With one last moment of high farce in a series full of what Australians would call comedy but an Englishman could only call torture, Jade Dernbach is run out go- ing for a second run she was never going to make – and at last our winter of discontent is over. The abject humiliation of the latest tour Down Under has been such that even the soli- tary ODI win was met with more surprise by players and fans than celebration.
What Team England desperately needs is to simply go home, lick their wounds, rebuild their confi- dence, and forget about all things antipodean for a good few months. Unfortunately for all who take an interest in the fortunes of English cricket, March brings with it a short stop over in the Caribbean for a few limited overs games before the team head to Bangladesh for the World T20.
To say that recent preparation for this event has not been ideal is a gargantuan understatement. Al- though some elements of the recent T20 series were encouraging, the most notable Eoin Morgan’s return to form, there were few signs that England can seriously challenge for the title. Taking a longer view of this side’s develop- ment, however, may provide ground for a little optimism. 2013 was a year of mixed fortunes for Stuart Broad’s men what with winning three, losing three and one ‘no result’.
All of these matches were against either Australia or New Zealand, both formidable teams when the right selection balance is found, and the three victories indicate that on their day this side can beat the major teams. These outcomes also need to be appreciated in the context of England as a side in transition.
Last year saw captain, Broad, and coach, Ashley Giles, re- ally settle into their roles, learning well as they went along. In terms of personnel there were many changes as new players were tested while established game changers rested in the midst of the Ashes preparations. These factors of uncertainty arguably make the perfor- mances of the team more impressive. One huge positive was the emergence of Alex Hales as a certain opener, to be depended upon to give the innings impetus in the first six overs, after his rise to the top of the international batting rankings in this format.
Adding to this is his exciting partnership with Mi- chael Lumb and the presumed return of Kevin Pietersen. Now there’s a dynamic top order who should be able to provide platforms for the likes of Morgan and Buttler to let loose in the middle and closing overs. Perhaps the only success of the long Ashes winter was the per- formance of Ben Stokes, who must surely start in a T20 side which could only benefit from an occasionally explosive batsman and a bowler with genuine pace.
On the slow wickets of the sub-continent, the ability to bowl in the low 90s is often the only way for seamers to have a noteworthy impact on proceedings. The major concern will obviously be the lack of quality spin options now that Graeme Swann has sadly departed the international scene.
To some extent the dearth of serious talent in this area has been exposed in recent weeks with both Tredwell and Danny Briggs coming under serious pressure from the de- structive tendencies of Finch, Bailey & co. With this in mind, Samit Patel should be brought back into the fold as an accomplished batsman whose slow left armers were used to good effect by Nottinghamshire in the domestic T20 season.
This may seem a left-field proposition but it’s arguably less of a risk than throwing the ball in the 10th over to the callow Briggs or one-dimensional Tredwell. Clearly England’s chances in the forthcom- ing competition will be greatly affected by the form of the other teams. The tournament’s location in Bangladesh might lead many pundits to back a sub-continent side, with India being the most prominent choice.
Their recent results in New Zealand, however, indicate a team that is not exactly in the greatest nick. Moreover, the nature of T20 is that any side can in a period of a few fortunate overs find themselves in a position to win any game. Perhaps then, albeit without the best prepa- ration, there are more grounds to hope for an improved England performance in March than the winter has suggested.