Positive signs for improving England

Positive signs for improving England

Morning all. The return to routine following holiday can be truly brutal at times, can’t it? Three days ago I was sitting in an infinity pool, staring peacefully at mist-covered mountains with a cool mezcalito by my side. Today, I am sitting at my desk, staring half-asleep at my computer with nothing but a glass of water and a lukewarm coffee to keep me refreshed. Why is it that most of us, myself included, spend far more time doing the latter rather than the former? One of life’s great conundrums.

Yesterday, England wrapped up a routine win over the West Indies in the third test match at a rainy Old Trafford, securing a 2-1 series victory in the process. In truth, the result was never in doubt from the moment England reduced the tourists to 73-5 after posting 369 in the first innings. The West Indies were brilliant in winning the first test, and fought bravely in the second. But it seems that this was a match too far for a talented but young and largely inexperienced group.

From England’s perspective, it was an encouraging series that bodes well for the tougher challenges that lie ahead. Next month, a strong Pakistan team will visit for a three-match test series. There will then be a clutch of one-day internationals before the team travels to India for a five-match series against the world’s number 3 ranked team. A year later, of course, England will face off against Australia in an attempt to win their first Ashes series down under in over a decade.

The most obvious and encouraging factor of this latest triumph was the batting. So long an Achilles heel for English test sides of the past, the team posted 469/9 dec in the first innings of the second test and more than 300 on a further two occasions. Both of their victories were set up by big scores in the first innings of the match, which provided a strong platform for the bowlers to attack the West Indies’ fragile batting lineup.

More often than not, the foundations were set by the two openers. Rory Burns scored 234 runs at an average of 46 in the series, while Dom Sibley contributed 226 at 45. They shared opening stands of 72 and 114 in first and third tests respectively, easing the pressure on the middle order and immediately putting their team on front foot. In Burns and Sibley, England finally appear to have found a partnership to replace the Alistair Cook-Andrew Strauss axis that took them to the top of the world rankings in 2011.

There were also strong performances further down the order. Ben Stokes, now the world’s top-ranked all-rounder, scored a mighty 363 runs at an average of 90, while Joe Root played brilliantly in the second innings of the final test to score a quickfire 68 not out of just 56 balls. Those two are established international cricketers, but it is nevertheless important that they continue to perform.

At six, young Ollie Pope looks to be a huge talent. After struggling in the first two tests, he scored a brilliant 90 in the final game in a game-changing partnership of 140 with Jos Buttler. The 22 year-old now has a test average of 47 after seven tests, including one hundred and three fifties. If there is space for one more specialist batsman in the side – probably a necessity on the hard pitches of Australia next winter – then it would probably go to Zak Crawley. The Kent man scored a nice 76 in the first test and could count himself slightly unfortunate to be left out of the decider.

Meanwhile, the bowling line up looks as strong as its ever been. Particularly the seamers. Stuart Broad took a quite ridiculous 10-67 in the final test, going past 500 test wickets and proving to the selectors that his skills remain in tact despite his advancing years. Jimmy Anderson was solid, taking 5 wickets at an average of 30, and crucially looks to be returning to his physical peak after a injury-disrupted 18 months. Chris Woakes took 5-50 on the final day, proving his elite skills with the Duke ball in English conditions. Jofra Archer did not have the best series, but his raw talent and frightening pace will doubtless be a huge asset in Australia.

With a tour of India coming up, there might be some concern about the lack of a settled spinner in the side. Somerset’s Dom Bess got the nod in this series, but failed to nail down his position with just five wickets at an average of 41. It would not be a surprise to see Ashes hero Jack Leach or Moeen Ali given an opportunity against Pakistan next month.

So all in all, a good series for England. After years of chopping and changing in a desperate attempt to stem the flow of batting collapses, England finally appear to have five of their top six settled and scoring runs. The bowlers continue to excel. In turn, they are winning more matches and climbing up the rankings. Hopefully that can continue as I am really sick of watching them get battered down under. There is, after all, nothing worse than contented Australian sports fans.

Alrightyroo, that’s all for today folks. See you on Friday when, barring any earth-shattering news, I expect I’ll be previewing the Snooker World Championship at the Crucible. Stay both tuned and safe.