If you want witty asides or jovial pre-Ashes banter, look away now. This is a serious post (for once), with a serious message.
This time last year, England were busy beating the West Indies in what was an appetiser for the summer’s main event: the three test series against South Africa.
Although we beat the West Indies fairly comfortably, our performances were far from convincing.
Our bowling attack looked toothless at times: the Windies tail wagged profusely, and the likes of Darren Sammy scored runs for fun. Meanwhile, our batsmen often got off to brilliant starts only for the middle-order to surrender what looked like unassailable positions. Middle-order collapses have now become an infuriating habit.
It’s hard to call any test series victory lacklustre – but that’s exactly what England’s performance in the first half of last summer was. The Windies unquestionably left egg on our faces (given that they were expected to capitulate quite readily).
It was no surprise, therefore, that South Africa beat us soundly. We just weren’t playing well at all.
Form is about momentum, and last summer England had very little. As the likes of Marlon Samuels, Sammy and Dinesh Ramdin had scored heavily against us, it was hardly a surprise that Amla, Kallis and Co filled their boots too.
That’s why the second test against New Zealand at Headingly is so important. England have been below their best in four consecutive test matches – and this has got to change.
Stuart Broad’s heroic performance with the ball last weekend will live long in the memory, but it shouldn’t disguise the fact we were mediocre for most of the match: our batsmen were hesitant, and with the exception of Jimmy Anderson, the bowlers looked short of rhythm.
England simply cannot afford to start the Ashes in third gear. They need to gain some momentum and confidence now – and that means putting on a show over the next five days.
If last year is anything to go by, England’s performances in May tell us what to expect in July and August. So let’s crush the Kiwis while they’re down, and send the Aussies a strong message.