Alex Massie

What do they know of cricket who only play it well?

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It is not, right now, saying much to observe that Kevin Pietersen is England's best batsman. His century against New Zealand today has not been the stuff of legends but it has at least rescued England from the perilous position they had put themselves into at 86/5. But if Pietersen is England's best batsman, we must hope that he is also be their most ignorant. How else to explain his prediction that Monty Panesar "will be the best finger-spinner the world has ever seen"?

Of course there's no reason to suppose that test cricketers might also have some appreciation for the the game's history. But it would be nice to think they did, that they appreciated that they're playing in the shadows of giants from the past, carrying on a tradition that reaches back into the sunlit meadows of the past and all the rest of it.

Yes, the game changes and today's players face some challenges their predecessors never had to wrestle with (by the same measure, of course, they also have it easier in other respects), but are they really so arrogant, so bolstered by a collective narcissism, to suppose presume that they're greater performers than the stars of yesteryear? Apparently so, if Pietersen's ignorance is any indication.

If one were to restrict the competition just to English slow left arm spinners then any sane observer would rank Panesar, right now, some distance behind, among others: Wilfred Rhodes, Hedley Verity, Tony Lock*, Colin Blythe, Derek Underwood, Johnny Briggs and Johnny Wardle.

Apart from that, then, yes, Monty is right up there.

*The startling fact about Laker's match at Old Trafford isn't that Laker took 19 wickets, but that Lock took only one.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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