Over the past decade, cricket fans have been spoilt with consecutive generations of batsman we deem ‘greats of the modern era’. In such a category, we include players that not only define matches from the crease, but those who become icons, lead their countries through periods of uncertainty and whose mortality we question on an uncomfortably regular basis. Players who exceed expectations of the most optimistic and who possess an ambition that only a professional sportsperson could comprehend. They are the individuals who make a passion for competitive sport more of a lifestyle than just a mere spectacle and make ‘one in a million’ seem an injustice.
From the nonchalant stroke making of Brian Lara to Ricky Ponting’s arrogance and Rahul Dravid’s unrivalled esteem, the progressive departure of cricket’s elite from the limelight of the Test arena is anything but inconspicuous. Regardless, it seems illogical to suggest that anything but Sachin Tendulkar’s imminent withdrawal from international cricket spells the end for one of sport’s most illustrious eras. As the deserved celebrations of these careers subside however and legacies become confined to record books, cricket is faced with a void of significant proportions.
‘Greats of the Modern Era’ – Career Statistics
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At a time when the Test and ODI formats are threatened by Twenty20, lucrative domestic competitions and a lack of leadership from the ICC in the face of prominent national boards, fans of the sport in its purest form need heroes for both themselves and their children to idolize. Cricket is testament to the notion that such legends are born in a vacuum. When one is lost, another must take their place, filling the holes left within both the team framework and the hearts of a cricketing nation looking to progress. This willful representation of an entire nation is undeniably present in any ‘great of the modern era’ identified above, and will need to be present within a number of players of the next generation for achievements in Test cricket, to remain the ultimate aspiration for any cricketer.
The Next Generation – Career Statistics
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The necessity for this lineage of great players has been most adequately demonstrated over recent decades by Australia, with national loyalty passing through the hands of Greg Chappell, Allan Border, Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting and most recently, Michael Clarke. Upon acquiring the captaincy he has been destined for since his debut in 2004, Clarke has responded to his critics both on and off the field with proactive captaincy, a reformed lifestyle and impervious batting form. Scoring 1595 runs in 2012 at an average of 106.33, Clarke’s appointment to the helm of the Australian outfit coincided with arguably the most accomplished, and probably the most dynamic calendar year in recent Test history. In the process, parallels to the often volatile and under-achieving Mark Waugh have subsided, instead replaced with praise of character and some overwhelming evidence that a rare talent has finally realized his potential and become the consummate professional.
The Next Generation – Current Form [Since January, 2011]
In the year of two highly anticipated Ashes series, a rivalry of unquestionable intrigue and reminiscence to Botham and Border has emerged between Clarke and Englishman Alastair Cook. Playing out between two captains, two batsmen and two players who are the undisputed best in their side, 2013 should witness ten of the greatest Ashes fixtures ever witnessed. Poignantly, Alastair Cook’s fortunes mirror those of the prematurely exposed, recently matured and leadership relishing Michael Clarke. Scoring 904 runs at 90.40 whilst captain, fresh off a 2012/2013 summer yielding 562 runs at 80.28 and England’s first series win in India since 1985, Cook possesses more than admirable application of and the talent to exceed the achievements of any English batsmen since Ken Barrington. At only 28 years of age and with over 7000 Test runs to his name, Cook’s potential undoubtedly highlights him as an international sensation, however his most endearing trait is the undeniable correlation between his career and the resurgence of England’s cricketing fortunes.
Not since the 16 consecutive Test victories of Ricky Ponting’s Australia between 2006-2008 has one nation seemed so utterly superior in the world of Test cricket. Whilst South Africa’s current side may never emulate or even rival that achievement, Hashim Amla’s emergence as one of the world’s premier batsmen ensures Gary Kirsten’s squad will continue to excel in 2013. Whilst Michael Clarke will enter 2013 surrounded by an incredibly suspect batting order, Amla’s aggressive and flamboyant stroke making is supported reinforced with the class of Jacques Kallis, Graeme Smith and A.B. de Villiers. Averaging 68.34 since the beginning of 2010, Amla’s meteoric rise to the summit of the ICC World Rankings has gone largely unnoticed, however prolific series’ against both England and Australia in late 2012 have ensured that his mediocre introduction to Test cricket has been consigned to irrelevance.
‘Greats of the Modern Era’ – Comparative Statistics [After 89 Tests]
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Whilst these three players demonstrate incredible talent, they are found wanting when compared to the greats of the previous era. A testament to the pantheon of cricketing legends and a challenge posed to those one day aspiring to be in their company, this reality demands more from current players with the talent and potential to inspire. Should their current form be sustained, countless records will be within their sights, however should they falter, the reverence once held by the most admired Test batsmen may begin to reside in specialists of the sports shorter formats.
Regardless of whether it is seen as a detriment or an opportunity, should these players continuously demonstrate greatness within the Test match arena, they will bear a near unparalleled burden of expectation and responsibility. Paramount to the success of their side, but more importantly as an icon for a game facing persistent threats to its stability, these three players, possess an obligation to not only realize their potential, but to exceed it. Such a responsibility becomes even more vital when we consider the absence of batsmen in the subcontinent remotely comparable to the aforementioned three and the scheduling irregularities that preclude players like promising Sri Lankan opener Dimuth Karunaratne  and West Indian Darren Bravo  from representing their nation in Test cricket for the majority of 2013.
What we are asking may be unquestionably unfair but we pose is a challenge to three of the most prominent leaders within the international cricketing community. Cricket needs you to not just be a brilliant cricketer, but to be a ‘great of the modern era’. Without this, the probability that we are about to witness a significant decline in the class of batsmen will become a reality and the integrity of cricket’s premier format will come under threat not just externally, but from within.