The international summer is over, with the sole remnant of the Sri Lankan and Indian visits being Chesteshwar Pujara scratching around the Division Two circuit still trying to make a score. The county cricket season is reaching its climax. In fact, the last week has just felt like everyone and everything is packing its bags and preparing to leave the country.
Therefore it is as good a time as any to look back over the summer and see how New England are doing. In April we set out ten issues that need to be considered and addressed should they really be “learning our lessons” and trying to “upskill”. After very mixed results in all the series – embarrassing losses somewhat mitigated by the comeback in the Tests against India – it is of course a work in progress, but the World Cup is approaching (fewer than six months away), to be followed by an epic calendar of Test cricket. Things can change quickly in international cricket – the Australian turnaround under Darren Lehmann is testament to that – but have England managed to change at all?
1. Sort out the coaches
Leaving aside temporarily the Big Cheese that is Peter Moores, we feel that there is one glaring shortcoming with England now in terms of coaching. The relative success of the junior batsmen this summer suggests that Graham Thorpe has been helpful rather than a hindrance, but the real concern is the coaching of the fast bowlers. David Saker is usually seen as a tactician, but regularly England’s tactics were weird. Furthermore the regression of Chris Jordan as the summer progressed is further evidence of a promising quick bowler being Sakered (although Saker is unlikely to be the sole person responsible – we think Jordan has probably been listening to all the media attention on his technique, resulting in a confused mind). With the English fast-bowling stocks being significantly diminished compared with three years ago, and Jimmy Anderson getting older and Stuart Broad less fit, it will be crucial for the back-up bowlers to step up more regularly. It might be time for Saker to be replaced with someone more tuned to helping youngsters rather than determining tactics and plans.
As for Peter Moores? Well he’s surely here to stay, so much have the ECB invested in his second coming. From the outside, it is impossible to know who is responsible for what within the setup. But as head coach, ultimately a lot must lie with him. This moment in time is still in the transitory stage, so it is hard to judge just yet. But come the World Cup, it will at least be a junction along the pathway of change that affords us the chance to offer a conclusion. We doubt it will be a completely positive one.
2. Keep their senior players fit and in form
Of the five senior players that remained at the start of the summer, one has already been lost; with Jos Buttler doing pretty well in his first Tests, it is likely that Matt Prior’s international career has come to an early end. The achievement of beating India in the Test series was helped in no small way by Jimmy Anderson’s bowling, Ian Bell scoring some important runs and Alastair Cook managing to reach 50. Notwithstanding that the junior members of the team have done better than expected (Gary Ballance and Joe Root scored heavily, Moeen Ali did well), it will continue to be the above three, plus Stuart Broad, who shoulder the most responsibility. Batting-wise, due to the success of Ballance and Root, it might not be a complete disaster if Bell and Cook both fail (plus Morgan in the limited overs team), but Anderson and Broad are absolutely integral to any England success. The workload for both in 2014 was high, but in 2015 it will be mountainous. We will be amazed if both get through it without something giving way (possibly Anderson to retire from ODIs, Broad to be rested like a good piece of meat).
3. Decide on an approach to the 2015 World Cup
Hahahahahaha. Ha. At least England have at last got new blood at the top of the order in the lanky shape of Alex Hales. But tactically, their plans for the 50-over game are still naive. At times it feels as if they are a regiment going in to battle with muskets, only to find their opponents coming at them in tanks. Bowling-wise, the omission of Ravi Bopara against India was strange, for his economy should be integral to their plan of keeping things tight. We’ll be honest with you: we have no idea what their approach might end up being, but we bet you all the gin in Geneva that it won’t be successful.
Happier! Smiling! Signing autographs! Not pissing on the pitch! Well done boys, well done. Apart from Cook sniffling in interviews about the bigger boys in the media centre bullying him, there appears to be a realisation that playing cricket for England is quite a nice job and that in doing so, one should act in a certain way. Although maybe Ballance ought to keep his shirt on the next time he’s in a nightclub. On the pitch, things tended to improve as the summer progressed, although they could still work on those bloody over-rates.
5. Determine what is expected of fringe players
It was pleasing to see most fringe players given a lot of county cricket, rather than being forced to act as substitutes and towel-carriers for the first XI. Jonny Bairstow, for example, will have benefited from a season of keeping wicket, batting and appearing on Jeremy Kyle for the new champions Yorkshire. Steven Finn seems to have used his time at Middlesex well. Hopefully there is ongoing dialogue between New England (coaches and selectors), the counties and the players to ensure that good county players are doing whatever is deemed to be necessary for them to improve their chances of selection. Though the delay in getting Jason Roy or James Taylor into an England shirt suggests otherwise.
6. Ability or potential?
At the start of the season, we were advocating James Foster as a temporary replacement for Matt Prior and (unusually) we weren’t the only ones. Yet the selectors chose Jos Buttler and everything went better than expected. In fact, regularly have the selectors opted for ‘potential’ rather than ‘ability’, which generally meant youth rather than experience, the unknown over the known. This worked at times (Ali bowling well in the Tests, when they could have opted for James Tredwell or Monty Panesar), but occasionally it didn’t (Sam Robson looking worse than his predecessors as Cook’s opening partner). Even in the fast bowling department, there was a feeling that giving Jordan, Chris Woakes and Liam Plunkett their chances was a better decision that an alternative such as recalling Graham Onions.
7. What is the point in – and purpose of – the Lions?
The handing of central contracts to several players for the first time shows that the selectors generally got things right in moving on from the Ashes. The integration of new players into the setup seems to have worked reasonably well. Furthermore, there are undoubtedly talented players in county cricket who should press for consideration themselves, putting pressure on incumbents for a place in the squad. We hope the Lions play some meaningful cricket over the next 12 months, so that the likes of Jack Brooks, James Vince, Jason Roy and James Taylor can demonstrate their ability against decent opposition (Vince and Roy remember both play in Division Two of the County Championship). Having lost half a team to retirement, illness, injury and being an arsehole, the role of the Lions in providing a conveyor belt of talent judged ready for international cricket (as opposed to county cricket providing a conveyor belt of merely talent) has never been more important for England.
8. Help the spinners to help themselves
Certainly Moeen Ali seems to have learnt whilst on the job – one of the most encouraging aspects of the entire summer. But we make the same point we did earlier in the year: the spinners across the country need to bowl and bowl and bowl, and gain experience of different conditions, different roles and different situations. Graeme Swann and Phil Tufnell regularly said on Test Match Special that spinners mature later in their careers than a quick bowler. Adil Rashid seems to have had a good year – 43 first-class wickets at 24 so far – but is still developing. Hopefully Peter Such at the ECB can instill this idea across all eighteen counties.
9. Remember how to catch
Better. England still don’t look red hot in the field, but from small steps do mighty oaks grow. Or something.
10. Buy Giles Clarke a new suit