’s no real surprise that England have been careful to manage the Lancastrian’s workload in recent months.

Vernon Philander. Talk about an impressive start. Having only played thirteen tests, the South African quick bowler’s statistics read: 74 wickets at an average of 17, with eight five-fors. Yes, the expression you’re looking for is ‘woah’. What are the secrets to Philander’s success? There aren’t any. Like Glenn McGrath, he just puts the ball on a good length round-about off stump, and moves it either in or away with some late swing. The fact that he essentially immobilised the next man in this list throughout last summer should give you an indication as to just how good Philander is. And no-one at the IPL bought him. Pfffft.

Alastair Cook. Taking over the captaincy from the well-loved Andrew Strauss and leading his country on a tour that Steve Waugh dubbed “the final frontier”, Alastair Cook would have been forgiven for feeling the pressure a bit as he boarded the plane to Delhi back in November. Fortunately, his England side defeated India in the four test series, and Cook continued to look virtually unflappable. At the still-young age of twenty eight, Cook has at least another seven years of playing ahead of him. If he avoids injury, he could be looking at a very similar career to that of Graeme Smith. A relentless – if not exactly thrilling – scorer of runs, it is only because of three genuine geniuses that Alastair Cook isn’t a little bit higher on this list.

Dale Steyn. Dale Steyn scares me a bit. Not only has he got ‘wheels’ as the saying goes, he’s also got one of the most terrifying happy faces I’ve ever seen. His expression upon getting a wicket reminds me a bit of the one most bowlers wear when they get tonked for six: pure aggression. What makes Steyn so brilliant? Essentially, he operates in a very similar manner to Jimmy Anderson: late swing, moving the ball in and out as though he has it on a string. The thing is, Steyn does it about five mph faster than Anderson. All that does is take the batsman’s reaction time down a bit, and puts the fear factor up a little bit more. Without doubt the finest test match bowler of the last five years, Steyn will likely be a member of the 400 wickets club by the time he calls it a day. It won’t hurt to keep getting six wickets for eight runs, either.

Hashim Amla. It’s normal for batsmen to get out once or twice on a tour, even if it’s to some sort of miracle delivery. I’m sure that at some point during the South Africa tour of England last summer, the host side managed to dismiss the bearded wonder, I just can’t remember when. Whether it was his relentless triple century at the Oval or his masterful performance at the Trent Bridge ODI, Hashim Amla just would not stop scoring. Run after run without even a moment of panic or worry, he looked like he could bat forever. Given that he then went and got two more hundreds against Australia and then one against New Zealand, he probably will.

Michael Clarke. It wasn’t intentional that the other five men on this list were South African or English, and as proof of non-bias, I present my number one: none other than the Australian captain. I’ve come to the conclusion (entirely backed up by scientific research) that Michael Clarke sold his soul at a dirty crossroads for the form of Donald Bradman. Since he took over from Ricky Ponting as the leader of the baggy green, Clarke has been utterly, utterly imperious with the bat. That he broke Bradman’s record for the most double hundreds in a calendar year (with four) was almost fitting. Like Amla, Clarke just looks like he’s going to keep getting hundreds, and doesn’t seem remotely worried about who’ll he’ll be batting against. None of this means that I don’t want him to suffer a catastrophic run of form during the Ashes, mind.

Shaun Edwards is a writer and cricket nutcase who writes all over the place, including his own cricket blog at www.eatsleepcricket.co.uk

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