Thursday, 17 September 2015

10 Years Since Edgbaston: Part 1

Thursday, 17 September 2015
Edgbaston, 2005. It was a match that became hailed as one of the greatest tests of all time, in a series also hailed as one of the best. It was the summer when cricket gripped the nation, capturing the public's imagination and being a topic on people's lips. Just think of the scenes on the final day of that third test at Old Trafford, crowds of people lining the streets in the hope of seeing an England win. Remember the final test at The Oval as people climbed on roofs just to get a peek at the action. Imagine the response of the public as an open-top bus parade was awarded to both the men's and women's teams, having each broken their long Ashes ducks. Players were turned into heroes, the nation giving their hearts to players like Flintoff and Pietersen.

Maybe I look back on it with rose-tinted glasses somewhat. I was just eleven at the time, lured in by the optimism and the feeling that it might become a new golden era for English cricket – Australia toppled at last, now England's turn to shine. Cricket was supposed to reach new levels of popularity, capitalising on the increased interest of the public after such a thrilling series. But ever since those golden days in the summer of 2005, any progress is best described as bumpy. This summer marked ten years since the test and the series dubbed as one of the greatest of all time; and so it's been a summer with full of nostalgia, reliving those tests that will never be forgotten. In this series I will attempt to tell the tale of what has happened since, and will start by looking at the events on the pitch.

It turned out that the Ashes win was just to be the crowning moment, as straight away England fell back down to earth with a bump. The team that had played the first four tests of the Ashes series and put England 2-1 were never to play together again. Simon Jones had already played his final match for England – a career of just 18 tests, but whose impact will not be forgotten. In Pakistan they were met with a rampant Shoaib Akhtar, bowling at his best, and England's hot streak of six consecutive series wins came to an end. Though a 1-1 draw away in India was a fantastic achievement, especially for a rather makeshift eleven, the team that had been so successful for England was fast crumbling away. The team of 2006 looked markedly different to the team of the year before: Vaughan missing throughout with a knee injury; depression sadly taking its toll on Marcus Trescothick; Giles absent; (Geraint) Jones dropped in the late summer; and the talisman Flintoff also missing through injury in the second half of the summer.

Yet by the time England arrived in Australia, the selectors appeared determined to put out the same eleven that had won the Ashes a year before; to capture the spirit of 2005 rather than face the reality of 2006. Jones returned to the team after Chris Read was given just two matches against Pakistan, only to then be replaced again after making a pair in Perth. Giles replaced Panesar despite the latter impressing during the summer, and was then dropped after the second test. Anderson was rushed into the team after missing the summer through a stress fracture, taking two wickets in two games before he too was dropped. Flintoff captained the side, often looking lost at sea. The defeat in the second test at Adelaide perhaps hurt the worst: despite scoring over 500 in their first innings, the second innings would see them collapse to a measly 129. There was no way back from that. Whitewashed. The misery continued at the World Cup later in the winter, that familiar pattern of England being behind the times in the shortened form. The infamous pedalo incident provided merely another stick to beat them with.

England then entered what was to be the first of many new eras over the past ten years. Peter Moores became coach for the first time and soon demonstrated his skill at spotting talent, recalling Ryan Sidebottom for the second test of the 2007 summer after six years in the wilderness. Later in the year Graeme Swann also received a call up, nearly eight years after being another player discarded under Fletcher, and made his test debut in India the following winter. In New Zealand, Anderson and Broad were chosen ahead of Harmison and Hoggard – the moment often seen as the 'changing of the guard' for England's pace attack. Looking back now, it appears as the time of transition - the key players under Fletcher approaching their final years, key players under Flower starting to have greater impacts.

Of course, it wasn't all positive. There were the grumblings about Moores' credentials – his lack of international experience as a player criticised – as well as his coaching style, later described in Pietersen's book as being a 'human triple espresso'. Episodes like the selection of Darren Pattinson seemed to show a lack of communication between captain and coach, Vaughan's demise indeed coming soon after.

Kevin Pietersen became England captain. It may have been because he was the only batsman who looked certain of his place in the team: Strauss just having saved his career that year; Cook seen as a future leader, but only 23; Bell always teetering around the brink; Collingwood only having saved his place in the previous game. He brought immediate success with a consolation victory in the final test and a 4-0 win in the one day series that followed, but the winter in India brought trouble. Pietersen showed his leadership off the field as England returned to India following terrorist attacks that had cut the one day series short, but on the field he struggled. Brilliant innings from Tendulkar and Sehwag helped India chase down a total of 387 with ease, whilst England were all at sea. A conflict was brewing between captain and coach.

Of course, the story has been told before. The episode went down in infamy, the first installment of a saga lasting years. Both Pietersen and Moores left their posts, their positions untenable, and Strauss and Flower became the new pair taking the reigns.

England were hitting rock bottom, but a new journey was about to begin.

10 Years Since Edgbaston: Part 2Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
Where Are We Now?

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