Thursday, 8 October 2015

10 Years Since Edgbaston: Part 3

Thursday, 8 October 2015
Rarely has a tour been as much of a disaster as the 2013/14 Ashes whitewash. Rarely has a team crumbled so quickly and so completely, and especially after being convincing victors mere months before. But that's what happened. England were in the game after the first day of the first test. By the end of day two they were out of it, and would never get back in the series again.

Mitchell Johnson, the object of ridicule when England last visited, was unstoppable. 37 wickets at 13.97. England had no answer, no solution to his short sharp bursts of pure pace. Ryan Harris was just as important - 22 wickets at 19.31. The batsmen were dominant too: Haddin causing chaos in the lower order; Warner and Rogers doing the damage at the top; Clarke, Smith, and Watson all making centuries too.

England, meanwhile, were in complete and utter disarray. The team that had brought so much success in the previous four years was crumbling around them. Trott sadly went home after a single match with a stress related illness. Swann retired after three matches after averaging 80 with the ball. Prior was dropped after three matches, Bresnan played two, Tremlett one. There were echoes of the whitewash seven years earlier, where players so successful before now appeared as shadows of themselves. Conflict was brewing off the field too: grumblings about Swann abandoning the team halfway through, as well as never ending issues around Pietersen. About the only ray of hope to come out of the series was the emergence of Ben Stokes, a player who seemed to relish a fight, and showed his all round ability with a five wicket haul and England's only century of the series.

England entered a rebuilding stage again, and again with Peter Moores at the helm. The summer, though a mixed bag to begin with, ended brightly. Gary Ballance had been a surprise choice to fill the number three spot after Trott, with limited prior experience of the position, but looked the part with three centuries. Joe Root had put his winter behind him and led the way with the bat. Jos Buttler looked to be settling into test cricket straight away, and Liam Plunkett found success on his return to the international scene. In Moeen Ali England had found both a classy batsman and their first choice spinner. India had fallen away dramatically in the second half of the series, but at last for England, things were looking up.

But a return to form for the test side couldn't hide the problems facing the one day team. Part of the reason the Ashes had been moved a year earlier was to help England's preparation for the World Cup, rather than having it come at the end of a gruelling test tour – a bid to give England the best chance possible. But by the time of the World Cup it had come to nothing. Alastair Cook was sacked as captain with just weeks to go, and really shouldn't have been given the job in the first place – a much better player when the test team is his sole focus. England never knew their best side, preparing for the tournament one way and changing it up as soon as they got there. The talent was certainly in the team, but for whatever reason they were playing within themselves. It was the same old story, the plot England have followed at World Cups for years. They failed to make it past the group, not beating a single test nation along the way, looking outdated and left behind as other nations charged ahead. After a drawn test series against a West Indies side described as 'mediocre' by new ECB chairman Colin Graves, Peter Moores was out of the England job again.

Yet this summer, from the most unfancied of positions, England won the Ashes. With the help of Trevor Bayliss, Paul Farbrace, and even Brendon McCullum, England look like they're enjoying their cricket again. Results have been up and down – when they lose, they can lose very badly – but there's a sense of hope that prevails for the future. In all formats, players are given the freedom to express themselves in a way they seemed unable to before. In an age where players can appear too media-trained, the players' personalities are really starting to come through; gone is the often insular regime of Flower. And there have been the results on the pitch. A draw against New Zealand with a fantastic performance at Lord's, and then an ODI series victory where England reached new heights with the bat in hand. The Ashes victory topping it all off, an unexpected triumph as bowlers ran wild and skittled Australian batsmen. The following ODI series was lost, but taking the world champions to a deciding match was still an achievement after the horrors of the winter. Importantly, it felt like England were enjoying their cricket again, and it seemed that the public were enjoying it again too.

And so, ten years have passed since Edgbaston, and where are we now? Victors of a close Ashes series on the eve of one of cricket's toughest tests, playing Pakistan away from home – just as they were ten years before. But where last time it might have been and end of the story, this time it feels like the beginning. Players are at the early stages of their test careers, tasting the first fruits of their successes, and blending well with an experienced spine of the side. And there are the type of players who can capture people's imagination, just like 2005. An inspiring all rounder, capable of being a match winner with bat or ball. Batsmen with flair, who look like they can make things happen when they come to the crease. Bowlers capable of producing magic spells, of getting on top of the opposition and running away with the match. Could this team inspire a nation again, and come near the heights of the previous ten years? There is a lot still to be done. Time will have to be the judge.

But on the field right now, the future would appear bright. Off the field though, there can be just as many obstacles.

10 Years Since Edgbaston: Part 1, Part 2, Part 4, Part 5

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