Rejoice. We’ve beaten the number one test team in the world. It was a superb series and test cricket was probably the winner overall. Who says you need high totals and bat dominating ball to create exciting cricket? The authorities can put that in their pipe and smoke it. It might blend well with the wacky baccy they’ve obviously been consuming in large quantities.
However, although this series has produced some very tense and compelling cricket, the quality of that cricket has generally been pretty low. At least from a batting stand point. So has this series been good for test cricket or not? I guess it depends on whether one prefers quality or pure adrenaline.
I really don’t know what to make of it all to be honest. I’m glad that red ball cricket has proved itself (yet again) to be the best form of the game, but the purist in me is rather sad about things. There really wasn’t much to celebrate in terms of batting technique this summer. If that’s the way test cricket is going then it’s quite depressing.
I also have mixed feelings about whether England winning will be good for the English game in the long run. After Trent Bridge I sensed that the ECB’s mismanagement of our domestic structure, and the criminal marginalisation of the county championship, was beginning to creep into mainstream discourse somewhat. It was even brought up (although predictably never really discussed) on Sky’s Cricket Debate programme.
I fear this win will silence the dissent once again. After all, the ECB can sit back smugly and say “hey we’ve just beaten the best team in the world so we can’t be damaging the first class game too much”. Obviously the consequences of recent decisions won’t become fully apparent for some time – so it would be disingenuous for them to claim this – but some will say it nevertheless. What’s more, it might be too late by the time everyone wakes up.
As a result – and I’m quite ashamed to admit this – part of me was actually hoping England might lose this test match, if only to keep the pressure on the ECB. As it stands, one senses the authorities will be quite happy winning at home and getting thrashed away if the money keeps rolling in and they can implement Harrison’s Harebrained Hundred without too much gnashing of teeth. I was beginning to enjoy the “why aren’t they addressing batting techniques rather than implementing an extraneous hit and giggle competition?” narrative. Now I imagine it will all go silent again. Sigh.
On the other hand, I find it impossible not to back our lads when they’re on the field. Consequently I’m simultaneously delighted we’ve beaten India. I’m particularly pleased for Moeen, who has always been one of my favourite cricketers. I have to confess I wouldn’t have picked him for this series, simply because I want England to find a spinner who can help us win abroad, but I certainly can’t begrudge him his continued success on home soil. Many will argue that he could, and should, have played ahead of Rashid all series.
Mo now averages a Swann-esque 30 with the ball at home. And his strike rate is just as good too. In fact, it was better than Swann’s at one point last summer. The problem, of course, is that he’s absolutely terrible overseas. And it wasn’t just in the recent Ashes debacle. Mo has been consistently bad every time he’s travelled. It’s why he averages a pretty embarrassing 52 with the ball overseas after 22 tests on foreign fields. Giles averaged 39 away, Monty 40, and Adil Rashid currently averages 36 overseas in case you’re interested.
Having said that, Moeen has been tinkering with his action this summer so perhaps he might be more effective when England travel to Sri Lanka this winter? He obviously gets along famously with Saqlain, who always seems to raise Mo’s game, so let’s hope we can keep him around on tour. In the past he’s disappeared after a couple of games. Having Saqlain on hand could make a huge difference to Mo’s confidence and rhythm. He certainly bowled wonderfully well in this test match and deserved his man of the match award.
The other curious thing about this series win is that England’s success has come about almost entirely by accident. Only Sam Curran, Moeen (who were both left out of the side at Trent Bridge), and Jos Buttler have enhanced their reputations this series. And let’s not forget that young Sam was picked primarily as a bowler. Yet it was his runs that proved decisive. I wonder what Dom Bess makes of it all?
Other than Anderson and Broad, who also enjoyed decent series, all England’s other players were disappointing to various degrees. Cook and Jennings were miserable, Bairstow was a big disappointment, Root never looked comfortable at 3, and Stokes didn’t quite have the impact with either bat or ball that many predicted. England basically won with half a team. It’s extraordinary really.
England have also managed to win this series despite having no coherent strategy. Moeen won this game with the ball, even though he was supposed to be the No.2 spinner, and all the team’s runs came from players batting 6-8. Only two England players made centuries, one of which was Chris Woakes, and the batting order became so unstable that Moeen was speculatively promoted to No.3 in the second innings. The selectors and the management basically made things up on the fly. They even thought it was a good idea to pick a specialist batsman at 7 at one stage.
I also find it odd that we don’t know who will keep wicket in Sri Lanka anymore. During the Ashes Jonny Bairstow was the only player who won his individual duel with his opposite number. If anyone had suggested that his role would be uncertain eight months later would’ve been consigned to the mad house. Bairstow behind the stumps used to be one of England’s few shoo-ins. Even that’s up in the air now.
And then there was the Ollie Pope situation. What a ridiculous decision it was to promote a young talent with limited first class experience and expect him to produce the goods at 4. Mark Butcher, who is Surrey through and through, said he was ‘angry’ at Ed Smith for exposing Pope like this. I don’t blame him. I really hope Pope’s confidence hasn’t been knocked by all this. He’s a tremendous young talent.
Yet England have triumphed. We’ve won. And for many that will be enough. Perhaps it should be enough for all of us? It just all feels rather odd. Normally I’ve got a smile broader than Merv Hughes’s gut when England win a test series. But this time I feel a bit, well, hollow really. I’m not sure we deserve it. But then neither did India. Neither side played well enough to deserve victory at the end of the day.
Great series though.