As cricketing summers go, England have not had a bad one. Convincing wins over Sri Lanka in both the Test and ODI series were followed up by an enthralling drawn Test series against Pakistan and a crushing ODI victory over the same opposition.
While the ignominious loss in the final T20 match of the summer may have slightly rained on England’s parade, Trevor Bayliss and his team can rightly be proud of what they have achieved over a fairly gruelling summer of international cricket.
However, some of the questions that fans, pundits and selectors were asking in May remain without answer. While England appear to have, almost overnight, developed an incredibly deep pool of talent in both the ODI and T20 formats, issues remain over the make-up of the Test side.
Opener Alex Hales showed promising signs against a developing Sri Lankan bowling attack but old weaknesses against the red ball were once again exposed by Pakistan’s extraordinarily talented bowling unit. With mounting calls for selectors to find yet another replacement partner for Alastair Cook, Lancashire starlet Haseeb Hameed has seen his sparkling debut County Championship season thrust him into the running to partner Cook for the winter tours of Bangladesh and India.
The precociously talented teenager has all the makings of a Test opener, but is it too soon to ask 19 year old Hameed to face up to some of the world’s most challenging cricketing conditions?
Similar questions have been asked of England’s middle order batsmen. While Joe Root continues to show why many view him as the most complete batsman England have ever produced and Jonny Bairstow maintains his obscenely lengthy purple patch, the likes of Gary Ballance and James Vince have yet to produce any evidence that they deserve their places in the English middle order.
Ballance has done little to nothing to change the technical flaws that saw him dropped from the Test side, while Vince has cemented his reputation as a highly aesthetic batsman but one lacking the true substance and grit required of a genuine Test batsman. Both might still come good but the plethora of talented English batsmen currently scoring runs for fun in the County Championship might see this as their chance to stake a claim for an international berth.
Durham’s Keaton Jennings, now qualified to play for England, and Scott Borthwick have both enjoyed strong seasons with the bat and would back themselves to make an impact in the England setup. Likewise, Alex Lees at Yorkshire has experienced somewhat of a resurgence and Northamptonshire’s Ben Duckett has shown shades of Pietersen-esque batting flamboyance, albeit against Division Two bowling attacks. Meanwhile, the names of Essex’s Tom Westley, Kent’s Sam Northeast and his teammate Daniel Bell-Drummond continue to be bandied around as potential future England stars.
For perhaps the first time in over a decade, Bayliss and the England selectors face the enviable task of choosing from a surfeit of talented up-and-comers from across the County Championship to bolster the ranks of their beleaguered batting order.
One thing is certain though, changes should be made if England plan to revive their Test fortunes in the manner that they have done with their limited overs sides. There is clearly no shortage of talent, both outside and from within. Few teams in the world would turn down the likes of Alastair Cook, Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and James Anderson but world class individual players do not necessarily guarantee a world class team.
It may be an old cliché that cricket is an individual pursuit disguised as a team game, but if England are to regain their title as the world’s best Test cricket team they will need eleven men who can all individually pull their weight.
Image courtesy of Herry Lawford