Thursday, 24 September 2015

10 Years Since Edgbaston: Part 2

Thursday, 24 September 2015
England started 2009 about as low as low could be. Pietersen and Moores had fallen out and both been sacked, confusion and rumour was rife off the pitch, and then on the field they collapsed to 51 all out in the first test in the West Indies. The humiliation looked complete.

Maybe it's because that moment was so low, when it felt like things couldn't possibly get worse, that it's seen as the start of England's journey to the top. Shortly afterwards Strauss and Flower were handed the permanent helm, the pair who would lead England with such success over the next few years. The captain's batting also seemed to flourish under the new-found responsibility – three centuries coming in the rest of the series, and also making a mark when taking the reigns on return to the ODI side. Strauss had, of course, briefly been in charge before with success – against Pakistan in 2006 – only for Flintoff to resume the mantle for the winter Ashes tour. He was probably the wiser choice as captain then, and probably the wiser choice when Pietersen took the reigns. But now, at last he had his chance.

And indeed, the only way was up. By the end of the summer, England held the Ashes once again. Statistically, they had been the weaker team: two centuries scored compared Australia's eight; none of the top three wicket takers; and only one of the top seven run scorers (though it was Strauss, with 474, who headed the list). But England came through at the right moments. In Cardiff, where Collingwood became Brigadier Block and Anderson and Panesar became unlikely heroes of the final hour. At Lord's, where the openers took England off to a flyer and Flintoff bowled and bowled, with a five wicket haul in his last test at the home of cricket. At the Oval, where Broad produced his first truly magic spell; where the debutant Trott scored a century after coming in at 39/3; and where Swann spun England to victory. Of course, there was an innings defeat inside three days as well, but England pulled through in that decider. Though Flintoff was a star, running out Ricky Ponting in his final match, this wasn't a glorious finale like 2005. This was just the start.

The rise to the top had begun. With Swann, England had found a spinner capable of far more than merely holding up an end. Anderson was becoming a fine leader of the attack, and Broad was capable of producing magic spells. Collingwood would never say die – helping England draw two tests at nine wickets down against South Africa, a series drawn 1-1 that could easily have been a 3-1 defeat. Strauss led from the front, Cook and Trott helped grind opponents down, Pietersen added a touch of flair, and Ian Bell was finally shaking his reputation for flakiness. There were an array of bowlers breaking through too, in and around the side: Onions, Finn, Shahzad, Tremlett, Bresnan.

There was even the elusive global tournament win, the World Twenty20 in 2010. It was a win I'm not sure anyone quite expected, but England had found their formula that worked. The left arm option of Sidebottom seen as key. Two spinners, Swann and Yardy, for pace off the ball. The tricks of Sidebottom, Broad, and Bresnan, bowling slower-ball bouncers batsmen just couldn't get away. Batsmen were brought in for the occasion and given freedom at the top – Lumb and Kieswetter making their debuts at the start of the tournament, and the latter picking up man of the match in the final. Pietersen at his best, picking up the player of the tournament award, and Morgan proving himself as one of the most exciting and inventive batsmen on the international stage. The wait was over, an international trophy finally in England's hands.

For the test team, the finest hour game the following winter. England won the Ashes in Australia, for the first time since 1986/7. And they dominated. The three tests they won were all by an innings, and in Brisbane they drew after amassing 517/1, a score that looked ridiculous then and looks ridiculous now. Alastair Cook was the star of the show, scoring 766 runs at an average of 126.66 – but all the batsmen were chipping in, and the bowlers had a field day too. Anderson proved he could deliver away from English conditions, with 24 wickets at 26.04. Tremlett replaced the injured Broad, his first tests since 2007, and picked up 17 wickets at 23.35 – a dangerous weapon with pace and bounce. Finn was the leading wicket-taker with 14 when replaced by Bresnan, who then picked up 11 at 19.54. On Boxing Day, Australia were bowled out for 98. It's probably one of my all time favourite cricket scores. With Swann's Ashes diaries and the sprinkler dance, there was a feel good factor about the team – winning, and enjoying themselves. At the end of the following summer, after victory over Sri Lanka and a whitewash over India, England were number one.

But just like they had after 2005, England came back to earth with a crash. The bowlers performed well, but the batsmen collectively failed on the most almighty scale. Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehmann literally put them in a spin, and they had no answer. The worst came in the second test, dismissed for 72 chasing just 145. The approach to the chase was wrong from the off – simply no attack to it, and no way to face the spinners. After the summer, the number one spot was no longer theirs as South Africa came to steal the crown. Off the field events stole the show, and it was also a farewell to Andrew Strauss, retiring after 100 tests.

Alastair Cook took the reigns, a man marked as a Future England Captain since his debut and even before. Success was immediate – a 2-1 victory in India, one of the highest achievements any team could make. Pietersen was 'reintegrated' after the summer, playing one of his great innings with 186 in Mumbai. Cook led from the front with the bat, scoring three centuries and averaging 80. A young Joe Root made his debut in Nagpur, straight away looking the part. A drawn series in New Zealand to follow was a disappointment, but the return series at home saw England as comfortable victors – an inspired bowling display with New Zealand 68 all out, after seven wickets from Broad, being the highlight. England won the Ashes 3-0 on the back of three centuries from Bell and with the bowlers at times tearing through the Australian line-up. Cracks were starting to appear, but could easily be covered up. They'd won 3-0 without playing their best cricket, what could they achieve when they really performed to their ability?

10 Years Since Edgbaston: Part 1Part 3, Part 4, Part 5
Where Are We Now?

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