Josh Russell reflects on the painful Winter Ashes series and ponders how England can revive themselves as a red-ball powerhouse.
Whether you enjoy red-ball cricket or not, The Ashes is still marked in the calendars of every cricket fan across the country. So, on the 8th of December – armed with copious amounts of energy drinks – I set in for 25 days of exciting test cricket, ready to relive glorious ashes series of the past.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t naively hopeful for this Ashes. Something felt different. The stars seemed to be aligning at just the right time. Captain Joe Root’s ‘Golden Summer’ of 661 test runs in 6 matches including three centuries; Jimmy Anderson’s probable farewell to the Ashes in Australia and the return and the return of the talismanic Ben Stokes meant like me, English cricket fans up and down the country tuned in ready for a fierce battle down under.
However, this pipedream of an England win on Australian soil, harking back to the incredible series in 2011 captained by Andrew Strauss, lasted all of 5 minutes. As Mitchell Starc trundled in, bowling a half volley right on the pads of Rory Burns, English cricket fans watched in despair as the opening batsman stepped across, completely misjudging the ball and, like the rest of us, looked on dumbfounded as the bails were sent flying. But the first test couldn’t get any worse, right? Wrong. Only 50 overs later England were all out for 147, before rain brought an end to a miserable day for the touring side. The rest of the test followed suit, with Australia only needing 20 runs from their second innings to win, doing so with 9 wickets to spare.
A changed team for the second and third tests did precious little to aid the Three Lions, losing by 275 runs and an innings and 14 runs respectively. Jhye Richardson took his first test fifer and Marnus Labuschagne proved his mettle with a century in the second test, whilst debutant bowler Scott Boland increased Australia’s lead to 3-0 at the MCG with outstanding figures of 6/7 off only 4 overs.
The fourth test, despite being plagued by bad weather, gave England fans something to cheer about as a sensational century from Bairstow forced a draw out of the Aussies. Nothing typifies being an England fan in any sport more than celebrating a draw like a win. However, England reverted to form for the fifth and final test of the series. Australia won comfortably by 146 runs after England were once again skittled for 188 and 124 runs, where even the inclement bad weather couldn’t save some pride for Joe Root’s men.
I like to think of myself as a glass half full kind of man, and so I’ve tried to look for some silver linings in such an abysmal test series. Due to bad weather and England being just so awful, I didn’t have to watch a full 25 days of cricket, saving me countless hours of sleep in the process. Furthermore, on a more serious note, I think this series has really highlighted to the ECB just how dire the red-ball situation is in England. There is no point investing in the various other short forms of cricket if it’s at a detriment to the flagship test team. After all, the idea of investing in white-ball cricket was to bring more fans to longer forms of the game. We’re ODI World Cup champions, up amongst the favourites to win the T20 world cup this summer, yet can’t even win a single test against an Australia side that at times looked all out at sea? We have a plethora of talent at the county level to bring to the England set-up. Batsman Tom Haines, the top run scorer of the 2021 championship and gloveman Harry Swindells are in my opinion needed additions to the test side. Opening batsmen and wicket keepers are two areas where England are desperate for quality. Buttler looked old and worn whilst Burns and Hammed added little in the opening two batting positions throughout the Ashes, and I think some fresh faces from the county set-up would bolster the lineup. Also, using more new faces from lower levels of cricket would attract those who are tempted by foreign money to stay in the England setup, improving the quality of test cricket in England for years to come.
Seismic changes are needed in English test cricket before Australia come with their baggy greens, bats and Scotty Bolands to the fields of England in a few summers time.
Image Credits: Ollie Nicholls, Photo of the Oval Cricket Ground, Summer 2021