After the most exciting cricketing summer in recent memory, what is next for England?
The 2019 vintage of English cricket will undoubtedly go down as one of the finest the country has ever seen. From the dramatic Super Over to bring cricket’s showpiece trophy to England for the first time ever, to Ben Stokes’ Headingley heroics, we have been treated to some truly unforgettable moments, memories akin to those of Botham’s ’81 heroics.
Yet England undoubtedly have work to be done. Although a World Cup triumph and drawn Ashes series is a highly respectable outcome, had the last test at the Oval gone Australia’s way, this most remarkable of summers would have been soured. This summer was Trevor Bayliss’ last as England coach, and despite achieving his primary brief of bringing English white ball cricket out of the dark ages, England’s red ball form has gone backwards. An undefeated home record somewhat masks England’s unconvincing form away from home, including humbling defeats in Australia, India and the West Indies.
So, the overriding question emerges: What next for English cricket? In terms of the management set up, victory at the Oval to give the Ashes a more respectable 2-2 score line will provide some attractiveness to the prospect of continuity, with Graham Thorpe and Chris Silverwood, the current batting and bowling coaches respectively being considered for the top job. However, a more wholesale change, both in culture and personnel may be in order. The most dramatic element of this comes through the possibility to split the role in two parts, with one coach for the white ball formats and one for Tests.
Andrew Strauss recently added fuel to this fire, saying that, “you can’t play and prepare at the same time. If you’re playing one series, you need someone preparing for the next series. It’s very hard to do that when there’s only one coaching team.”
That said, Director of Cricket Ashley Giles, the man who will ultimately make the decision is thought to be keen on keeping one coach for all formats. Either way, the employment of a new coach is made doubly complicated by the allure of shorter term franchise T20 contracts to many of the world’s premier coaches. This said, Gary Kirsten, Mickey Arthur and Otis Gibson have all been considered for job, although Jason Gillespie is the standout, having proved his pedigree with back-to-back Championship triumphs with Yorkshire, as well as Big Bash glory with the Adelaide Strikers. Whether he would take the job is an entirely different matter.
Regarding on-field matters, the next couple of years will be a transitional period, building to the Ashes Down Under in 2021-22. Whereas the four-year cycle from 2015 was geared at improving white ball cricket, the next four years will focus on Test cricket. With this in mind, despite the inaugural World Test Championship there will most likely be a series of changes to the playing set up.
Although his captaincy is far from inspiring, Joe Root is set to continue as England’s Test captain. Root’s tenure has yielded mixed results, and he seems to lack the feel for the game so vital in Strauss and Vaughan successful captaincies. That said, there is no obvious candidate to take over the job. Some have clamoured for Stokes to take over, yet history suggests that the responsibility upon an all-rounder becomes too great a burden when captaincy is added, with Flintoff and Botham famous captaincy flops.
The winter tours to New Zealand, South Africa and Sri Lanka offer the chance to blood young talent. England’s desire to do this was confirmed by the selection of the T20 and Test squads for New Zealand. The T20 side is full of young talent, with Somerset’s Tom Banton and Worcestershire’s Pat Brown the ones to watch.
In the Test arena, Dom Sibley looks certain to open with Rory Burns in the longer format. Sibley was the stand out opener on the 2019 County circuit, having plundered 1324 runs at 69.68. This will see him get the nod in front of 21-year-old Zak Crawley. This tour may prove too early for Crawley, with an average of just over 30 in his fledgling career, but the selectors’ see him as an exciting prospect for the future which has seen him make the squad.
Denly is likely to shift to 3 again, allowing Root to return to his favoured number 4 slot and Stokes to return to 5. This ultimately gives England’s batting order a greater semblance of stability. The middle order will be completed by Ollie Pope, who has dominated for Surrey in the past two seasons. His first-class average of 58.79, is the 13th highest of anyone to play the game, and he represents England’s most exciting batting talent. He will likely fit in behind Stokes at 6, which will prove an easier platform to launch his Test career than batting at 4 against India last summer.
This middle order reshuffle left England in the awkward position of having to drop one of Bairstow or Buttler, with both considered “luxury” batsmen. Neither had a red ball summer to remember, but Bairstow’s long term stats since his stellar year in 2016 represent a worryingly regressive trend. This tipped the balance in Buttler’s favour, and the selectors have hinted that they see any potential return for Bairstow as a specialist batsman.
In England’s bowling ranks, Anderson has failed to recover from successive hamstring injuries and misses out for the New Zealand tour. However, he is expected to
return for the subsequent trips to South Africa and Sri Lanka. The resurgent Stuart Broad and the break through star of the summer Jofra Archer will lead the attack, although with the overs that both have bowled this summer, their workloads will need careful monitoring. Add to this Leach, Woakes and the exciting all-round prospect Sam Curran, and the bowling attack seems strong.
With the injuries of Anderson, Ollie Stone and Mark Wood, a spot in the squad has opened up for the talented Lancashire pace bowling prospect Saqib Mahmood. Similarly, leg-spinner Matt Parkinson has been picked as Jack Leach’s understudy following Moeen Ali’s decision to take an indefinite break from red ball cricket. Like Crawley, Mahmood and Livingstone may find their playing opportunities limited this winter, but both have time on their sides at just 22 years of age. The experience they will gain on this winters’ tours will be invaluable.
English cricket is entering a new period of transition, with a batting line up at least on paper as stable as it has been for years, and a bowling attack with as much firepower as any in recent memory. As seems inevitable with English cricket, there will be highs and lows, but there is one thing that you can guarantee. It will not be boring.