For the past two years, it has seemed as though there has always been a genuine legend of the game performing the last rites of his career. Since the start of 2007, Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist, Lara, Hayden, Ganguly, and Kumble have all called time on distinguished careers. Tendulkar, Kallis, Murali and Dravid can’t be too far behind them.
These are all players that have dominated the game for over a decade. Each have their place cemented in history, and as each has bid farewell to the game, a gap has been left. Inevitably, there has been a bit of a lull in test cricket.
Indeed, South Africa and India seem to be the only sides that have made positive strides forward in the past 18 months – mainly because South Africa had nobody to lose in the first place, and India are yet to lose three of the four mainstays of their middle order. Pakistan and England have lurched from crisis to crisis, Sri Lanka have been dealt a harsh hand by the much maligned ICC Future Tours programme, New Zealand and West Indies are in early stages of a rebuilding job, and Australia have been hit hard by the mass exodus of the spine of their side.
What test cricket needs, now more than ever, is heroes. Players to capture the imagination of the public like Lara, Warne and Gilchrist did for so many years. Below, I analyse the under 30’s most likely to take on the mantle of these legends of the game.
Kevin Pietersen – When Pietersen has a bat in his hands, anything seems possible. If he keeps his hunger after losing the captaincy, and ignores the IPL millions, he will almost certainly break a plethora of England records. He has a long way to go to usurp the like of Tendulkar and Lara, but he does have the added boast of creating his own shot.
Age - 28 Record – 4039 runs @ 50.48, 15 hundreds
Graeme Smith – It seems scarcely believable that Smith is still only 27. Thrust into captaincy at 22, he wasn’t always the most popular cricketer. However, his reputation has grown year on year. Not only a fantastic, bullying opening batsman, he has turned himself into a tactically astute captain. Probably the man with the best chance of breaking the test runs record in the next decade.
Age – 27 Record – 6271 runs @ 50.57, 18 hundreds
Yuvraj Singh – The man who has infuriated India fans for countless years might just have turned the corner. If he can find consistency in a similar vein to his teammate Sehwag, he has the natural ability to make huge scores. The retirement of Ganguly has given him the chance. Now, he must take it.
Age – 27 Record – 1262 runs @ 36.05, 3 hundreds
Shakib Al Hasan – Whisper it quietly, but Bangladesh may just have found a world class player. Capable with bat and ball, Shakib recently stormed to the top of the ODI all rounder ratings. Playing in a struggling side may count against him, but he has already rattled more than one team with his wily spin.
Age – 21 Record – 556 runs @ 26.47, 35 wickets @ 31.68
Ajantha Mendis – Anyone who make Murali look like an easier prospect is someone to take notice of. No player has had such an immediate impact on international cricket in the last decade. Assuming batsman do not work out his variations, he will be the next dominant spinner in test cricket.
Age – 23 Record – 33 wickets @ 18.36, 2 five wicket hauls
JP Duminy – While batsman have made runs in Australia over the past few years, few have done it with the ease and calmness of Duminy. He has taken to test match cricket like a duck to water, and with minimum of fuss. Add in two innings under intense pressure, and it looks as though South Africa have found a player with grace and guts.
Age – 24 Record – 246 runs @ 61.50, 1 hundred
Ishant Sharma – Few bowlers can class Ricky Ponting as their “bunny”, let alone ones as young as Ishant. Pace bowling has previously been the Achilles Heal of India, but the likes of Ishant and Zaheer have turned it into their strength. Pace and accuracy for someone so young is impressive – if he can avoid falling by the wayside like so many Indian seamers before him, he will be a major weapon for them over the next decade.
Age – 21 Record – 44 wickets @ 31.59, 1 five wicket haul
Brendon McCullum – The cry from every country in the world (including Australia now) is to find themselves a Gilchrist. The pressure of this has caused a revolving door selection policy for many teams, but the one man who has stood out is McCullum. Having thumped 158 in the IPL and nearly 3000 runs in ODI’s, he now needs to turn his pretty 30’s in the longer form of the game into something more substantial.
Age – 27 Record – 1990 runs @ 31.58, 121 catches
Dale Steyn – As the world lamented the death of the genuinely quick bowler, Steyn blew away all comers in 2008. Fast, straight and angry, he is a handful for anyone, and is already leading the attack in arguably the best side in the world. Has already been rated as the best seamer in the world – the sky seems to be the limit.
Age - 25 Record – 154 wickets @ 23.08, 11 five wicket hauls
Mitchell Johnson – At various points over the last 6 months, Johnson has seemed like the man holding Australia together. Showed he had discipline in India, and fire and brimstone against South Africa. As long as he avoids burn out, Johnson is another who will get better and better.
Age – 27 Record – 78 wickets @ 28.62, 2 five wicket hauls
Stuart Broad – The stats really do not tell the story .With most of the England bowling attack being injured, out of form, or over the hill, Broad was one of the few players to come out of 2008 in credit. Improving with the ball, and phenomenally assured with the bat, his development will depend largely on others. If he can learn his art under the wings of the likes of Harmison and Flintoff, he could become a leading all rounder.
Age – 22 Record – 26 wickets @ 45.23, 373 runs @ 33.90
Michael Clarke - If Mike Atherton was FEC, Michael Clarke is FAC. Not only will he need to continue the development of his batting, he may just be charged with arresting the Australian decline. Has learned to bat ugly this summer, and has now made the number 5 position his own. Probably the most important player in Australia over the next decade.
Age - 27 Record - 3063 runs @ 49.40, 10 hundreds