With England in the midst of battling to keep their status as World No. 1 this week – facing a frighteningly good South Africa side at Headingly – I have been posed a truly important question: what if cricketers were musicians?

Cricket and music have had a mixed relationship over the years – we’ve had The Duckworth Lewis Method’s superb album dedicated to the sport, as well as Buddy Holly & The Crickets; but we’ve also had 10CC’s dire Dreadlock Holiday, while former England batsman Mark Butcher decided the world really needed to hear his take on blues-rock when he released Songs from the Sun House in 2010.

But while the best cricket related song is of no debate (The Kinks’ Do You Remember Walter), who the current England team most closely relates to in the music world certainly is.  Apparently.

Andrew Strauss – Sir Paul McCartney

It’s hard to look at Andrew Strauss over the past twelve months and think that he used to be one of England’s most consistent batters.  However, at age 35 his form has plummeted and he’s failed to score over 30 in eight of his last twelve international innings, with his only two centuries in that time coming against a depleted West Indies side.

His miserable 0 & 27 in the first Test against South Africa were in the back of my mind as Paul McCartney took the stage at the end of Danny Boyle’s otherwise fantastic London Olympic ceremony and proceeded to lead the stadium in an a lacklustre round of karaoke.  He was like a drunk uncle who’d got lost on his way to the stadium and turned the event into the encore of a high school talent competition.

You used to be in The Beatles for Christ’s sake!  Literally any other song would have been a better choice than Hey Jude – even Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.

Alastair Cook – Steve Earle

Contrary to Andrew Strauss, Alastair Cook is a player who has figuratively exploded over the past two years.  When you look at his recent form – 8 centuries in 23 Tests – you can’t imagine that he was once in danger of losing his place in the side, but if it hadn’t been for England selector Geoff Miller’s stubborn loyalty and a lack of alternatives he probably would have done.  By the third Test in the 2010 summer series against Pakistan Cook’s innings scores read:

RUNS

8

BALLS

36

OPPOSITION

Pakistan

GROUND

Nottingham

                            29 Jul 2010

12

35

Pakistan Nottingham

29 Jul 2010

17

53

Pakistan Birmingham

6 Aug 2010

4

11

Pakistan Birmingham

6 Aug 2010

6

8

Pakistan The Oval

18 Aug 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the second innings at The Oval England trailed by 75 runs and when Strauss fell early (1-4) the stakes couldn’t have been higher for Cook.  He went on to score a resilient 110 to save his career, if not the match – England collapsing to 222 and going on to lose by 4 wickets.

Since then Cook has gone on to become England’s 12th highest run-scorer of all-time at just 27 years old, and has amassed 20 Test centuries – only two behind the hallowed names of Geoff Boycott, Colin Cowdrey and Wally Hammond.

But Cook’s redemption is child’s play compared to Steve Earle – who at one time was the “next big thing” in the American country music scene.  Then things took a turn for the worse, Earle became addicted to cocaine, wound up in prison with his career was in tatters.

Fortunately, if a prison stay is beneficial in any genre of music it’s country.  Upon his release Earle recorded two albums, Train a Comin’ and then the now iconic I Feel Alright, which – like Cook – reached a century in the album charts (peaking at #106) but lead to a resurgence in not only Earle’s career but of America’s fondness of country music.

Jonathan Trott – The Beatles

Jonathan Trott hasn’t scored a century in every innings that he’s played, but it certainly feels that way.  In fact, he’s only managed one ton in his last 23 Tests, but you never feel like you can criticise him because of his amazing consistency; with a Test average of over 50 he is statistically England’s best player.

And who can forget his 188 run partnership with Andrew Strauss in just his second international appearance to secure victory against Australia?  At that moment, just like Please Please Me, we knew we had something special.

And yes, Trott may have scored a measly 4 against Sri Lanka at The Rose Bowl last summer (a game I paid good money to see), but The Beatles also recorded Yellow Submarine.

Kevin Pietersen – Slash

Remember Appetite For Destruction, that one good album that Slash did ages ago?  Well that was for Slash as that fifth Test, ’05 Ashes 158 against Australia was for Kevin Pieterson.  It was in that wonderful 285 minutes in which Pieterson single-handedly took the game out of Australia’s reach that we realised that he was not just a flair player there to wow the crowd, but he could actually play to the occasion and build an innings.

Since then England fans have suffered through an infuriating lack of consistency in Pietersen’s game, never quite sure if he’s going to come in and score runs or not, but you know that once he does get going their will be fireworks.

I’d like to think his recent unbeaten double-century against India was in tribute to Slash’s By The Sword – reminding us why we liked him in the first place.

Ian Bell – Eric Clapton

Ian Bell has gone through a lot in his England career; he scored 165 n/o in just his second Test appearance, but he averaged a woeful average of 17 during the 2005 Ashes (receiving an MBE in the process), he’s scored 16 Test centuries but he’s looked like a malnourished albino child for the majority of his life.

However, through all the ups and down Bell has remained a beautiful example of picture-book cricket – his technical prowess is something to purr over.  Never has somebody got out for 8 and made their innings look gorgeous.

Yes, he is a living, breathing, batting Eric Clapton.  Ol’ Slow Hands can take the turgid lyrics of Layla or Bell Bottom Blues (pun intended?), throw in a velvety-smooth guitar riff and make it one of the most popular songs of all time.

Bell and Clapton have even had their fair share of moving – Bell has batted at 3, 4, 5 and 6 for England while Clapton has been a part of Cream, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, Blind Faith, Derek & The Dominos and The Yardbirds, amongst others.

And maybe if it wasn’t for the mind-numbingly stupid decision-making of both parties they would be truly fantastic.  Just as you can constantly ask Bell “what are you doing?” every time he gets out you could ask it to Clapton for every other album he recorded.  Did he look in a mirror before he recorded I Shot The Sheriff?  Did he not see that he didn’t have dreadlocks?

Ravi Bopara – Steely Dan

Neither Ravi Bopara or Steely Dan ever perform on the big stage.  Boom, take that Steely Dan!

That might need some explaining:

Steely Dan are the greatest jazz-fusion pop-rock band of the past 50 years.  After touring for the release of their first three albums they became a purely studio-based band; therefore you will never see them on a stage of any size, big or otherwise.

But here’s the thing; while Steely Dan remain one of the best and most innovative bands of a generation the only thing Ravi Bopara has innovated is a way to play cricket without scoring runs, taking wickets or contributing to the field.  His test average is a pedestrian 31.75 – but his numbers are significantly padded by three centuries against the West Indies in 2009.  If you take that series away he’s averaged just over 13.

Five of Bopara’s 16 innings, minus the West Indies tour, have ended in ducks (including a pair in 2007 against Sri Lanka) and he’s failed to score double-figures in a further 4 innings.  But let’s not forget – Bopara is a part-time bowler, so he probably makes up for his atrophied batting figures with a string of wickets?

In 72 overs he has taken 1 wicket.

Steely Dan drummer Jim Hodder would be a more viable option.  And he’s dead.

But yet in the county game Bopara continues to deliver; he has an impressive first class average of 41 at Essex.  It just seems that when he reaches the highest form of the game he’s can’t handle the pressure.

Matt Prior – Red Hot Chili Peppers

The Red Hot Chili Peppers used to be a truly awful band.  And I mean horrible.  There was not a single saving grace about any of the albums they recorded during the 1980s; a slurry of tuneless, tasteless white-guy rapping.  Then, out of nowhere came Blood Sugar Sex Magik, an album which was truly fantastic.  And I mean incredible.

A few short years later they released One Hot Minute and then Californication and RHCP had solidified themselves in the American alternative mainstream; although now they weren’t so alternative as that would be something of a paradox.

This turnaround in form is similar (sort of) to that of England wicketkeeper Matt Prior.  After the retirement of Alec Stewart and the failure of Geraint Jones, England were beginning to get desperate.

So desperate that Matt Prior became England’s first-choice wicketkeeper despite not being able to catch a ball.  It was this inability that led to him being dropped from England’s 2009 Twenty20 World Cup squad for James Foster, who was breathing down his neck to take his place in the Test side as well.

Then all of a sudden – on the verge of being dropped (like so many England deliveries) – he got good.  He has become an admirable successor to Alec Stewart, reliable both behind the stumps and at the bat, and like the Chili Peppers he has become a popular, if not fantastic player.

Tim Bresnan – Bob Dylan

For every person who adores Bob Dylan’s nasally wails and philosophical musings there is somebody who can’t stand the sound of Bob Dylan’s nasally wails and philosophical musings.  And that’s understandable, of his 34 studio albums 17 of them have been good – the other 18 varying from disappointing and unlistenable.

And we can accept that from Blind Boy Grunt, because we know he has the ability to be deceptively amazing.  Apart from perhaps Hurricane I don’t think I’ve ever thought “this is amazing” the first time I heard one of his songs, because the appeal of Bob Dylan is his ability to string together rich, poetic lyrics.  That’s much harder to create than, say, throw power-chords together and yell “Yeah!” over and over again, in much the same way that good medium-fast bowling is much harder than fast-bowling; without speed you need to rely on finesse.

Very quietly, Tim Bresnan has become a consistent and occasionally explosive player.  He’s only taken more than two wickets in an innings 11 times (in 15 matches) but has an impressive average of 28.12 and always seems to take the important wickets.

And for a bowler his batting average isn’t bad either – 39.00 (for the record, that’s significantly better than batsmanRavi Bopara).

Stuart Broad – Elvis Presley

There are no two ways about it; Stuart Broad is the pretty-boy of this England team.  When he strides into bowl with that 6ft 5 frame of his and those golden locks he may as well be curling his lip and shaking his leg for all the girls that swoon over him.

And I tell you, when he took that 6-46 against India in 2011 I almost turned into one of them.  He’d already rescued England in their first innings, his quick-fire 64 (from 93 balls) taking England from 117-7 to a not-so-calamitous 221 all-out.

And then, with India 267-4 in reply it looked like his efforts was all for nought, but Stuart Broad was only just getting started.  First fell Yuvraj Singh, and in his next over went captain M.S. Dhoni caught behind, then Harbhajan Singh for a first-ball duck.  Next man up Praveen Kumaar – clean bowled!  Four wickets in six balls.

It was impossible, ridiculous, astounding! There have only ever been 39 Test match hat-tricks, and here’s Stuart Broad making it look like the easiest thing in the world.  India were all-out for 288 – a first innings lead of 68, but it was England who had the momentum.  And they mauled the Indians!  Broad went on to score a further 44 runs and take 2 wickets in one of the biggest comebacks in recent Test match history.  A 319 run drubbing.

From that moment on there was no doubting that Stuart Broad was The King.  I just hope we don’t find him dead, his colon brimming with turd any time soon.

Graeme Swann – Bez from The Happy Mondays

I am sure spin bowling is a lot harder than it looks; but then again, if this guy can play at a World Cup…

 Not pictured:  A sprightly, disciplined athlete. Or dignity.

I try very hard to respect Graeme Swann, but I just can’t help but think he’s putting in a lot less effort than the rest of the team and always ends up with most of the credit.  Routinely Swann (and most decent spin bowlers) will stroll in to bowl a good 50 overs into an innings, after the pacers have toiled away with the new ball, and knock off a handful of wickets before the close of day.

While Tim Bresnan and Jonathan Trott are trundling in to bowl at 133-3 Graeme Swann may as well be standing at second slip dancing away and shaking the maracas.

James Anderson – Echo & The Bunnymen

With all the gushing over Stuart Broad’s antics on both sides of the ball one tends to forget that James Anderson is pretty good, too.  In fact, he’s the fifth best bowler in the world.

ICC Player Rankings

Rank

Name Country Rating
1 D.W. Steyn SA 896
2 Saeed Ajmal PAK 832
3 H.M.R.K.B. Herath SL 782
4 V.D. Philander SA 774
5 J.M. Anderson ENG 765
6 B.W. Hilfenhaus AUS 756
6 M. Morkel SA 756
8 P.M. Siddle AUS 740
9 S.C.J. Broad ENG 724
10 K.A.J. Roach WI 707

In media coverage James Anderson’s name goes almost unmentioned these days, perhaps because he’s such a boring player, or perhaps because we just expect the phenomenal from him.  His 268 wickets are the 5th most in England history, and with a strike rate of 57.9 (compared to Ian Botham’s 56.9) he is one of the most reliable bowlers in the game.

Echo & The Bunnymen meanwhile, are probably the most only consistent band to have come out of the post-punk scene in the late-1970s, but while lesser bands such as U2 and The Cure have gone on to huge success Echo & The Bunnymen are forever bound to almost completely anonymity.

Twelfth man:

Ryan Sidebottom as Mick Hucknall.

  Mick Hucknall                       Ryan Sidebottom

 While we’re on cricket look-alikes: Nasser Hussain and Vladimir Putin – separated at birth?