England's top five cricket captains

May 12, 2017

Cricket lovers booking corporate hospitality for the Edgbaston Test match this summer will be witness to one 'first' as England and the West Indies play the inaugural day-night Test in England.

But while the sight of the pink ball under floodlights will be quite a spectacle, the match will also be part of the first summer of Joe Root captaining the Test side, following his appointment as Alastair Cook's successor.

Time will tell how effective England's best batsman will be when choosing tactics, setting fields and motivating his men. But down the years there have been some great English captains. Here are our top five.  

Ivo Bligh

In 1882, England had lost at home to Australia for the first time, inspiring the famous Sporting Times obituary to English cricket that declared "the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia". Before the 1883-84 tour, Bligh declared he was off to "win the ashes back", and when England duly triumphed, a group of ladies in Melbourne burned the bails, put them in an urn and presented them to him. Thus the Ashes were born.  

Douglas Jardine

Jardine is also famous for winning the Ashes, but in rather more controversial circumstances. Faced with the seemingly impossible task of stemming Don Bradman's superhuman run-scoring in 1932-33, his answer was Bodyline, a tactic of using his fast bowlers, led by Harold Larwood, to bowl a series of bouncers at the batsmen with a ring of leg-side catchers. The result was batsmen being hit, a complaint from Aussie skipper Bill Woodfull that "only one team out there is playing cricket" and a series of low scores by the Aussies, who never passed 200 in the second innings of any of the five Tests. Bradman's average was curbed to a 'normal' 56 and England won 4-1. Jardine stuck to his tactics with an iron will despite ferocious criticism, but he and Larwood were soon shunted aside and Bodyline was outlawed.  

Raymond Illingworth

A stereotypically stubborn Yorkshireman, Illingworth is also most famous for winning the Ashes overseas, in a six-match series in 1970-71. His brilliant captaincy, where he got the best out of fast bowler John Snow, led England to a 2-0 win despite England getting not one wicket lbw - although Australia only got four themselves. When he was carried off shoulder-high by his team after the final Test, it was a testimony to the loyalty he had engendered.  

Mike Brearley

Widely regarded as England's finest skipper, Brearley was a psychologist by trade and his cerebral approach got the best out of his star players. This was never more true than when a liberated Ian Botham, who he had just replaced as captain, produced a series of stunning displays to win the 1981 Ashes series. Brearley had an outstanding winning record, albeit helped by impact of the Packer affair in weakening opponents and the fact he never captained against the all-conquering West Indies. He never made a Test century and averaged just 23 with the bat, but was worth his place for his brains alone.  

Michael Vaughan

Widely regarded as a master tactician, Vaughan oversaw the rise of a fine England side in the mid-2000s that won all seven home Tests in 2004, secured England's first away series wins in South Africa and the West Indies in decades and ended an 18-year wait to win the Ashes in 2005 against a superb Australian team. With unusual fields and a deliberate policy of aggressive, attacking cricket that unsettled opponents, he made England serious winners again. 

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