Who Are the Best 5 English Cricket Batters of All Time?

All comparisons of this nature are tricky and, ultimately subjective, but everyone loves a list right? So, here, in no particular order, are the five greatest English Test batters (male) of all time.

Alastair Cook, 12,472 Runs, Average 45.35

Alastair Cook
Kroome111 via Wikipedia

Cook had an incredible England career and is, for now at least, his nation’s leading Test match run scorer. The former Essex player made 161 Test appearances for his country, batting 291 times. “Captain Cook”, as he was known, led England between August 2012 and 2016 (though he did stand in as skipper in 2010). In all he was the England Test captain 59 times, with only his successor, Joe Root (64) carrying out the role in more Tests.

When Cook retired from international cricket in 2018 it left a huge hole at the top of the order and one that England struggled for a long time to fill. Cook was a mainstay of the team for well over a decade, making his debut as a fresh-faced 21-year-old in 2006, making a century. His Test career ended in 2018, as a still-fresh-faced 33-year-old… with a century.

Both those tons came against India and in all he registered 33 hundreds. He holds so many records for his country and whilst Root may surpass his run tally and his 33 centuries (Root is currently within 1,000 runs and three tons of Cook), it should be remembered that the Gloucestershire-born left-hander has done it the hard way, right at the top of the order.

His average of more than 45 isn’t far behind any of England’s other greats of the modern era, but facing the new ball is never easy and so it is arguably worth a few more runs than that. He is also second in terms of the most catches for England (excluding wicketkeepers) and due to his unflappable leadership, often in the face of adversity, he is well worthy of his place on this list.

Joe Root, 11,493 Runs, Average 49.32

Joe Root
University of Wolverhampton via Flickr

The only active batsman on this list, these stats are correct prior to England’s fourth Test against India in February 2024. Root made his England debut in 2012 and is still going strong 12 years on, with his place in the England team assured for some time provided he maintains the personal motivation. He will surely surpass Cook’s records as alluded to above and he already holds a number of national bests.

Due to relatively poor form in recent Tests his average has dipped under 50 but even so, no England player of the last half century or more comes close to that. He has the most 50s for England (60) and 30 hundreds, amassing his runs from 138 matches and 253 innings – far fewer than Cook.

The Yorkshire ace also has a great claim to be England’s best all-formats cricketer too, with his attacking style making him perfect for white-ball cricket. That is not our main concern here of course, but Root certainly scores extra points for his attacking, exciting style and elegant stroke play. In addition, Root has topped the ICC Test batting rankings several times over the years and boasts a peak score of 923, the highest by an Englishman since 1956.

Len Hutton, 6,971 Runs, Average 56.67

Lee Hutton
Unknown via Wikipedia

As we have said, comparing players from different teams is very difficult and that is especially the case when they played in different eras. We have mentioned the “modern era” a number of times throughout this piece and that is because cricket has changed so much over the years. When we look at the English batters with the highest ICC rankings and the best averages, almost all of them played their cricket a long time ago.

Hutton is one of those and his ICC ranking of 945, achieved in 1949, is the third-highest of all time, behind only Steve Smith (947) and Don Bradman (961). Smith is the only member of the trio not to be knighted and we think it’s safe to say it will stay that way!

Hutton was born in Pudsey, in Leeds, and was technically superb, as well as being a joy to watch. His 364 against Australia in 1938 remains the highest score ever by an Englishman in Tests and was the highest score by anyone for almost two decades. What’s more, that mammoth knock came in just his sixth Test!

Herbert Sutcliffe, 4,555 Runs, Average 60.73

Herbert Sutcliffe
Sydney Morning Herald via Wikipedia

Sutcliffe, another Yorkie (full disclosure: it might be a Yorkshireman writing this!), boasts the highest average of any England player and for that alone merits inclusion on this list. There are valid arguments that back when he played (1924-1935) there was more limited opposition so things were easier.

Aside from England, Australia were the only really strong team and there was less variation in terms of the bowling. Moreover, wickets were often not as bad as many believe and the LBW laws were more favourable to the batter. Last, players’ workload was far less, something that can be seen by the fact that Sutcliffe had just 84 innings. Even so, he notched 23 50s and 16 tons – a superb conversion rate – and is well worth his spot on this list. And he’s from Yorkshire.

Ben Stokes, 6,307 Runs, Average 36.24

Ben Stokes
NAPARAZZI via Wikipedia

Stokes is the most controversial addition to this list but as well as being avowed lovers of Yorkshire, we’re also fully paid-up members of the Bazball Club. Stokes’ 6,000+ runs are a fine total for a man who also boasts almost 200 wickets and his average of over 36 is also very decent for an all-rounder. But this article is about the greatest batters, not the best all-rounders, so why does Stokesy make the grade?

We could answer in one word: memories… but we’ll expand on that. Stokes may not be one of the best batsmen England has ever had but if we’re talking about greatness, perhaps he does fit the bill. At his very best his innings have been sublime and will last forever in the memories of those fortunate enough to have seen them.

His 135 not out to save the Ashes at Headingley in 2019 is one of the greatest innings in Test history, whilst his rapid-fire 258 (off 198 balls) against South Africa in 2016 was also magical. His 155 against Australia at Lord’s in 2023 was ultimately in vain but was still hugely memorable and all of these fine knocks have been peppered with sixes. Stokes has hit 128 sixes in Tests, far more than any other player in history.

So, whilst the likes of Wally Hammond, Ken Barrington, Denis Compton, Jack Hobbs; and, more recently, Kevin Pietersen, Graham Gooch and Yorkshireman(!) Geoff Boycott could easily have made the top five, for us, it has to be Stokes. Let’s hope there are more special memories to come.