It’s been quite a week; a royal birth, the 70th anniversary of VE Day and even some sunshine have all befallen us since the beginning of the month. There was something else too but I can’t quite remember what… Anyway, in all the excitement it’s been quite easy to forget everything else that’s been going on, which is just as well for England’s cricket squad after their humbling loss in the third Test against the West Indies.
For those fans who can remember back the ‘80s and further beyond, such a result isn’t a rarity. Hearing the names Croft, Garner, Richards, Holding, Dujon, Greenidge and so on is enough to stir many unpleasant memories. This was a time when the Caribbean boasted some of the greatest names ever to have played the game. As a player, losing was an honour; staying alive was a bonus. Not now. Power struggles, financial insecurity and the influence of other ‘more attractive’ sports have seen the former powerhouse slide down the rankings across all formats of the game. Six of their best players decided they would rather play in the IPL rather than represent their country. On paper, they should have had no chance.
In England, however, they faced a side in just as much turmoil. They came into the series off the back of a frankly appalling display at the World Cup and an extremely disappointing 18 months. Indeed, the only success they had experienced in that period of time was a 3-1 Test series victory over a pretty shoddy Indian side in the summer. Despite all this, incoming ECB Chairman Colin Graves demanded a 3-0 victory; no pressure lads! Unfortunately, despite a superb team performance in the second Test, they failed in the third and left with nothing more than a 1-1 series draw and some impressive tan lines.
Cue much media consternation and calls for wholesale changes. However, although the result may not have been what was desired, there were some positives to take from the series. Firstly, and arguably most importantly, Alastair Cook finally found some form. It’s been obvious that the pressure of captaining a losing side has had a profound effect on his batting and led to him being unceremoniously dropped from the World Cup side as both skipper and squad member. However, some superb performances in both the second and third Tests – including his first international century for nearly two years – showed that Cook still has a lot of fight left in him and was a firm two-finger salute to his critics. As well as this, England also look to have found two world-class batsmen in Gary Ballance and Joe Root. Both looked in scintillating form throughout the series and judged each situation perfectly – if they needed to defend they did; if the ball was there to hit, they hit it. This is something England sides have been lacking for a while now – batsmen should not be afraid to ‘have a go.’ Personally, I’d much rather see a batsman give away his wicket looking to take the initiative (although not playing a reckless slog) than just plodding along. On the bowling front, James Anderson was irresistible; on the rather flat and lifeless pitches given to him, he did what he does best and found enough movement to cause all the batsmen trouble.
However, I do agree with the media that changes do need to be made, but with the selectors and not the players. Whilst county cricket gets its fair amount of criticism, it has bred all of the current England XI and, despite what most people think, we do have an abundance of talent; it’s just not used properly. This can be attributed almost entirely to the selectors. How on earth they though bringing back Jonathan Trott, at the age of 34 and with no clear evidence that he had got over his ‘burnout’, to open the batting – a position he has rarely batted in – was a good idea is beyond me, especially when a perfectly good replacement in Adam Lyth was waiting in the wings. Also, to fly Moeen Ali over for the second Test after only just recovering from an injury was not only risky, it was a massive slap in the face to Adil Rashid, the leg-spinner who had been on the tour since the beginning. Apparently he didn’t bowl too well in a warm-up game so wasn’t deemed good enough to play… These men need to get their ego-inflated heads out of their considerable backsides!
Interestingly, the squad picked for the ODI against Ireland was a bit different. Whilst most of the changes were enforced due to the timing of the match, coming less than a week after the conclusion of the Windies series, the selection of a whole host of aggressive and exciting players such as James Vince, Sam Billings, David Willey and Mark Wood is vastly different from recent times and suggests that, finally, the penny has dropped and the selectors recognise that things need to change. Unfortunately the game was rained off before it could get going, but I really hope this was more than just a one-off. If it isn’t, I really fear for the future of English cricket.