Friday, 18 December 2015

10 Years Since Edgbaston: Where Are We Now?

Friday, 18 December 2015
Over the past few months I've looked back at the past ten years of English cricket, since those glorious days in the summer of 2005 that captured the nation, and the Edgbaston test hailed as one of the best of all time. It's been a period with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows on the field, and with many bumps coming off the field as well. Now I turn to the present, asking simply: where are we now?

England's journey on the field over the past decade has never been plain sailing. The glory of the summer of 2005 soon came to a juddering halt against Pakistan in the winter, and the cycle of brilliant highs and crushing lows has only repeated itself over the past ten years. England have had some of their finest achievements on the face of it: five Ashes wins, including one away from home; topping the world rankings; beating India in India. But so too have there been some of their most abject of failures, particularly the two Ashes whitewashes and the 3-0 loss to Pakistan in 2012, just months after topping the world rankings. In the shortened forms it's most often been a story of misery, apart from the odd exception – the World Twenty20 in 2010 being the most memorable. More often, world cups have been repeats of themselves, with England simply never looking up to the task.

Right now England seem to be on the beginning of their journey. An Ashes win is already under their belts, but they've still lost more tests this year than they've won. They're a work in progress, and certainly there is a lot of talent around. There's even hope that they might have sorted out their one day game too, playing with a freedom and expressiveness unheard of for an England ODI side. And maybe there is that trace of 2005 in them – players capable of winning the match with bat or ball, an all rounder who could do it with both. Players who are likeable, showing their personality and expressing themselves on the field. Still there are pieces of the puzzle to fill in – in the test side especially, the batting line-up is shaky to say the least. They look capable of racking up a big score if the players come off, or being bundled out for not-very-many when they don't. There are still question marks over spin, too. There's definitely something to be excited about there, but only time will tell how good they are. And if they are good enough, the challenge will be to make their success last – something they haven't managed to do in these past ten years.

Off the field, the outlook is less bright. In many ways, it's hard to see how the fan's view of the ECB could be any worse right now. A lot of damage has been done, and especially so in the more recent years. And there are many issues that still need to be solved; difficult issues where there is no clear answer. How to resolve the domestic structure, in a way that will keep the players, the fans, and the administrators happy and actually work? What would the best Twenty20 competition be, and how can we make the County Championship best serve the test team? Right now it doesn't seem like any group is winning. What is the way forward at grass roots level – the best way to inspire new players and have more people playing the game regularly? Coaching has improved, but numbers have fallen. What about cricket on television – is there a way that even a small amount of live action can make it on a free channel? And what about the 'Big Three' and the future of the international game as a whole?

Cricket is vastly different to where it was ten years ago, and will surely be vastly different in ten years' time as well. Who could have known how big Twenty20 would become, the leagues it would spawn, the effect it would have on the way cricket is played in other formats? 2015 has seen its own beginning: the first day-night test match, played with a pink ball. And though the ball has had a mixed reception, the stadium was packed, paving the way for more. It may not reach England, but could have a great impact in other parts of the world and help fill the seats once again. Where will England be in another ten years? If the next decade turns out anything like these past ten years, then it will be impossible to predict. But I'll be in it for the whole ride.

10 Years Since Edgbaston: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

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