England’s Test Resurgence: The Big Questions

Few expected England to turn around this summer as they did. Least of all New Zealand, India and South Africa. The losses in the Ashes and the West Indies posed so many questions and cost a lot of people their jobs. However, a lot of these questions have thankfully now been answered – although some still linger. Thomas Rose looks at how things have changed below…

Answered Questions

Are Broad and Anderson done?

Absolutely not! The first Test of the summer saw the recall of England’s two greats and it was marked by a sensational spell from Jimmy Anderson. He immediately showed his class and has continued to do so all this summer, taking 27 wickets at 18.

Oh, and for anyone who wants to talk about rotation, he played all seven Tests aged 40.

His partner Broad had a slower retry into the Test arena. But another Stokes and McCullum masterstroke brought out his best. Famously, Stuart has performed best when he has a point to prove, so Stokes gave him one. Robinson was given the new ball and it worked wonders for the other tall quick. I think the idea of a batter getting through the spells from Anderson and Robinson and then seeing Stuart Broad marking out his run-up is rather appealing.

What will we do when they’re gone?

I think we’ll be okay. The two other quicks that played with Jimmy and Broady this year have shown that they can handle Test Cricket.

Matt Potts took off early in the County Championship for Durham. And then he took to Test match cricket like he’d been there for years. He was fantastic against right-handers and reliably put the ball in the right area to Test batsmen. And he’s clearly learnt a lot, going back to his county and taking 13 wickets in a match. With a couple more years of learning from the two greats he’s been playing with, he will be very, very good.

Ollie Robinson came back into Test cricket following a spell out of the game due to injury. He’s a self-proclaimed gym freak now and that’s shown in his average speed: up 3mph since last season and the Ashes. This has had a clear effect on his bowling. He’s zipping the ball off the seam and batters have less time to react. At the Oval, it looked as if the only times he didn’t beat the bat, he took the edge or hit the stumps.

He’s a big moment player and takes the crucial wickets with the new ball and throughout the innings. But the most impressive part of his comeback has been his long spells. Jon Lewis commented on his fitness last year, so Robinson has fixed it. And 50 wickets in 11 Tests at 19.80 is a serious start to your Test career.

Can anyone else other than Joe score some runs?

The middle order has shone. One of the biggest questions posed before Stokes’s side took to the field against the Black Caps surrounded Ollie Pope at three. The new captain backed the young batter.

Though he has previously looked skittish in Test cricket, and there were some signs of this early in his innings this summer, he’s remained composed and scored freely at number three. He’s moved to a central guard, so he can access both sides of the ground without chasing wide deliveries and appears to have found a nice tempo to bat at.

Joe Root was prolific again in the NZ and India series. He was quieter against SA, but so were almost all the batters, so I’m sure he’ll score bulk runs in the winter. There should never be a question mark over him.

Bairstow was one of the few batsmen who had recently scored runs for England. A hundred in Australia and one in the Caribbean meant he kept his place in the side before the start of the season despite questions over his Test record.

Those questions have not just been answered but obliterated. The only thing that could stop Jonny this year was a walk to a tee box. He pouched on anything full, stroking the ball through extra cover on the top of the bounce and dominated the short ball, much to the misfortune of Matt Henry at Trent Bridge. His quick-fire, match-winning hundreds will get the headlines and be written about in the history books. However, in my opinion, his best innings was his 49 at Old Trafford against South Africa. He came in at 43-3 and played positively to put pressure back on the bowlers in typical ‘Bazball’ fashion.

Stokes calmed down his overly aggressive style from the start of the summer to score a lovely hundred with Ben Foakes, who nailed down the keeping spot in the side. He has scored a hundred, a fifty and a not out thirty in the victory at Lord’s. Pretty good from your number seven. And his keeping never gets talked about because he rarely makes mistakes.

Will Stokes handle captaincy?

Yes. He’ll thrive with it. Stokes’s brave captaincy has been part of this England side’s transformation. We are now seeing five slips regularly and the field doesn’t go out at any point in the innings. Jack Leach, a man who has blossomed under Stokes’s leadership, has spoken about his captain’s defiant reluctance to place men out.

One of the largest changes between Stokes and Root as captain has been Stokes’s willingness to bowl himself. Under Root, it felt like there was always a fear around bowling Ben, with his persistent injuries and important batting role in a faltering side. Now, he is undertaking long spells, often with multiple short balls, but more importantly, swinging the ball both ways. His performance at the Oval demonstrated how skilful a bowler he truly is – swinging the ball in and out from a good length. The ball that removed Jansen’s leg peg was the highlight.

Unanswered Questions

Whilst England may have won 6 out of 7 this summer, they have done so in the same way as they always do in a home Test summer: our middle-order stars score runs and seamers take wickets. Therefore, we’re still far from a complete XI.

Are the openers good enough?

Oh, the England openers. These two are an enigma.

I genuinely applaud Crawley’s unique ability to just show enough of his flair to keep his fans interested. He’s probably played enough ‘good-looking innings’ to land himself a spot in the side that goes to Pakistan. He has his critics, but it’s also important to remember that openers have averaged 23 this summer. Crawley has also averaged 23.

There seems to be a trend of saying that Crawley gets a lot of good balls, exacerbating his struggles. My return would be that Joe Root seems to get very few good balls, because most deliveries (even the good ones) hit the middle of his bat. He also leaves the ball really well – a simple Test Match batting principle used for decades.

Sadly, Crawley’s defence makes balls look better than they are. He also plays when he doesn’t necessarily need to. We are taught to applaud bowlers when they square batters up and take the edge. With Crawley, this is a regular occurrence.

He’ll have an intriguing challenge in Pakistan, assuming that England continues to support him. He’ll have to get through a tricky opening spell. The left-armer Shaheen Shah Afridi will swing the ball back into him from over the wicket, as Trent Boult did masterfully in June. However, if he can get through that period, he’ll have a flat wicket and pace on the ball that should suit him. He’s got a good pull shot to combat the short ball too.

Alex Lees looked promising at the start of the summer against New Zealand, with a couple of twenties and a sixty at Trent Bridge, which is his highest Test score so far. But he has also looked out of his depth. His defence isn’t good enough to blunt good attacks and he doesn’t have enough of a counterpunch to put pressure back on the bowlers.

The worry with Lees is that there isn’t enough scoring potential. Looking at the recent Pakistan vs Australia series, a thirty won’t help England in Pakistan. You need your top order to score big runs.

Is the attack varied enough?

Again we’ve had a Test summer taking wickets with 85mph seamers. Broad, Anderson and Robinson were effective in Australia but I do think the current absence of a proper quick might mean that we struggle in Pakistan. Look at their attack: Shaheen Shah Afridi, Hassan Ali, Naseem Shah. All very quick, and Shaheen is left arm.

Jofra has been spotted bowling again, and Wood is in the T20 side. So hopefully, they can find some fitness in time. We only need one in each game, but I think we could struggle without them. Or Stokes will end up bowling a lot more overs.

Can England win batting first?

A new one. ‘Bazball’ works on a swashbuckling idea that we will bowl you out and chase anything you set us. However, I’m not sure how fruitful that approach will be in Pakistan.

When the Aussies toured, wickets were hard to come by. The best batters played long innings and didn’t give their wickets away, especially in the first Test in Rawalpindi where only 14 wickets fell in 5 days. It involved massive first innings scores on flat pitches and then hoping the opposition would crumble. This didn’t materialise very often.

Although England will look to chase anything, even 450+, they could find themselves batted out of the game with scoreboard pressure against them. They’ll also have to combat some quality spin bowling on 5th day pitches. Are they up to the challenge? It’s always tougher away from home.

Thomas Rose


  • All the above, apart from Stokes captaincy, are up for debate. I would add a couple of my concerns. This obsession with entertainment at all costs with the bat is worrying, even in good batting conditions. Lees looks a confused mess as opener and Crawley for me is a natural number 3, not an opener. However my main batting concern is Stokes, who has opted for a kamikaze batting style that has seen him make only 1 meaningful red ball contribution all summer. I’m sure the opposition bowlers don’t mind seeing the back of him after a quick 20. He’s supposed to be one of our mainstays. Even our prime mainstay, Root seems to have been infected and we’re clearly not getting the most out of his red ball skills at the moment. You don’t have to reduce red ball to white to entertain and finish a 5 day match inside 3, so depriving punters of cricket. The unique drama of test cricket takes time to unfurl and I don’t believe this instant gratification complex is helping develop the game. Test cricket is a test, even a draw can be fascinating and entertaining.
    We’ve seen too much dumbing down in the entertainment field generally, it’s a depressing trend.

    • Fully agree with your thoughts on both Lees and Crawley. But mystified as to how your biggest batting concern is then Stokes – unlike the other two he has repeatedly proven himself to be a Test class batsman. The comments on him and Root are either wildly exaggerated or just plain factually incorrect… I’m assuming you see Stokes’ match winning 100 in the second SA test as being his one meaningful red ball innings this summer? Sure his style has been erratic at times, but he also made a 4th innings 50 (at a strike rate under 50) in the first NZ test, and then scored 120+ runs for once out in the second, again with a crucial last day half-century, this one unbeaten. He didn’t do much in the 3rd NZ test and the delayed 5th against India, but wasn’t required to bat in the second innings for either game.

      And Root is coming off his best ever year, one of the best from any batsman ever. He didn’t get runs against an excellent South African bowling attack (in only 4 innings by the way) but it’s a nonsense to suggest we aren’t getting the best out of his red ball batting due to some perceived white ball influence. He’s maintained that balance for several years now, and his contributions in the four previous tests against NZ and India resulted in 115 no, 176, 86 no and 142 no respectively. How much more are you wanting that can be reasonably and realistically expected?

      Frankly when it comes to batting, the former captain and current captain are the very least of our worries.

  • Good article and well balanced.

    The obvious problem is opener. Rory Burns is one of the worst England test openers in history to get 30 caps or more. I am lazy so can’t be bothered to check but can’t think of anyone else with such a poor record to get that many games. Yet incredibly these two seem a downgrade on him.

    I am a lot more positive that most on here (most readers seem experts in finding negatives) but suspect its the openers who are going to be the downfall. The positive intent is fine by me but for it to work long term, it probably needs 6 test viable batsman who as a min average around 35.

    • Burns averages more than any other recent England opener including the two clowns who are currently opening the innings. Crawley 23 average for an opener and he’s still there? Why? Key perhaps.
      But I don’t like kamikaze test cricket, only 9 days played out of 15. Come on you’ll soon get tired of the Bazball nonsense, and by the way Bairstow hates the term

      • Unlikely to be Key-other than in a literal sense because he’s the current selector. Every selector, coach and captain in the last three years has been enamoured of him.

        I think a good comparator is Ramprakash–someone with apparently huge amounts of potential which led a lot of people down a blind alley of “surely someone so talented will come good THIS time”. (Of course, the difference with Ramprakash is that he murdered county bowling attacks…)

    • For someone so positive, you’ve expertly found a lot of negatives about current English openers…:-)

      You’re technically right about Burns (Brearley had a worse average by some way but he didn’t open in 30 tests)–and what’s more he’s several runs short of the next player in the list.

      But I think you’re missing a couple of bits of context too. One is that–to amplify Doug’s point a bit–he holds up well compared to RECENT England openers. Since Strauss’s retirement, only two openers (other than two non-openers who batted there for tactical reasons once or twice) average more than one run more than Burns (unsurprisingly, they’re Cook and Root). He’s over six runs clear of anyone who’s done it in the last year, and respectively one and five runs clear of Sibley and Jennings, who seem to be considered two of the more likely alternatives.

      The other is that relatively few openers anywhere in that period have managed to get to 30 tests: 12. If you reduce that to 20 tests, it’s still only 26 for the top nine countries put together (he’s 18th on that list).

      So I think it also shows that this is not a golden age for openers generally, and certainly not in England. To play the old “don’t just moan” game–who would you have instead? THAT’S the problem for me–no-one really jumps off the page. I’d be happy to give Duckett and Robson another go, but right now I can’t see another English potential opener who’s even arguably better than Burns…poor as he might be relative to those of the past. The only one who’s been consistently better than him in the Championship in the last few seasons has been…Cook.

      So, other than clasping your hands and praying that someone like Orr or Haines will come good as a test batter, what to do? For Pakistan in three months’ time for example?

      • Agree with all of this Ian… unfortunately. I say that because I suspect we are going to need rather better openers than Lees, Crawley or Burns if we are to do anything substantial or consistent. Particularly away from home. Didn’t the younger Compton cousin have a great start to the season at Kent? Not sure how he’s fared since…

  • And yes think you have nailed it with Crawley.

    He gets out to good balls a lot. The reality though is all openers face plenty of good balls. It’s really the measure of a good opener their ability to find a way to not get out to the good balls. I like Crawley as a bat but his FC average is poor as well so…

    • I’ve posted this before but Crawley’s f-c record (if you adjust his average upwards to his Championship average to reflect the fact that a fair few of his games have been tests) is almost identical to Luis Reece’s. And I don’t hear much clamour for Reece as an England opener…despite the fact that he also offers that useful commodity, left-arm seam!

  • Who will/should open for England in the first Ashes Test next year?

    I also think the writer’s optimism about the bowlers poised to replace Anderson and Broad when they finish is wishcasting.

    • Why do you think that Robinson and Potts WON’T be adequate replacements?–working on the assumption that Robinson’s rectifying of his fitness issues isn’t just temporary

      • Because Anderson and Broad, with 1200+ Test wickets between them, will be irreplaceable in the short to medium term. Or are you so high on England that you think readymade replacements are simply waiting in the wings for an opportunity? How easily did Australia replace Glenn McGrath?

        Meanwhile, Potts has played 5 Tests and Robinson has played 11.

        It’s also worth noting that Robinson isn’t exactly young. How many Test do you expect him to play, given he turns 29 in December?

        So do you seriously need to ask why they’re not nailed on as readymade replacements for Broad and Anderson? The answer seems self-evident to me.

      • You know, you can respond to a point without hurling in such rubbish as “or are you so high on England that…?” That probably says more about your nationalism than mine! If you want an answer, it’s no: I’m answering a point about the England cricket team on a blog based in England which mainly talks about England cricket. If I was posting it on Caribbean Cricket, I’d be talking about West Indian bowlers–and if I was talking about Jayden Seales, I’d be equally positive. That wouldn’t make me a Trinidadian nationalist either!

        I don’t think the logic of your Mc Grath point holds up. You could equally say “how well did West Indies replace Holding and Marshall?” Or Cummins could have emerged immediately. To some extent, that’s just historical accident.

        Of course it’s always difficult to completely replace players with huge numbers of wickets–that’s just stating the obvious. But Robinson so far has started his career better than most bowlers in the last century–I think he’s already an adequate replacement for either of the two senior bowlers PROVIDED he keeps up this level and he stays fit. Of course, those are big ifs (who talks about Shabbir Ahmed as a fast bowling giant now?!)–but it’s also a big if to assume it definitely won’t be true. As to how many tests–well, if he keeps fit and has the longevity of Broad currently, he should be on for around 70 or 80; if he regresses to last winters levels of fitness, he might be lucky to get to 25. But Vernon Philander–also a fast-medium bowler who didn’t make his debut very young and wasn’t exactly a gym bunny–managed 64. If Robinson can continue in the same vein as Philander, having started the same way, England will be very happy I should think.

        Potts of course is raw at test level–but the post ATL specifically makes the point that with a year or two learning from Anderson and Broad, he should be good. Anyone has to have played five tests once–you might as well have been asking in 1993 “this McGrath has only played five tests, how will Australia ever replace Craig McDermott?”, but they didn’t do so badly…:-) Potts looks promising so far–strike rate better than either Anderson or Broad, average not very far short. It’s a good base.

        It doesn’t look at all self-evident to me that they haven’t looked promising so far, which was the point being made ATL and that England may well be OK–especially considering Broad’s recent mediocre away record. Of course Potts after five tests won’t have the accumulated skill of Anderson after 175–but that really is stating the obvious!

        • Ian, you asked a naifish question, and you received a straightforward answer. Don’t try to be the “tone police” just because you don’t like it.

          I have no idea what you’re banging on about when you invoke “nationalism”. That seems like a weird tangent or a preoccupation that is yours alone.

          But to reiterate, yes, you’d need to be pretty high on England to think they have two readymade replacements for Anderson and Broad waiting in the wings. Which part of that is remotely controversial?
          Your objection is unclear.

          You emphasise that Potts and Robinson “look promising”. OK, great. That’s the not the same as being readymade replacements for Broad and Anderson.

          On the contrary, you acknowledge that the above observation is “stating the obvious”. It makes me wonder what points you’re actually pretending to dispute, if you casually concede the entire premise of my original post, only to move on and suggest you’re talking about something else entirely. Do you do that often?

          You invoke the great West Indies fast bowlers from 40-50 years ago, and you note that the West Indies managed to replace Holding and Marshall with the likes of Walsh and Ambrose. That is, of course, true. But it’s only relevant if you think the West Indies of the 1970s is a good template for assessing England of 2022 and beyond. Yeah, sure, the West Indies replaced Holding and Marshall with Walsh and Ambrose. Does this prove something about England in 2022? I guess we just have to sit back and hope England can do the same, right? But nah, you’re not high on England at all.

          Your comparison to Philander is equally absurd. You say you’ll “be happy” if Potts is as good as Philander. Yeah, no kidding. Philander took 224 wickets at 22. Yeah, I bet you’ll “be happy” if he ends up becoming England’s third best bowler of the modern era. Of course. So all he needs to do is take more Test wickets than any of Harmison, Gough, Flintoff, Hoggard and Swann at a much better average. He just needs to be roughly as good as Fred Truman, give or take, and you’ll “be happy”. But nah, you’re not high on England at all.

          Amid your nonsensical screed, you raise only one substantive point, which is to dispute my McGrath analogy. The point of that analogy is to highlight how hard it is to replace a fast bowler who’s taken 500+ Test wickets. England will need to replace two of them in the medium term, so yeah, I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest that’s going to be tricky. Australia had the likes of Lee, Clark, Kasprowicz and Gillespie floating around, then they brought in the likes of Johnson, Siddle and Hilfenhaus. You could say that all of those bowlers “looked promising” at various stages – and more – but none of them came close to replacing McGrath. That’s the point. You reckon England are going to be able to do it twice in the space of a few years? Good luck. I mean, it’ll be fine, provided Robinson turns out to be the equal of Philander. No sweat.

          I’m also not sure why you’d invoke Craig McDermott. Surely Broad and Anderson have him covered for importance to their country’s bowling stocks. That’s another weird non sequitur from you.

          In summary, no, I’m not convinced that Potts and Robinson, with 16 Tests between them, are readymade replacements for Broad and Anderson. That would be “stating the obvious”, to quote you for a second time.

          If you want to pretend you’ve been talking about something else all along, or that “looking promising” is the new threshold, then good luck with that, too, I guess.

  • Are England any closer to mounting serious challenges in India or Australia? This is the benchmark, not defeating smaller and poorer countries at home. The latter should be a normal day at the office. Man City or Liverpool don’t do a lap of honour when they beat Norwich or West Ham. If anyone should do a lap of honour it’s Giles Clarke because it’s the events he helped set in train that have turned SA into the shambles they now are (remember they lost by an innings to England’s B team).

    England are closer to that benchmark in two senses: 1) The departure of Silverwood should mean less obviously crazy tactics abroad 2) The resurgence of YJB means the batting isn’t quite as Root-reliant as it was. The ECB are essentially being congratulated on undoing their own disastrous appointment of Silverwood. Well done chaps! Post me some links of all the people BTL who thought that was a good appointment at the time. You won’t find many because nearly everyone could see it was a woeful decision seemingly motivated by saving money and a desire not to rock any boats.

    Otherwise the deeper problems have been masked and kicked down the road. Broad/Anderson were kept going by basically conceding the series in the WI and then by keeping the SA series very short so bowlers didn’t have to bowl many overs. Potts, Robinson and Leach are going to defeat the better teams abroad? Pull the other one.

    As for beating other countries abroad, England have been beating SL and SA and both are such a mess that should continue. The big stumbling blocks have been WI and NZ – well, England have made sure they don’t play the former and if the latter are now beatable it’s more because of their own decline than anything else. Pakistan remain as hard to predict as ever although they’ve undoubtedly gone backwards from the Mis-You era.

    Again, England are a large and rich team. England should win 6/7s of home series under the current system that exacerbates home advantage. That’s par, not cause for celebration. It’s what India and Australia expect as routine (at least).

    • Your opening question: Are England any closer to mounting serious challenges in India or Australia?

      England are closer, having improved incrementally from a historic low. Basically, England are not quite as shit as they were 12 months ago. So the answer to your question is yes.

      England were insipid in the Ashes series this past Australian summer, narrowly escaping another 5-0 humiliation. And they haven’t won a single Test in Australia in their past 3 visits. So that’s probably the more immediate aim.

    • What this piece lacks for me is an analysis of what the Australian system IS. Saying that it’s better than England’s is rather damning with faint praise, mainly because England have selected their recent test captains seemingly on the basis that they were not too strong a personality and wouldn’t rock the boat too much (and it wasn’t only in hindsight that neither Root nor Cook had the makings of good captains!)

      On the other hand, England haven’t done too badly with recent white-ball captains. But generally in the last decade or so, the problem seems to me to be that England haven’t valued the IDEA of leadership–it’s been more important to shut up and say nothing controversial (or interesting) than show initiative or leadership. Which is the reason why there haven’t been many clear options–and if there aren’t many good options, then of course often you’ll be appointing the least bad rather than someone good.

      • “But generally in the last decade or so, the problem seems to me to be that England haven’t valued the IDEA of leadership–it’s been more important to shut up and say nothing controversial (or interesting) than show initiative or leadership.”

        Setting aside whether or not I agree with your diagnosis of “the problem”, it’s almost like you’re saying there’s a cultural difference between Australian cricket and English cricket?

        Shh, whisper it, but I wonder if that is a factor at all in the relative success of the two nations’ cricket teams. And I wonder if it also explains why England only improves under foreign coaches? Controversial, right?


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