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Opinion

England enters a new phase of Test cricket

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Roar Guru
27th November, 2019
22

For a handful of years, a frantic scurry to overhaul the tame exit at the 2015 World Cup saw England go all-in, knowing the next chapter was at home.

Out went the classy, dependable types – always better suited to the longer form anyway – replaced by the fearless and bold. It was a necessary change that highlighted the shift from previous eras of the format.

Enormous scores and sheer pace became the obsession, and while the plan wasn’t flawless, they never wavered from it. The injection of new coach Trevor Bayliss had the home World Cup at front of mind, leading a unit that vowed to express themselves and chase down any score. The concept of total cricket was conceived. No amount of runs would be too great, no objective too ambitious.

Fast forward to that unimaginable day at Lord’s this year. Regardless of your age, you will probably never witness anything like it again. Despite the extraordinary circumstances, England were declared winners. A tick for the Bayliss appointment, a tick for the attractiveness of English cricket and a tick for grapsing the most elusive prize throughout their history.

The ECB sure won’t be losing sight of the white-ball stuff either, as the T20 World Cup approaches. Adding the much-discussed Hundred competition, retaining the domestic T20 Blast and allowing a swag of names to contribute in overseas leagues – particularly the upcoming BBL season – ensures ideal preparation for the next ICC tournament.

Expectations will be reduced from the World Cup just passed, but the cricket world still anticipates a strong English display, wielding such unprecedented batting power.

Among this devastating white-ball success – where most of the available resources have seemingly been allocated in recent times – remains a middling Test outfit continually trying to get its house in order. The air of fallibility occupies the minds of fans and press, with a case of here we go again, as consistency between days of cricket is a dream, let alone consistency across entire matches.

England are still reliable at home. Familiar conditions are beautifully exploited by renowned quicks, where visiting batsmen struggle. But the search for stability in the Test side continues. It is imperative this format is prioritised by new coach Chris Silverwood and captain Joe Root.

England captain Joe Root.

(Julian Finney/Getty Images)

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The right initial steps have been taken, although the finished product is some distance away. With consistency lacking in the Test arena, plenty lies ahead for England if they intend to reach Lord’s come the final of the ICC World Test Championship. The quality of other contending teams could make that a bridge too far, though.

It can’t happen overnight – this side must improve its basics by batting long and containing the hefty totals frequently posted by opponents.

However, are high expectations for Test cricket unrealistic as the modern schedule feasts off a diet rich in white-ball cricket?

Squeezing in four domestic competitions will not be done with ease, and the County Championship appears well down the list of priorities.

The ingredients of this line-up are forming, though. Finally, a top three built for Test match batting appears set. Trying well over a dozen openers since Andrew Strauss’ retirement in 2012 is a poor look, even if a side like Australia has had similar problems. Through a revolving door of top order and wicketkeeping options, instability has cruelled this side.

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Dom Sibley is a true opener and has got there through time at the crease and runs for an extended period. Rory Burns proved an astute selection by adapting to Test cricket in this year’s Ashes series. No matter how unfashionable, the duo have the mettle to display proper Test match batting.

Thirty-three-year-old Joe Denly brings a long, solid county career to a climax by looking equipped for the task. Just this week the trio consumed 663 deliveries in the fruitless first Test, with Denly in particular grinding superbly, while Sibley has built a game around this exact skill.

The realisation is already happening – the profitable gung-ho approach of slapping the ball around in shorter forms ultimately cannot withstand Test attacks and conditions. The middle order is a luxury of scoring power, and can benefit from top-order platforms, which England wasted at the Bay Oval.

Players finally seem content in their favoured positions, too. Denly has spent most of his domestic career at three, and Joe Root at four is his preference. This more conventional, balanced line-up could be the tonic.

The form of their captain has dipped ever since he assumed the role. This is well known. Whether he is the best fit remains to be seen, but the drums are already beating. There may be more appropriate options, but testing expeditions to India and Australia in the next 24 months will answer that, or change may happen even sooner.

The end of a dominant period came with the whitewash defeat in the 2013-14 Ashes series. Since then, England has a Test winning percentage of 43.

There is a long road ahead for this side, and featuring at Lord’s come June 2021 should be the number one goal.

But is it?

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