England Cricket: Reasons to be Cheerful
Do you remember the days when people were calling for Joe Root’s head? The team had just been trounced in the first Test, the batting looked fragile with limited ideas and the bowlers far from threatening.
In just 2 weeks, England have gone from a struggling looking team to one that has produced two fine performances, first in Cape Town and again this week in Port Elizabeth.
Who would have predicted the team scoring over 400 for the first time in years, enforcing a team to follow-on, and bowling them out quite easily, twice? Not us. Especially on a wicket that seemed to offer very little to bowlers.
So what has changed and why should we start feeling cheerful?
England have named five players aged 24 and under in their team for the past two Tests: batsman Ollie Pope, spinner Dom Bess, all-rounder Sam Curran, and openers Zak Crawley and Dom Sibley. Two have scored hundreds, one has taken a 5-for, and the others have helped contribute to the last two victories.
Strength in Depth
This was without the injured Jofra Archa, James Anderson (for the third Test) and in-form batsman Rory Burns. The squad is beginning to show some depth we haven’t seen for a long time. Remember that Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes all can’t get into this team. Yes, Moeen’s situation is a little different but he was dropped after the first Test of the Ashes in the summer.
We have two bowlers who can bowl 90mph+. Obviously Mark Wood and Archer have yet to play a test together as yet but the time will come, especially with the newly injury-prone James Anderson on the sidelines again. Ben Stokes can also hit those speeds. This can only bode well down-under.
We also have a few spin options. Bess bowled very well in the first innings in Port Elizabeth, Joe Root has always underused himself, and Joe Denly is a handy leg spinner. With a tour of Sri Lanka coming up, this is hugely important.
You can actually see what the batsman are trying to achieve. This sounds simple but how many times in the last few years did you ask what they were trying to do? We used to have one way of playing and when it worked, it looked amazing, and when it didn’t, it looked absolutely horrendous.
Kevin Pietersen was on commentary saying that Joe Denly finds it a challenge to face 100 balls. He took it a bit literally in Port Elizabeth and seemed to go nowhere against the spinner. What he, and Sibley, have done is allow players to bat around them. They build a platform so the likes of Stokes, Pope, Buttler and Curran can have more freedom later on. This worked perfectly in the third Test.
There are few things to say about Ben Stokes that have not already been said. Not only does he put in match-winning performances, he is the most important player, and person, in the England team. In times of struggle, he carries the team on his shoulders, usually to victory. He seems to have the respect of every player in the team including Joe Root who said he is the first person he goes to with any questions. He is England’s best batsman, both in defence and attack. He is our best fielder. And he can bowl at 90mph on any wicket.
With The Ashes under two years away, this team has a huge opportunity to find their feet properly and pose a threat to the Australians who look incredibly impressive right now. If this team continue to grow, play well and believe in their ability, The Ashes could be a hugely competitive series.