England once again have a seam attack to be feared
Although still not the finished article, England’s bowling regained some of its old vigour and force under the masterly stewardship of James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Anderson, now just three wickets away from Ian Botham’s record of 383 test wickets, was back to his magical self in the final three matches. His control of a cricket ball is truly stunning and his ability to effortlessly swing the ball both ways surely makes him one of the best ever bowlers in English conditions. His partnership with Stuart Broad was once again resurrected, with the pair at times appearing infallible to the hapless Indian batsmen. I was privileged enough to witness their spell of bowling during the first session on Day One at Old Trafford first hand and I can honestly say, it was one of the most captivating pieces of sport I have ever witnessed. There are still question marks over England’s back-up seamers of Chris Jordan and Chris Woakes but both finished the series relatively strongly and should be in line for selection when test cricket resumes for England in eight months time.
One major criticism of the bowling attack must centre around their lack of pace however. It is all very well having the ability to move the ball on a grassy wicket but the real challenge to the English bowlers will come in sub-continent conditions when the ball’s not doing a great deal. 90mph pace and bounce then becomes much more favourable which is something England’s seamers simply aren’t able to achieve consistently at the moment. They do have a man waiting in the wings that can however. The exclusion of Steven Finn in the final two test matches did cause some raised eyebrows. Finn has experienced a return to form this season, taking wickets for Middlesex, and certainly possesses international pedigree.
The selectors have gone a way to fill the void left by Graeme Swann
It may well be a touch too early to christen Moeen Ali as Graeme Swann’s heir just yet, but it is certainly not too soon to see the Worcestershire man as a genuine front line spinner rather than a batsman who can bowl a bit. The extra pace and dip Moeen found during the latter half of the series flummoxed the Indian batsman at times and led him to finish with an impressive total of nineteen wickets for the series as a whole. Captain Cook certainly seems to be placing much more trust in him and with a few more variations to his bowling still to come (Moeen claims to have a credible doosra up his sleeve), exciting things most certainly await England’s new off-spinner.
The only question mark lay in his batting, in particular his susceptibility to the short ball, a problem that won’t get any easier to solve with the arrival of Mitchell Johnson on these shores next summer. For now however, his test place is more than secure following his heroics with ball in hand and with a century to his name achieved at Headingly earlier this summer against Sri Lanka, Moeen is the epitome of why this new look England side is so exciting going into what looks like an incredibly challenging eighteen months or so.
Cook is the right man for the captaincy
Alastair Cook’s position as captain was always going to rest on two things; runs and results, both of which he has achieved. Although still without a century since May 2013, Cook secured impressive scores of 79, 70* and 95 in his last four innings, showing the sort of mental resilience that he demonstrated in the Ashes tour of 2010/11 where he spent a monumental 36 hours at the crease scoring 766 runs. His run scoring still isn’t necessarily fluent but his development of being able to play straight and the work he has done in the nets on his footwork are both huge positives to take out of the series.
From the third test onwards, Cook has also appeared significantly more attackive as a captain and a lot more willing to take risks. Some of his declarations were, admittedly, still on the defensive side of things but some of his field settings (regularly playing with four slips and a gully) was an integral reason why England were able to reach scores of 8-5 as they did in that first session at Old Trafford. A team is a lot easier to captain when individuals are playing well but Cook’s personal improvement as both batsman and captain certainly shouldn’t go unrecognised.
Future is bright for England’s batting order
With Gary Ballance, Joe Root and Jos Buttler all having excellent series’, the loss of batsmen such as Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen has been significantly appeased. Ballance and Root in particular were spectacular, able to modify their strike rate according to how quickly the team needed to score runs and both demonstrating the mental strength to be able to stay at the crease for a long period of time and score big hundreds. As for Buttler, we knew he was an exciting young cricketer from his performances in the shorter formats of the game but during this series, he has shown how capable he is as both a test batsman and a test wicketkeeper.
England still haven’t sold the problems up top
Since the retirement of Andrew Strauss two years ago, England have failed to locate a suitable replacement to partner Cook at the top of the order. Sam Robson has been the most recent attempt but after a series of good starts ended in him failing to gain a half-century in his last six innings and an apparent inability to defend balls outside of his off-stump sufficiently, some have begun to question his position.
There are other options for England to turn to if the selectors see necessary. Both Adam Lyth and Alex Lees are impressing at Yorkshire whilst Nick Compton is still certainly an option at Somerset, even if he has been batting most of this campaign at number three. The most credible option in my opinion appears to be the Nottinghamshire opener Alex Hales however who has had an extremely impressive county campaign and is a proven international performer following his exploits in the T20 World Cup last spring. He has been selected for the one-day series against India so the decision will presumably be dependent on how he well he does partnering Cook in fifty over cricket but I would really like the selectors to follow Australia’s example of using David Warner as an opening batsman and have a hard-hitting, attackive partner to compliment Cook’s fairly low strike rate.
Do you agree England are on the road to recovery? What more do they need to do to stay on track? Have your say in the comments: