England’s cricketers have the chance to regain popularity and credibility in the Test series against Australia, says Roderick Easdale.
England will go into the five-match Ashes series against Australia, which starts in Cardiff today, with the country’s cricket public behind them, which hasn’t always been the case during the past two Test series.
Some England supporters, already sore from the team’s dismal World Cup performance in the winter, alienated by the actions of the England and Wales Board and exasperated by the utter awfulness of the selections in the Caribbean, were content to see the West Indies win the final Test in Barbados and so draw the three-match series.
Then came the popular, sporting New Zealand team, with their ultra-attacking style, which is redefining the way Test cricket can be played. Some England supporters were willing New Zealand on to win on the final day of the all-too-brief two-match series, to ensure the series was drawn as a fitting reward for the visitors’ joyous enterprise.
The Kiwis even seemed to coax England, often so cautious, towards playing a tamer version of their own attacking brand of cricket. In the one-day series that followed, England were transformed from the stodgy, outmoded one-day side that had been so exposed at the World Cup: a new young side played with a vibrancy and lack of fear of failure that saw them win the series against the World Cup runners-up.
Whether this transformation will seep deeper into the Test side depends on the philosophy and influence of the new head coach, Trevor Bayliss the third in as many series. Bayliss, the first Australian to hold the role, originally turned down the job.
He’s had success with domestic teams around the world, as well as with the Sri Lanka national one, but he had neither played nor coached in England and knows the opposition players in this Ashes series far better than those he’s coaching.
There is a culture clash in the England side. The younger players tend to favour an attacking, expansive game it’s a style that they’ve grown up with and play naturally but the older players, and the lead bowlers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, have been schooled to take a more cautious approach.
England captain Alastair Cook, the type of person who ends up captain of a school team a reliable clean-cut chap, liked by team-mates, but not necessarily blessed with a lot of tactical nous or flair also instinctively favours the conservative approach. Mike Brearley has questioned whether Cook can summon the flair he feels is required to win the forthcoming series.
There is also a feeling among the media that this might be Cook’s final series as captain, although not as opening batsman, if England don’t regain the Ashes.
Australia start favourites, not least because, as holders, they only have to draw the series to retain the Ashes. The Aus-tralians look stronger, mainly because of their depth of quality pace bowling, although England have the greater depth in batting.
The Australian bowling resources were illustrated by talk that Mitchell Johnson at 33, likely to be playing his final Ashes series may not always make the final XI. This left-arm fast-bowler dominated Eng-land’s batsmen in the most recent Ashes series, during the winter of 2013/14, which England lost 5–0, and has maintained his form.
A late developer, prior to that series Johnson had taken 205 wickets in 51 matches at an average of 31 runs per wicket. Since then, he’s taken 86 wickets in 15 tests at an average of under 20.
England’s bowling potency has, for a long while, been overly reliant on James Anderson, with support from Stuart Broad. However much perhaps too much, too soon is hoped from Durham’s Mark Wood, a newcomer to the side. A quick, ‘skiddy’ bowler, who can bowl reverse swing from a short run-up in which pace is generated by a quick arm action he’s reminiscent of Simon Jones, one of the key players in England’s famous 2005 Ashes victory.
Wood, like Jones, has had injury problems: the 25-year-old has taken only 89 first-class wickets. Remember, however, that he’s only managed 26 first-class matches so far in his career, two of which were the Test matches earlier this summer against New Zealand. It’s possible this series could come down to the key bowlers on both sides remaining injury-free.