When England crushed Australia mercilessly at Trent Bridge last summer, England fans celebrated ecstatically. The tourists just couldn’t cope with our rampant pace attack. Stuart Broad put in a career defining performance. Everything was rosy.
Although it wasn’t the strongest Aussie team of all time – they showed no fight and appeared more yellow than canary yellow – nobody really gave a damn. The Aussies has been slaughtered and that’s all that mattered. So why has England’s win against Sri Lanka at Headingley over the weekend been met with such a collective ‘meh’?
I suspect it’s because we all quite like the Sri Lankans. They’re generally inoffensive and there’s no great historical rivalry. When the Aussies are vanquished, we party hard because we remember the 1990s when gum chewing punks like Shane Warne and Ricky Ponting relished sticking it to us. They were arrogant, aggressive and vulgar as well as being bloody good.
Routing Australia last summer was both payback and a sort of therapy – a collective exhalation of pent up resentment. Nobody really gives two hoots that we’ve murdered Sri Lanka because we feel sorry for them. We’re a little embarrassed by our victory at Leeds. It was all too easy. “Not good for test cricket” a lot of people (including myself) have said.
However, perhaps it’s a little too easy to downplay England’s resounding win at Leeds? Maybe it’s too easy to shrug one’s shoulders and claim the result had more to do with Sri Lanka being absolutely terrible than England being good. After all, it takes two to tango. The fact of the matter is that Sri Lanka have just suffered their heaviest ever test defeat (in terms of deliveries faced). England have therefore made a little bit of history. It’s no mean feat.
Although Sri Lanka showed less backbone than a raspberry jelly, it shouldn’t disguise the fact that England’s bowling attack is historically good – by England’s standards at least. Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad are two of the best seamers in home conditions we’ve ever had. They might not be quite the same force overseas, but neither are fine bowlers like Ravi Ashwin once their home advantage is negated. Nobody is claiming that Broad and Anderson are all time greats of the game. But they are very, very good bowlers. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
What we saw at Headingley – and what we saw last summer too – is that England’s seamers make us a very good side at home. We’re not a complete team because our batting is still very much a work in progress, and we don’t have a quality spinner, but you have to be a very good side to beat England in England – just like you need to be a good team playing very well to beat India in India.
Considering where we were two years ago – and where we were for much of the 1980s and 1990s – I’ll happily take that. England have never had the best team in the world (not since I’ve been watching cricket any way) so I’ll happily take the positives for now and hope that we can find that elusive spinner and a couple of quality batsmen in time.
Consequently, rather than picking holes in England’s performance, and pointing out that the team still has weaknesses – after all, we all know what these are – perhaps it’s more constructive to celebrate Anderson and Broad’s achievements. They’re not my favourite England bowlers of all time, but they’re too good for most teams that visit our shores.
Maybe, just maybe, it was our bowlers that made Sri Lanka look utterly hopeless. They made Australia look hopeless last year, and our historical rivals have dominated just about every series they’ve played since last summer. Surely that tells us something?
What’s more, I have no doubts whatsoever that Broad and Anderson, ably supported by the impressive Finn and Stokes, would’ve been far too much for our batsmen to handle if roles were reversed. Do you think the likes of Hales, Compton and Vince would’ve fared much better against Jimmy on that pitch? I don’t.
The starting point for any test cricket team, or indeed any team in any sport, is to win your home games. The next step is to win them well. Only then can you realistically think about winning on the road regularly, lifting championships and creating a legacy.
At the very least England are doing the first two things right. Although I don’t agree with everything the selectors are doing (or not doing) – I’m worried they’re desperate to win in the short term to justify poor decisions in the past – it seems churlish to grumble when the team has just won by an innings inside three days.
Yes, recent progress has been built almost entirely around our skilful pace attack, alongside the brilliance of Joe Root, but it’s rare for cricket teams to have it all. I don’t remember too many England fans picking holes in the West Indies team when they relied exclusively on Curtley Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Brian Lara.
After years of being humiliated by our opponents – I remember Murali making complete mugs of us in the Sri Lankan heat on many occasions – I’m just glad the boot’s on the other foot for now. So why is everyone so thoroughly unimpressed with England win? Perhaps being unhappy is the only thing that makes us happy.