An Infusion of Optimism

As we’re generally a grumpy and cantankerous lot here at TFT, we thought we’d do something to redress the balance. So here’s a blissfully optimistic article by guest writer Philip Brennan. I can sense the storm clouds dispersing already. Over to you Philip …

It has always been the fashion to expect the least of English cricket. And that certainly held true at the start of this summer, in the wake of a woeful World Cup and a drawn series against an inept West Indies. Then we went to Ireland, it rained, and Peter Moores was jettisoned in the flood.

At that stage, no one could’ve predicted the spectacular summer England were about to have. The enthralling 1-1 early season series against the trend setting New Zealanders galvanised the team. England embraced an attacking style of cricket and took the Aussies head on. We ended up Ashes winners, with a reinvigorated limited overs unit, and a test side that hasn’t lost a series since Sri Lanka’s somewhat lucky 1-0 snatch in early 2014.

England have been building slowly but surely and they’re discovering a winning formula. They seem to have the depth and class needed to become a number one test team as well as world cup winners. This might seem a little optimistic, but what’s wrong with that?

It’s easy to forget we have England’s highest test run scorer of all time in Alastair Cook, and our leading test wicket taker of all time in Jimmy Anderson. We also have Joe Root, who was briefly the number one batsman in the world (although he’s since slipped to a still highly credible third).

England have an unrivalled depth when it comes to batting, with a plethora of promising all-rounders. Moeen Ali, Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Liam Plunket, David Willey and Adil Rashid have all having occupied slots six, seven, eight, nine and ten at various times this summer.

We also have a host of youthful batsmen, something Australia would kill for right now. Root, Ballance, Bairstow, and Taylor, all average in the 40s and 50s in first class cricket. They have the hallmarks of potential world-class players. Root already is one.

No, we don’t have any left armers that are close to immediate test selection, but do we really need one? Anderson and Broad have shown they can elevate a team to number one status, albeit for that short time in 2011 under Strauss.

With a supporting cast like Steve Finn (second best strike rate of current bowlers behind Dale Steyn), Mark Wood who can bowl in the 90s and Moeen Ali, who’s not as part time as everyone thinks, England should be able to take 20 wickets on a regular basis.

A 23-point gulf currently exists between England and the number one test team in the world, South Africa. Come Christmas I expect us to compete well in South Africa and hopefully prove the optimists right. It won’t come easy but England can reach the top of the pile.

There are several areas England need to figure out, though the spin depart isn’t one, contrary to popular belief. Let me know when Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid stop taking wickets. They showed at Old Trafford vs Australia they have the ability to prosper together on turning tracks.

The opening slot is the other question mark. Alex Hales is the next man to step out of the county circuit and into the test team by weight of runs. He’s the most exciting player England have tried at the top of the order for some time, and if he can do a David Warner there’s no reason why Cook and Hales can’t be a partnership for the ages.

With all that sorted, England just have to figure out how to win away. Hopefully their more carefree attitude will help them to play better in the UAE than they did last time. At least they don’t have to contend with their old nemesis Saeed ‘Bent Arm’ Ajmal this time round.

With Eoin Morgan at the helm of the ODI and T20 teams for the foreseeable future, England could become a great limited overs unit as well. Luckily the next World Cup is in our back yard so we should have more than a fighting chance. England usually do well in home conditions, as we saw in the Champions Trophy back in 2004 and 2013.

Progress has definitely been made this summer. We scored 400 for the first time in the opening ODI of the summer, beat the World Cup runners up and nearly beat the holders too.

Our batting looked unrecognisable at times. It’s definitely our strongest suit. Roy looked impeccable against the fearsome pace attack of Cummins, Starc, Pattinson, and Coulter-Nile. He could be the spearhead of our team come 2019.

The bowling is improving and, if we can find a good death bowler, we’ll have a well-balanced attack capable of taking us to World Cup success. Here’s hoping Willey or Woakes can fulfil their promise.

Overseeing this all is the masterly Trevor Baylis. We don’t see much of him; we don’t hear much from him; but he seems like a man with simple, effective ideas. If anyone can guide Alastair Cook and Eoin Morgan to success, rather than dictating to them, it’s Bayliss.

Perhaps this is all wishful thinking. Maybe I’m getting carried away. But if England can conquer this winter’s challenges they could become world-beaters in a year or two. They might just be able to sustain their success this time too.

Philip Brennan


      • Yeah, I felt like we should have won the first test match, and that we batted so well in the second to reach the final over, that it was unlucky we lost what was a close series. If only Moeen could have nicked the strike!

  • Think it’ll be lost on most of the readership who are in my opinion generally glass half empty.
    For me the truth is somewhere in the middle – his comments seem overly optimistic but no worse than a lot of the doom and gloom earlier in the year which I think results proved were wide of the mark.

  • Respect though – nice to see a blog that’s willing to give a voice to a perspective that seems to differ somewhat from theirs!

    • Thanks Jamie. We’ve always tried to give different perspectives a platform. We certainly don’t think we have a monopoly on the truth.

      Maxie and I often disagree in person (and the blog used to give differing viewpoints far more frequently in the past) but we just happened to agree (mostly!) on some of the major issues that have confronted English cricket over the last two years. This might have given the impression of having a party line, when it was just coincidence really. We simply write what we personally feel at the time.

      We’re more than happy to give different views a voice. I hope this will continue.

  • I think that Mr Brennan is being slightly over optimistic. Firstly, how long is it since Cook scored a Ashes century? a long time ago. Also, where was Mr Brennan when England were thrashed at Headingly v NZ and at Lords and the Oval in the Ashes, the batting and bowling didn’t look too clever then. Finally, if he thinks that Moeen and Adil Rashid are the answer to our spin problems then he is asking the wrong question. Moeen is a batter who bowls a bit and Rashid is unproven at Test level. Lets see what happens in UAE when they will be bowling at batsmen who know how to play spin.

    • Cook got runs at Leeds, Lords, and The Oval, where England were under the most pressure. Though he didn’t convert, I don’ think a lack of centuries is a concern if he shows the bottle for the toughest fights, which those arguably were.
      Yes Moeen is no Swann, and he’s probably the best test number 8 in the world, but he is a quickly improving spinner in all formats. Just take a look at how he dragged back his economy vs the Aussies in the recent ODI series. And yes, we will have to wait an see with Rashid.
      I have a feeling we will lose the first test, then come back and pinch the series 2-1, a bit like our tour of India 2012.

      • “Pinch the series 2-1”.

        Nothing’s impossible I suppose but it’s worth pointing out:
        1) England have never won more than one Test in a series away to Pakistan.
        2) Pakistan have never lost more than one Test in a series since their modern move to UAE.

  • I am regular reader of this blog
    I find the optimism surprising given that englands travails away is well documented

    You do not factor in the fact that in the UAE, fast bowlers do not play a decisive role in determining the match and it is spinners that do.
    You do not factor in that Pakistan has a pretty powerful batting unit for the UAE
    also they didnot need ajmal for the Australia/NZ tests.

    • That’s all true, but if Mark Craig can take 13 wickets in a two match series, I have high hopes for the England spinners….

      • Craig played in a three match series.

        Nathan Lyon played in the preceding two match series in UAE and took 3/422….

  • Absolutely love this. We’ve gone through an horrific period and come out of the other side. There a lots of positives.

    My take –

    “At that stage, no one could’ve predicted the spectacular summer England were about to have” (I hate to be a bore but, – In fact sod it, I’m gonna crow for ever about it :-) ) – Only problem was the last test spoiled by 3-1 bet.

    “No, we don’t have any left armers that are close to immediate test selection, but do we really need one” – Have we ever really had one?

    “Come Christmas I expect us to compete well in South Africa and hopefully prove the optimists right. It won’t come easy but England can reach the top of the pile” – 1st word of caution, I expect us to be beaten in South Africa, but I really hope it doesn’t set us back to far

    “Perhaps this is all wishful thinking. Maybe I’m getting carried away. But if England can conquer this winter’s challenges they could become world-beaters in a year or two. They might just be able to sustain their success this time too” – Get carried away, this is sport, you are a fan. It’s what we do.

  • “As we’re generally a grumpy and cantankerous lot here at TFT”.
    I don’t think this was the case 5 or more years ago though (notwithstanding TFT hasn’t been around that long, but hopefully you get my drift ). So why have we become so grumpy and cantankerous? It’s worth exploring..

    • James here. Thanks for your comments Sherwick. We’ve been around since 2009 I think … it has been so long I’ve forgotten!

      I think the descent into ‘grumpy git’ mode started after the Ashes whitewash. I’d written a few articles before this, suggesting that the team was on a downward curve and had become stale, but I don’t think anyone expected how quickly things would unravel. We absolutely hated seeing England get thrashed – although we did, at times, have a sense of humour about it too.

      Things got angry when the fallout of the disastrous Ashes campaign seemed so utterly inappropriate and typical. My concerns for a while had been the need to start afresh after South Africa beat us at home in 2012 – I saw Cook/Flower as a continuation of Strauss/Flower and believed the regime needed a change in philosophy – so I was flabbergasted when Downton’s only response to what had been a long(ish) decline was to (a) sack the most positive batsman, and (b) revert back to an old coach. This was the exact opposite of what I’d hoped.

      I just wanted England to start playing positively, with a smile on their face, and to move away from the attritional / bowl dry methodology of the past few years. The mess the ECB created just created more angst, and I resented being lied too. It seemed, from my perspective, that a lot of the accusations they made against Pietersen simply didn’t add up. The dossier was pathetic, and even the stories about Carberry etc completely unravelled when Carberry himself came out and said it was nonsense. What else did they lie about?

      My negativity was also reinforced by Giles Clarke’s ‘right sort of family comment’, which made my ashamed of the board (honestly, what kind of **** says stuff like this) and revealed their prejudices. This was then reinforced by the ICC stitch up and the continued absence of any live cricket on FTA television. In other words, there really wasn’t much to be positive about.

      I can’t speak for Maxie – he always loved Pietersen because of his flamboyance and his rebellious nature whereas KP was always just another player to me – so his dissidence was probably more extreme than mine. However, I think he felt similarly about the other stuff mentioned above.

      However, I’ve since been able to move past my contempt for the ECB’s conduct and been able to enjoy the performances of our entertaining young team. Some of the joy has returned. Of course, separating the team from the board was fairly easy for me as the other sports teams I support have been ruled with an iron fist by a succession of absolute muppets for years. Distain for the chairman/board etc never really interfered with my love of the team.

      Now the furore has died down a bit, I think TFT might become more like it was before 2013/14. I never liked the way the site was seen by some as just a couple of angry KP fans. That was always far too simplistic (and incorrect in my case). I think / hope regular readers understand this.

      • What’s more I should add that I’ve finally got what I wanted: a team that’s moved on decisively from the Flower years, plays positively and is full of vibrant young players. The fact the new players have been received so well by the majority actually makes me feel vindicated. This is what I’ve been going on about for a long time. It feels good. 5 bowlers and attacking cricket! Bring it on. I just wish it had happened after the Ashes whitewash, not 15 months later.

  • I think we will struggle in UAE and in South Africa I predict some heavy defeats but equally I fancy us to maybe win a test or two in a convincing manner. It could be like this summer where if we get ahead we will do alright but if we fall behind in a test we will really struggle to come back.

    Don’t worry though as if we do badly the we won the Ashes brigade will being shouting loudly and ignoring the defeats.

    • Away tours never have the same profile as home series. Even away Ashes tours.
      But no cricket lover will hide behind the “we won the ashes” line.

      Unfortunately our sport picks up plenty of part time fans who do just care about the Ashes, probably the same people who will be tuning into ITV tonight, but wouldn’t normally give a damn about English rugby in the Autumn.

      This winter is about taking the positives of this summer (some cracking individual performances and a rejuvenated team spirit) and to keep the team growing. It’s highly likely we’ll lose both series but if we compete and we see players growing and improving I’ll be satisfied.
      The last 2 winters have been brutal, it takes a lot to come out the other side.

  • A steady dose of optimism not sure its entirely well placed it is nearly three years since England won a series away from home isn’t it?

    Some of it was palpable nonsense like.

    “We also have a host of youthful batsmen, something Australia would kill for right now. Root, Ballance, Bairstow, and Taylor, all average in the 40s and 50s in first class cricket.”

    I am pretty sure that Root is the only player Australia would kill for (make a nice pair with Steve Smith). Perhaps Taylor would be of interest but hardly kill for. As for Bairstow and Ballance, we have plenty of our own promising young talents who have failed at the top level to choose from!


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