One would be forgiven for discarding England’s Ashes triumph from recent memory, considering the tales of malaise within punditry and fan circles. Memories of Alastair Cook hoisting the urn have been banished in favour of calls for order reshuffles, coaching changes and the obligatory criticism of Ian Bell. This is reflective of a number of trends: the dearth of County Championship talent which sees proven failures Sam Robson and Nick Compton still lingering on the periphery of the international set-up, the infighting and drama that characterises the ECB (anyone remember Kevin Pietersen?), but perhaps most of all that part of the British psyche that creates a perpetual love/hate relationship with any national team, no matter how successful.
In this atmosphere of doom and gloom, it would be easy to forget the recent achievement of the team, as well as its prospects for the future. After all, this is a side that a mere few months ago dominated an (admittedly weak) Australian outfit on the biggest stage of all, bringing both the symbolic bragging rights and the trophy to England – not before suffering the traditional innings defeat in the last test. In Cook, England have the leading run-scorer in English test history – not that it has helped him shed his scapegoat moniker, as well as a historically successful campaign. Moreover, Joe Root, at the tender age of 24 (though he would still struggle to be served at Turf Tavern) is undoubtedly the best young batsman in the world, if not the best batsman in the world full stop, with the captain-in-waiting’s 56 average comfortably surpassing any of his England peers. Meanwhile, James Anderson’s transition from intemperate talent to wily veteran has resulted in him being one of the few beacons of consistency in a team arguably characterised by its immaturity. And while Ben Stokes/Andrew Flintoff comparisons may be slightly premature, there is some slight resemblance that lies in the capacity to thrill and exasperate almost simultaneously.
Considering therefore, the core that exists within the England team, there could be reason for thinking that the tales of woe offered by Geoffrey Boycott seem somewhat pessimistic, or at worse misleading. However, the English set-up is still plagued by its age old problem, the second opener. Much like the national football team and their struggles to find a left-sided midfielder throughout the 2000’s (a problem which never quite reached the levels of the Gerrard-Lampard conundrum), a suitable partner for Cook has never been found, with the aforementioned Robson and Compton among those experimented with, along with the tragic failure that was Adam Lyth’s short-lived test career. This problem has reared its ugly-head in the current Pakistan test series: Moeen Ali, the current makeshift opener, can at best be called an all-rounder – a test-quality batsmen? Not so much. On the bowling side of things, whilst the seam attack still proves relatively effective without setting the world alight, the failure to groom a quality spinner since the departure of Graeme Swann has been cruelly exposed on the subcontinent, with Yasir Shah tormenting the England side – this being said, the emergence of Adil Rashid with his 5-64 in the second innings offers some optimism for the future.
In short, whilst the England team may lack the Strausses, Flintoffs and Vaughans of old, all is not lost. Perhaps the biggest problem then, lies not in the malaise within the England team, but with test cricket as a whole. In the era of Sky Sports and the IPL, the five day format no longer has the ability to ignite a population’s interest in the same way that test cricket of yore did, hence the declining attendances, revenue and participation in cricket. Maybe then, the England fan should be focusing their ire on Rupert Murdoch rather than Ian Bell.