By Ben Fleming
With the Ashes now far in the rear-view mirror, the sun has set on an unforgettable summer for England.
A dramatic, nail-biting World Cup victory was followed by an enthralling, end-to-end Ashes series which, despite not ending in victory, allowed fans to not only be hopeful for the future but also to recount the glorious memories from this summer.
Such luxuries, however, are not afforded to the players and senior figures of English cricket. With a coach to replace, winter tours against South Africa and New Zealand beckoning and a T20 World Cup on the horizon, they must continue to work hard if they are to provide even more incredible memories.
The first task will be appointing a new coach.
With his contract now expired, Trevor Bayliss has departed after overseeing an incredible white-ball transformation. The 2015 World Cup saw England eliminated in the group stages after only two wins but four years later, Bayliss led a re-invented England team to their first World Cup victory on home soil after a remarkable turnaround.
However, the subsequent, unsurprising focus on the white-ball game – the reason behind Bayliss’ initial appointment – has left England lacking a sense of direction in the longer form of the game.
Their new appointment, it is clear, will need to “redress the balance”, as Ashley Giles, the ECB’s director of men’s cricket, has said. Given England’s previous poor performances in World Cups and the awarding of a home World Cup for 2019, this focus was an understandable one.
However, Test cricket still remains the premier format of the game – the drama, atmosphere and brilliance on display over five days are rarely replicated in the shorter forms.
In no other sport could a man build a cult figure from a solid defence and watchful evasion of a short ball, as was the case with Jack Leach on that now infamous day at Headingley.
Hopefully, an appointment will be made prior to the upcoming winter tours but, whoever it is, their primary task will be to reassert England’s status as one of the best Test sides in the world.
The tours of South Africa and New Zealand are next on the horizon for this England team and, for Ed Smith and the selectors, it presents a key opportunity to bed in some much-needed fresh talent into the side.
England’s Ashes performance, despite ending in a positive performance at the Oval, highlighted many of the flaws that have plagued the team in recent years – most notably, their inability to consistently produce a complete batting performance.
Whether it be the complete all-out collapses seen in the first innings at Headingley or careless batting throwing away good starts, England have struggled to bat consistently well since the golden generation of the Flower Era (Cook, Strauss, Trott, Bell) retired.
Rory Burns, fresh off the back of an impressive Ashes series, has secured himself a central contract for the upcoming season. However, with Denly likely to move down to No. 3, Burns requires a dance partner at the top the order. That man is Dominic Sibley.
The Warwickshire opener has amassed 1,324 runs in Division One at an average of 69.98 this year – 349 ahead of Yorkshire’s Gary Balance in second place.
His most recent match, against Nottinghamshire, saw him make 215 and 109 in a perfect audition for England’s selectors as they continue their long, ongoing quest for the next top-of-the-order ‘Cook and Strauss’.
Ollie Pope is the other batsman primed for a call-up to the England team.
Despite dislocating his shoulder in April, the Surrey batsman has returned before the end of the season and has averaged 75.83 over seven innings.
His return to the England side, after a brief two-game appearance against India in 2018, has spelt trouble for Jonny Bairstow, who showed a distinct lack of temperament and technique during the Ashes and has since been dropped from the Test side.
Jimmy Anderson, whose Ashes series was cut short after four overs by a calf injury, has been steadily caught up by the wear and tear of Test match bowling.
Now left out of the squad for the winter tours, one fears that the end is nigh for the best fast bowler this country has produced.
And with young bowlers like Sam Curran and Olly Stone showing promise and Woakes, Broad and Archer deputising to great effect in his absence this summer, the ECB must be careful to facilitate a retirement on the 37-year-old’s own terms.
The final objective on the ECB’s ‘to-do list’ will come in October 2020 with the T20 World Cup in Australia.
England lost in the 2016 final as Ben Stokes succumbed to Carlos Braithwaite’s power-hitting and four straight sixes in the final over but, after victory in the World Cup this year, England’s white-ball attentions will surely now turn to winning the T20 World Cup again, having won it in 2010.
The 2020 tournament coincides with the debut season of the ECB’s new limited-overs tournament, The Hundred. Intended to rival the global T20 franchises in Australia and India, the tournament should hopefully serve as an open audition for any emerging county stars looking to book a last-minute ticket to the World Cup.
However, after five T20 matches against New Zealand and three against South Africa this summer, some of the stars of this year’s T20 Blast should feature.
Not only does the sport’s shortest form provide a less arduous introduction to international cricket than the gruelling five-day test, but it also allows the most modern, inventive and nerveless cricketers, of which there were many in this year’s T20 Blast, to thrive.
Phil Salt and Tom Banton showed power-hitting and creativity at the top of the order for Sussex and Somerset respectively whilst Worcestershire’s Pat Brown (now in England’s T20 squad) and Lancashire’s Saqib Mahmood (who has been called up to England’s Test and T20 sides) excelled with their economical wicket-taking death bowling.
Needless to say, it is a busy time for English cricket. This past summer, the national side have shown a lot of promise whilst also highlighting a lot of problems.
In the coming months, they will have to work hard to form solid foundations for the future if they are to recreate the achievements of the summer just past.
Image courtesy of Ben Sutherland via Flickr and Creative Commons