What is the best innings you’ve seen this summer? It’s must be Jonny Bairstow’s 136 on that arm-pinching afternoon at Trent Bridge – right? Though Jos Buttler’s glorious unpicking of the Netherlands’ bowling attack on Friday was a humdinger of a highlights reel. And remember Joe Root’s two centuries in the first two Tests against New Zealand? That Trent Bridge knock, all tissue-paper delicacy and outrageous placement, was his fastest Test hundred.
Though, for context, it’s got to be Ollie Pope’s first hundred north of the River Thames – the final flowering of his talent. Surely? But don’t forget Phil Salt’s maiden international hundred, slotting into the Bairstow role in the first ODI in Amsterdam. Or Dawid Malan’s delicate nudge to the selectors after being dropped for the West Indies tour, or the fastest England one-day fifty on record by Liam Livingstone, that walking, talking scatter-gun.
Basically, it’s been a riot. Throw in Daryl Mitchell’s 190 at Lord’s and his hundred in the second Test, plus Tom Blundell’s 109, which made him the first New Zealand wicketkeeper to score a Test century in England, and English cricket fans have been ridiculously spoilt.
It is not just in the Test arena. In the County Championship, there has been a similar flowering of high scores. However you want to explain it – a dry spring, flatter pitches or that dodgy early batch of Dukes balls – runs have flowed. And flowed.
There have been 13 double hundreds: from Chris Dent (Gloucestershire), Sam Hain (Warwickshire), Keaton Jennings and Josh Bohannon (Lancashire), Jamie Smith (Surrey), Azhar Ali (Worcestershire), Ben Slater (Nottinghamshire), Tom Haines (Sussex) and, in the last round, from the New Zealander Rachin Ravindra who, in his one and only match for Durham, powered 263. Not forgetting Cheteshwar Pujara, who danced to two double centuries in three matches for Sussex, or Pakistan’s Shan Masood, who went one better with back-to back-double centuries for Derbyshire.
Honorable mentions, as well, to Yorkshire’s Harry Brook, the next cab on the rank for the Test team, who fell just short, with 194 against Kent, and who averages 115.75. And Kent’s Ben Compton, grandson of Denis and purveyor of 988 Championship runs, who at 28, and from second XI cricket, is flying a flag for the late bloomers.
On Friday at Trent Bridge, three days after Bairstow’s heroics on the same ground, Birmingham Bears broke the Blast record score with 261 for two against Notts Outlaws – Sam Hain and Adam Hose doing the business with 174 in just 70 balls.
Meanwhile, in Amstelveen, Buttler, along with Salt, Malan and Livingstone, was peppering the boundaries and beyond, losing balls at an astonishing rate. Down into the thickets they fell, bouncing off tree trunks and, at one point, landing on top of the indoor school, fetched by an enterprising man with a stepladder. The hosts will be bracing themselves for more punishment in the second game of the three-match series on Sunday.
Buttler, ransacker in chief, spoke with admiration of Salt, who only made the team because England’s all-format players are busy with the Test series. “He looks just another one off the production line that there seems to be with white ball batters in England,” Buttler said. “I’m really impressed watching him up close in the days leading into this, and he struck the ball incredibly cleanly today, put the bowlers under a lot of pressure, he’s very fearless, very much in the Jason Roy role at the top of the order. He’s got a great future.”
Salt also referenced Roy, who spent most of the innings watching from the dressing room, bowled by his cousin Shane Snater in just the second over of the innings for one. “I love chatting the game through with J-Roy because he’s so clear and so destructive in what he does.
“That goes for most of the lads in here. I’ve tried to learn off everything, I try to take the things they do best and add that to my game. J-Roy has definitely been an influence and I’m lucky to have people like that around who are willing to give time and have those chats and want to see you do well.
“Morgy [Eoin Morgan] has been very clear with how he expects people to play if they want to be in an England shirt and that’s something that I’ve bought into from day one of being around this team. It’s pretty self-explanatory what you need to do if you want to play for England.”
Salt has played in a number of franchise leagues, including the Big Bash, Pakistan Super League and Caribbean Premier League, and the move from Sussex to Lancashire at the end of last season has given his game a boost. “It’s a huge club and I do love playing there. Again, it’s a similar thing to franchise cricket – the intensity in that dressing room is also a step up from a lot of other places so yeah, I’m really enjoying my time there.
“Hopefully if I can keep doing stuff like that and keep putting my name in the [England] hat, hopefully I will give the selectors a headache.”
What a welcome headache that is for England’s selectors, who spent last winter fruitlessly looking for runs, but now find them flooding in from all directions.