The latest New Dawn of English One-Day cricket begins today, with an exciting-looking squad packed with young talents, largely unscarred by the World Cup megaglitch, aiming to fight Kiwi fire with Kiwi-style fire. If England compete on relatively even terms in this five-match series, even if they lose it, it will be a significant step forward. If they manage to perform worse than they did in Australia and New Zealand, it will be one of the most remarkable achievements in sporting history.
While youth is at last being given its chance in the England ODI set-up, old age (in sporting terms) has been flourishing in the Test arena when eventually allowed its opportunity. The Big Family Book of Great Test Debuts By Batsmen in Their Mid-Thirties is a tome that is still waiting to be written. Publishers have, understandably, shied away from committing their precious funds to a title that might struggle to make an impact in a competitive marketplace. They seem to fear that the younger generation of readers cares little for 33-year-old Billy Griffith's surprise 140 in Trinidad in 1948 (his maiden first-class century, almost 14 years after his debut, when called up for a Test debut as a makeshift opener due to a fitness crisis in the England camp), or Albert Hartkopf's sprightly 80 off 158 balls in his only Test in 1924-25, aged 35.
However, they might soon reconsider after Luke Ronchi and Adam Voges made two of the finest belated entries into the Test arena. Both would have been staggering debuts at any age. Ronchi became the first man to score 30 or more at a strike rate of at least 125 in both innings of a Test (in Tests where balls faced have been recorded, at least), batting as if he wanted to condense a decade of highlights into one match.
Voges became only the fifth player in Test history to score a first-innings century in a match in which no other player on either side reached 40 in the first innings. He scored 29.8% of the first-innings runs off the bat - only two others even made 30.
The previous man to achieve this rare but striking feat was Kevin Pietersen, in the 2006 Edgbaston Test against Sri Lanka, when his 142 was 112 more than the next-highest first-innings score, and represented 36.8% of the batsmen's runs. In April 1899, Jimmy Sinclair scored South Africa's first Test century, making 106 out of 177 all out, in response to England's 92 all out, in which he had taken 6 for 26. A tidy all-round performance, by anyone's standards. A heroic one-man cricketing volcano by the standards of South African cricket at the time.
It being still the 19th century, South Africa inevitably lost heavily anyway, but Sinclair, a player who would have had the IPL auction bidders' eyebrows twitching like electrocuted eels had he been born 100 years later, had become the first player to score a century and take a five-for in a Test (and was one of only two to perform this double in the first innings of a Test before 1955). Sinclair's score was 40.8% of the runs off the bat in the first innings; three years earlier, also at Newlands, England's Arthur Hill made 124, 34.9% of the first-innings batsmen's runs, with the next top score being 31.
The most extraordinary of these first-innings stand-out hundreds was Gordon Greenidge's 134 at Old Trafford in 1976, made out of a West Indies total of 211, in which only Collis King (32), Wayne Daniel (10), and extras (11) reached double figures. England were then destroyed by Roberts, Holding and Daniel, scuttled for 71, despite a defiant innings of 19 by extras, who were having a terrific match in the circumstances. Only David Steele, with 20, joined extras in making double figures. In all, Greenidge made 134 for 1 off 33 overs. The other 21 players managed 118 for 19 off 69.5. He scored 53.2% of the first innings runs off the bat, and hit 18 of the 30 boundaries. And then followed it up with 101 in the second innings.
"There was a reasonable chance that 85-year-old Enid Snurt, who was walking her lucky iguana down the Kennington Road just as Hutton was finally out, could have made at least 30 not out in the circumstances"
When Voges walked to the wicket, he passed his captain Michael Clarke, who was the last man to make a first-innings century when no other players scored a first-innings fifty (his mesmeric 151 at Newlands in November 2011). The players who have done this since 1995 are a prime selection of the greats of modern batting - Clarke, Pietersen, Kallis, Hayden, Jayawardene, Dravid and Inzamam. As well as Nasser Hussain. Who was very good, quite often. And Matthew Elliott. Who had his moments. And Kamran Akmal. Who was Kamran Akmal. And, crucially, was batting, not keeping wicket at the time. Obviously. Voges thus joins illustrious company. Mostly very illustrious.
● Voges' 130 was the higher of the two centuries scored by debutants over the age of 35, beating David Houghton's 121 in Zimbabwe's maiden Test in 1992. Peter Kirsten had made a 52 on his belated debut for South Africa earlier the same year - before him, there had not even been a half-century by a 35-plus debutant since 1938, when Yorkshire keeper Albert Wood made 52 a couple of days short of his 40th birthday. It was perhaps the lowest-pressure debut Test innings in history - Wood strode to The Oval wicket with the scoreboard reading 770 for 6, Len Hutton toddling back to the pavilion with a Test record 364 to his name, and the baggy green bowling attack nearing the 300-over mark. There was a reasonable chance that 85-year-old Enid Snurt, who was walking her lucky iguana down the Kennington Road just as Hutton was finally out, could have made at least 30 not out in the circumstances.
Just as some final pieces of England's Ashes jigsaw have fallen into place (while others have slipped off the table and are being chewed on by the dog), Voges, with his extensive experience of county cricket and the confidence of one of the most influential debut innings ever played, has made Australia's line-up appear even more formidable.
● When Kane Williamson - 11 years younger than Voges, but with 40 Tests more experience - tweaked his way to three wickets on the final day at Headingley, including the vital scalp of Alastair Cook, he became the 11th New Zealander to make a significant contribution to the match (even Henry, the least successful bowler, had clubbed useful runs in the first innings, and uplifting, morale-crushing sixes in the second).
The Kiwi No. 3 has carved his named on more honours boards before his 25th birthday than most, but Headingley has not been kind to him as a Test batsman, despite the soft-handed, level-headed brilliance he has displayed elsewhere. He is not alone in struggling at Yorkshire HQ in Test cricket, as the following illustrious XI testifies.
The Useless-at-Headingley Test XI
(qualification: two Leeds Tests minimum)
1: Warren Bardsley (Australia, 1909, 1921, 1926)
Three Tests, 63 runs, average 12.6. Elsewhere: early-20th-century baggy green legend who averaged 58.9 in 18 other Tests in England.
2: Ross Edwards (Australia, 1972, 1975)
Three innings in two Tests at Leeds. Two golden ducks, and a relatively epic five-ball duck. Spared an inevitable fourth duck when the pitch was vandalised in 1975. Elsewhere: averaged 45.0 in 18 Tests outside the LS6 postcode.
3: Kane Williamson (New Zealand, 2013, 2015)
Two Tests, 22 runs in four innings. Elsewhere: all-conditions technical master who averaged 75.3 in the 15 Tests he played between his Headingley flops.
4: Greg Chappell (Australia, 1972, 1975, 1977)
Three Tests, 90 runs, average 15.0. Elsewhere: all-time Australian great who averaged 55.7 on all other grounds in the universe.
5: Ian Bell (England, 2006-2015)
Eight Tests, 309 runs at 22.0. But since his first innings at Headingley (119 against Pakistan in 2006), he has averaged 14.6 in 14 innings. And, it seems, taken to watching catches sail harmlessly past him at second slip. Elsewhere: the Sledgehammer of Eternal Justice averages 55.2 on other English grounds.
6 and wicketkeeper: Les Ames (England, 1934, 1935)
Two Tests at Leeds, 30 runs in four innings. Only a single dismissal in each match. Elsewhere: the greatest keeper-batsman in the first 115 years of Test cricket, averaging 53.8 on other English grounds.
7 and captain: Richie Benaud (Australia, 1953, 1956, 1961)
Three Tests, 38 runs in five innings, five wickets at 47.0, one draw and two thumping defeats, including skippering Australia to an eight-wicket drubbing in 1961 in which he bagged a pair and did not very much of interest with the ball. Elsewhere: all-round legend and captaincy whizz who spun Australia to the Ashes in the following Test at Old Trafford in 1961.
8: Shane Warne (Australia, 1993, 1997, 2001)
Three Tests, one wicket in each, average 89.3. Batted twice, bagged two ducks. Elsewhere: unstoppable Ashes devastator who took 126 wickets at 20.3 at the other English venues.
9: Harold Larwood (England, 1929, 1930)
Two Tests, injured in the first, chief victim of Bradman's 300-in-a-day mauling in 1930. One wicket in each, for a total of 174 runs. Elsewhere: Bodyline annihilator in Australia, with an action that woke poets from the dead, and an average of 26.8 elsewhere in England.
10: Max Walker (Australia, 1975, 1977)
Two Tests, one wicket for 187 in 81 overs. Of the 169 bowlers who have sent down more than 50 overs in Tests at Leeds, Walker has the worst strike rate. Elsewhere: averaged 26.3 and more than four wickets per match on Test grounds that were not in Yorkshire.
11: Jimmy Anderson (England, 2003-2015)
Nineteen wickets at 41.3 in seven Leeds Tests - not disastrous, but he has never taken four in an innings, or six in a match, at the ground where his rather less garlanded swing predecessor Neil Mallender took eight on debut. Elsewhere: England's leading wicket-taker, averaging 25.6 on his other home grounds. Edges out other Headingley strugglers from the England leading wicket-takers list, including Alec Bedser (16 at 36.1), Flintoff (9 at 43.0), Hoggard (9 at 43.2), Caddick (18 at 38.3). And Giles (1 at 201).
12th man: Derek Randall (England, 1977-1983)
Four Tests, 59 runs in six innings, highest score 20. Elsewhere: dazzling fielder who averaged 42.8 at the other English Test arenas.