As another summer of cricket comes to an end across England, how are fans to interpret the 3-0 test series victory over India? Furthermore, what bearing will this victory have on this England side as they embark on a 12 months of competitive cricket, including a world cup and another Ashes series which could define, but also perhaps shatter, their international careers?
The India series victory is but a smokescreen for the real problems for English cricket, which will be exposed once again if action is not taken. Apart from the Second test at Lords which India won, the tourists have been woefully under par this series with their key batsmen Virat Kohli at number 4 having a disastrous summer. At the end of the fifth test it was understood that they had suffered their worst defeat in their history, losing by an innings and 244 runs, which summed up the resilience of this Indian team which England had battled with. India’s inefficiencies have helped England dominate with favourable conditions for their opening bowling partnership of Broad and Anderson, who have shown the ability to rip through any international side touring England over the past few years. Similarly it has masked over the leadership issue, as it was for all eyes to see in Australia over the winter that Alistair Cook is not the right man to lead England forward after he was bullied by Michael Clarke both on and off the field, which resulted in only the third 5-0 whitewash in Ashes’ history.
There has been a strong response from players who were battered and bruised in Australia, and the new faces have also stepped up to the plate this series. Joe Root, who has scored 500 plus runs this series is now fulfilling the promise he showed a few years ago, whilst Gary Balance seems to provide a perfect replacement for the absent Jonathan Trott as he consistently accumulates runs averaging over 80 this series. Ian Bell has also showed glimpses of his former self as he scored a century in the third test at The Ageas Bowl. Confidence is vital in test cricket and England can build from having many of the top order players in and amongst the runs a year before the Ashes. Similarly England’s opening bowlers are hungry for wickets once again. Anderson and Broad have looked threatening this summer with Anderson proving he is not past his best, topping the wickets taken table with 16, and Broad typically grafting for 10 sitting fifth on the table. If they take this form into next summer they will help dismantle the Australian top order. However, England is lacking one or two more quality seam bowlers and the empty vacancy left by spinner Graeme Swan has not been filled. Back in 2005, when England defeated arguably the best Australian test side of the time, they had four world class seam up bowlers and a spinner in Ashley Giles who could do a job. Moeen Ali has perhaps silenced some critics in taking 15 wickets this series, although with a lack of quality seam bowlers to choose from, maybe he will be asked to do too much as a slow bowler next summer when he faces a stronger and more determined batting line up.
Whilst England is not involved in any test match cricket until April next year, there are seven ODIs against Sri Lanka, and a triangular series and a World Cup both in Australia. In order to avoid another gut wrenching embarrassment down under, England need a captain who will lead his team to a more assertive and creative brand of cricket which can confidently post a target of 300 in the 50 over format of the game. With regard to the future for England’s test match team, maybe the lack of fixtures will help Peter Moores and the England selectors see more clearly where this England side is and how best to prepare for the Ashes 2015. There is an opening batting spec up for grabs, as Sam Robson seems to be struggling for awareness at the crease and is too often bowled having forgotten where his off stump is. Maybe the Yorkshire captain Andrew Gale will get his chance after being in the back of many England selectors’ minds for some time.
It remains, whilst we have beaten a top cricketing nation over a five match series, at our peril that we get carried away and assume more success in the coming twelve months. England had gone nearly a year without a test series victory when they levelled the series at the Ageas bowl at the end of the third test. Whilst sole blame cannot be attributed to Alistair Cook, England are longing for a captain to lead from the front and contribute as a player consistently. As other commentators have written, it has been a wearying six months for Cook, who has been consistently out of form with his last test century being in May 2013. He acknowledged that it had been an “interesting” summer of cricket in a recent interview with The Times, after losing the ODI series to India 3-1. Some players have stepped up to the mark and there are some promising young test cricketer’s who fans can have faith in after their displays this summer. This said England need to think up a new strategy to forget the past and combat Australia’s top players.
If nothing else, Alistair Cook and his team have successfully restored pride in the national team. However, with this achieved, perhaps Cook should now suspend his duties as captain and Peter Moores should look to instate a captain who can give direction and leadership from the front. Then we may be able to replicate the achievements of a year ago.