And so the English home cricket season comes to a somewhat sombre end, albeit with a final high, and it’s safe to say our cricket corporate hospitality guests have seen one of England’s most interesting season’s. England have been replaced at the top of the Test rankings but moved to the top of the ODI rankings. Alistair Cook’s side have won 12 out of 14 completed matches this year, no mean feat given their performance at last year’s World Cup, and so it’s unsurprising that his was appointed England’s Test match captain after Strauss retired.
But the big worry now Strauss has gone is that the England team will miss his discipline and determination. One of the big reason’s behind South Africa’s success is the fact that there captain Graeme Smith has been captain since he was 22 – he’s now 31. It remains to be seen how Cook will fair but if his ODI record as England captain is anything to go by there’s plenty to look forward to. England also have a natural leader in Cook’s friend Stuart Broad who captains the Twenty20 side.
Broad led England to a 1-1 Twenty20 series draw in yesterday’s final game against South Africa and will be looking forward to moving on from the summer and ensuring England perform as well as they can at the upcoming Twenty20 World Cup in Sri Lanka this autumn. They’re reigning champions and currently ranked number one so, as usual, expectations will be high but with a solid win yesterday against world number 2 South Africa (sound familiar?!) and hopefully no more Kevin Pietersen style debacles they’ll be able to turn potential into performance.
Where to begin with the Kevin Pietersen saga? First he seemed to play a game of brinkmanship with his career over which forms of the game he’d play for England. Then the Textgate scandal in which he was not too complimentary (apparently) about his captain Straussy. And so Pietersen’s England career may now be looking well and truly over but it’s not all doom and gloom. The free time he’ll find himself with will allow him to play the whole season in the Indian Premier League – a deal reportedly worth around £1.5 million. He’ll also be able to play in the ‘Big Bash’, an Australian franchise Twenty20 tournament, in which he’ll earn a six-figure sum.
But yes, now for the Elephant in the room. We must also unfortunately address this year’s Test matches! The year started out as England’s with the stage set for cricket’s perennial underachievers to start a cricketing dynasty similar to the 80’s West Indies and 90’s Australian team. It started well enough against the West Indies despite criticism from some quarters that we were failing to properly dominate them. However this would be a tad unfair to the Windies and especially their star performers Marlon Samuels and Shivnarine Chanderpaul.
However England’s quest for dominance came unstuck against South Africa. There was much build up to the Test series and many predicted a close England win. The series was not as close as expected however with South Africa’s batsmen scoring big where it counts and their bowlers seemingly able to produce so much more off the field than England’s. But it does say it all really that Strauss retired at the end of the Test series, highlighting just how inadequate England’s performance was. One BBC Sport journalist, whilst singing the praises of South Africa captain Graeme Smith, even wrote “[the next series] is unlikely to result in the end of another English leader”. Smith is famous for retiring Nasser Hussein and Michael Vaughan but few would have thought he’d see Strauss retire after that Test series. Overall South Africa showed the consistency and confidence needed to top the rankings and look likely to stay there for some time. Of particular note was Hashim Amla who averaged a superhuman average of 116 for their Test and ODI series against England.
On the brighter side however Jonny Bairstow stood up to the task of replacing one of England’s most naturally gifted batsmen and scored a superb 95 in the midst of a crumbling England order. His 54 in the second innings also isn’t to be sniffed at. Although he was dropped for England’s next match, their 1st ODI against South Africa, his batting prowess against the world’s best bowling attack will undoubtedly stand him in good stead for the future.
And so that’s it for this summer’s season of cricket. It has by no means been a catastrophic year on the pitch although losing so convincingly to South Africa will undoubtedly be a surprise. What has been the key factor in this being a bad year for English cricket is the amount of controversy surrounding the team throughout the summer. It’s not all been bad but one can’t help think the ECB will be scratching their heads right now wondering how to make sense of it all.