Six Thoughts From England’s Summer
After a difficult World Cup campaign and disappointing draw in the West Indies, England’s summer went better than many expected.
Regaining the Ashes in such emphatic style at Trent Bridge, England also showed much greater promise in one day cricket and have much to be positive about moving forward – though this is a side still with work to do and questions to answer.
The Opening Act
With 115 runs in nine Ashes innings, Adam Lyth’s tenure as England opener seems to be at an end after just four months.
The most dominant opener in County cricket last season, the 27-year old was unable to build on the 107 he scored against New Zealand at Headingley in May, slumping to one of the worst records in Ashes history.
With Lyth all but finished, the door appears to be open for Nottinghamshire’s Alex Hales. A poor One Day Series against Australia didn’t dissuade the selectors from handing the 26-year old, who has scored more than 1,000 first class runs for Notts this season, a ticket to the UAE, where England will take on Pakistan next month.
Outside of Hales, options are still worryingly limited though. The idea that Moeen Ali could open against Pakistan still lingers, but isn’t a viable long term solution in many people’s eyes. It might not even be sensible in the short term given Pakistan’s record since relocating to the UAE.
Having gone through six opening partners since Andrew Strauss retired, Cook must long for some stability at the top of the order. Nick Compton, somewhat cruelly ditched by England in 2013, has 1,148 first class runs this season, didn’t make the touring party despite a recent meeting with Trevor Bayliss recently. At 32, maybe Compton simply doesn’t fit with the ‘look to the future’ ethos the England selectors want to apply.
Compton’s Middlesex team mate Sam Robson has been largely forgotten by England after a so-so run of seven Tests, brother Angus easily dismissed as a Leicestershire player, while Worcestershire stalwart Daryl Mitchell has had a ‘quiet’ year by his standards. Mitchell has served his county well for a decade, but, like Compton, at 31 does not have time on his side and with no international experience, it seems unlikely the Worcestershire native will get a call up at this stage in his career.
Durham’s Mark Stoneman has also been mentioned as a possible alternative; but as Lyth has demonstrated, the step from County opener to Test opener is significant. A specialist position that requires time, patience and guidance to flourish in. Is Hales, who has spent part of the year batting at three for Notts, the man for the job?
The likelihood is that Hales will be in the team for the First Test in Abu Dhabi on October 13th, before England take on South Africa this winter – a team sure to test the Nottinghamshire batsman’s resolve against the short ball.
But should Hales fail to secure that spot at the top of the order, England have some tough decisions to make. At some point they are going to have to back someone.
The Coaching Change
It’s hard to get behind the idea that County cricket is to blame for England’s poor World Cup performance when, six months on, the national side has recorded a series victory against World Cup finalists New Zealand, won both of their summer twenty20 games and pushed World Champions Australia harder than they have done in the ODI arena for a number of years.
The difference was not a change to the domestic game, but a change of staff.
Trevor Bayliss and Paul Farbrace seem to have instilled new energy in the England team, taking them from underdogs to Ashes winners and helping promote far more positive limited overs displays.
A reduction in the number of County Championship games didn’t help England put 400 on the board against New Zealand, a new outlook did.
No Spin King
The inescapable question – who is England’s #1 spinner?
Heading to Abu Dhabi, Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid are both expected to be given a chance to shine. But neither has that ‘go to’ vibe about them just yet.
Rashid is the more aggressive bowler, the more exciting prospect. But talk of a lack of pace in his deliveries continues, and he can be expensive at times. Does he have the guile and initiative to succeed at the top level? Not only on spin friendly wickets, but flat tracks too.
Ali on the other hand has been dependable, if unspectacular. A batsman who turned the ball a little converted to something more akin to a bowler who happens to be able to bat very well. Ali won’t let anyone down, but equally he isn’t the sort of spinner you’d describe as a game changer.
England’s options are limited however. Spin bowling in general seems to be in something of a funk. Surrey’s Zafar Ansari has shown promise with the ball, something that has earned him a call up for this autumns tour (assuming he recovers from the hand injury sustained yesterday), but no one has truly staked a convincing claim to the job yet.
And with young prospects thin on the ground, this doesn’t seem like a situation that will change any time soon.
Start the Journey in Birmingham
Remember how vibrant Edgbaston was as Jimmy Anderson tore through Australia on the first day of the Third Test? Or the cheers as Broad and Ali but on 87 for the eight wicket?
Few grounds generate such energy, and major series always used to start in Birmingham – this year’s Ashes served as a reminder that maybe we need to go back to those days.
No More Jerusalem, Please
William Blake’s words have lost all meaning, I’ve heard them so often this summer. The First Test in Cardiff was delayed further by the apparent need to roll out the ‘official anthem’ of English cricket, to basically no-one’s delight. With every subsequent play it lost even more affection.
As a celebratory soundtrack? Maybe. But Jerusalem – not even the Fat Les version either – has been trotted out more often than a 2005 Ashes winner this summer.
Enough is enough. Dignified silence can be a thing (please take note Jeremy Corbyn abusers), while England fans don’t tend to need a prompt to get a sing song going thanks to the Barmy Army band.
Love them or loathe them, there is a bit of energy and creativity to them.
Strength In Depth
While England might have some woes at the top of the order, this summer has shown there is strength in depth through the middle order and seam bowling department.
James Taylor’s hundred at Old Trafford may not have been boundary filled, but was as elegant as any innings we’ve seen this summer, while Gary Ballance, somewhat controversially omitted from the touring party for the series against Pakistan, plundered his 26th first class hundred against Sussex last month.
Somehow Somerset’s James Hildreth, the leading run scorer in County cricket at the time of writing, continues to evade the international radar, but Scott Borthwick and Sam Northeast have both had strong seasons with the bat – though the former may struggle to escape the ghosts of the past…
With youngsters like Joe Clarke, Tom Fell and Ben Duckett all making promising starts to their county careers, and Ansari catching the selectors eye with some solid displays with bat as well as the ball, the cupboard should remain well stocked as England move forward.
Mark Wood’s emergence as an international bowler and Steve Finn’s return to form also gave England’s pace attack a welcome boost. And with Graham Onions, Chris Rushworth, David Willey, Mark Footitt, Chris Woakes and Liam Plunkett all pushing for places in the England setup, there are also plenty of seam bowling options available should one of the national sides first choice quartet be unavailable.
The Curran brothers and Overton twins head up a group of young bowlers who might also come in to contention before too long; providing hope one of England’s strong points will remain that way for the foreseeable future.