It’s been a Test summer like no other. Not necessarily because of what happened out on the field, but because of the work that went into putting the matches on.
Essentially two international cricket teams were locked up in a hotel that had a cricket ground in the backyard. That’s actually a good way of describing it – a grand form of backyard cricket, just with cameras, journalists and commentators.
Thanks must go to Cricket West Indies and the Pakistan Cricket Board for agreeing to travel to England. The ECB owes a great debt to both cricket boards, and I hope to see England touring the West Indies and Pakistan in the near future.
As for the cricket itself, England have done pretty well this summer. Sure, it’s a continuation of strong form in home conditions, but that shouldn’t take away from some top-class performances.
From Ben Stokes’s mastery with the bat and ball and in the field in the second Test against the West Indies to James Anderson surpassing 600 wickets and Zak Crawley’s maiden double century in the third Test against Pakistan, there’s been a fair bit for England supporters to smile about.
It hasn’t been completely smooth sailing though, and England shouldn’t use the high points to paper over the cracks of the low points.
The current England XI is like a cake that has all the ingredients but doesn’t rise properly. The recipe just needs to be tweaked so that it does.
In my preview of the series against the West Indies I wrote that, “Burns and Sibley look like the opening partnership England have been crying out for”.
While this is a comment I still stand by, I’m not immune to the fact that the opening partnership is wobbling more than it should.
In the West Indies series Burns averaged 46.8, scoring two fifties, while Sibley averaged 45.2, scoring a century and two fifties.
Compare this to the Pakistan series in which Burns only averaged five and a high score of ten and Sibley averaged 24.5 with a high score of 36.
Both will need to work on how to get through the new ball when conditions are challenging. Pakistan’s bowlers were stronger than the West Indies, but India’s bowlers will be stronger still, and this is a weakness that will be exploited.
England have found themselves a great No. 3 batsman in Zak Crawley. His 267 in the third Test against Pakistan was wonderful to watch, going up and down through the gears as and when the situation changed.
Crawley had worked hard on his game, travelling to India and Australia to improve his skills. Ironically, it was Joe Denly, the man Crawley replaced, who got in touch with Sydney Cricket Club two years ago to suggest Crawley would benefit from some time there.
As captain, Joe Root will obviously be pleased with Crawley’s good form, but as a batsman he will be pleased because Root can now bat at No. 4 now that England have found a decent No. 3 batsman.
Root has felt more comfortable batting at No. 4 for ages, and hopefully this will lead to an improvement in his batting performances, which have left a lot to be desired recently.
Ben Stokes didn’t play in the final two Tests of the summer due to family reasons, but he will be back.
While Chris Woakes, Dominic Bess and Stuart Broad have made good contributions down the order, England will be glad to not need to be a batsman light once Stokes returns.
Having Ben Stokes in the side means there’s less of a blow when the top order wobbles. By no means does this mean that Stokes should be relied upon like this, but should there be drama, he has a proven track record of steadying the ship.
It’s always good to have a backup plan should things not go as they should.
England could also do with Stokes back in the slip cordon after dropped catches from Burns and Crawley in the third Test against Pakistan.
Ollie Pope should stay in the side at No. 6 depending on the results of the scan on his left shoulder, which he hurt when fielding on the boundary on Monday.
If Pope has injured his shoulder and needs to be rested from the side, could that open the door for Jonny Bairstow’s re-inclusion into the side?
This is dependent on when the next Test match actually is. England are scheduled to tour Sri Lanka and India early next year, but no fixtures have been set in stone as yet.
But if Pope is unable to play on those tours, I think it would be good to see Bairstow back behind the stumps considering Jos Buttler hasn’t been the greatest of keepers recently.
The Yorkshireman is back playing for his county, scoring 75 in a recent game against Nottinghamshire. Depending on whether there is a requirement to keep the Test and one-day teams in separate bubbles, Bairstow seems like a good choice to replace Pope if need be.
That thought could be entirely hypothetical, but it’s something to consider.
Jos Buttler’s batting is what saves him from being dropped. His partnership with Chris Woakes in the first Test against Pakistan helped England over the line and a score of 152 in the third Test contributed to England’s first 500-plus score in three years.
It’s not the worst thing in the world if Buttler is still England’s wicketkeeper, but he does need to sharpen up his wicketkeeping.
Onto the bowlers now and, with Stokes back in the side there are four bowling spots up for grabs. Two of those are guaranteed for England’s two leading wicket-takers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad.
Yes, in a recent article, I said that Anderson should be dropped for the second Test against Pakistan, but I was proven wrong, wasn’t I? Anderson picked up his 29th
five-wicket haul in Pakistan’s first innings of the third Test before he took his 600th wicket in the second innings.
There’s a lot more still to come from the Burnley Express.
Broad was dropped for the first Test of the summer against the West Indies before going onto prove why that was a mistake, taking 16 wickets at an average of 10.93 in the remaining two matches of that series.
With Stokes, Broad, Anderson in and a spinner as well, that leaves one space remaining to complete the bowling attack. It looks like it’s between Jofra Archer, Tom Curran, Chris Woakes and Mark Wood for that spot.
However, as a tour to Sri Lanka is on the cards, England may look to add another spinner to the XI, in which case we would see Jack Leach join Dominic Bess in the side.
Leach was unfortunate to have been left out of the side on the tour of South Africa through no fault of his own, having fallen ill.
If all the tours that have been pencilled in do take place, it’s going to be a testing 2021 for England, as they play India and Australia away from home.
Add in a World Test Championship that’s up for grabs and we’ve got ourselves some exciting Test cricket to come.