As we wind down on the back of a rather miserable series Down Under for England, it’s important for any English cricket fan to pause and take stock of what has just happened. After a period of extended dominance in the Ashes, winning the urn three times in a row and being ranked the number one test team in the world for a few months, England have slumped to a humiliating defeat at the hands of their old enemies.
Why has this slump happened now after such a prolonged period of success? Well no doubt there will be endless analysis of what went wrong, who played poorly and how England could have played differently; but assessing the bigger picture, the answer is simple: England are in transition. Transition is a word that is thrown about a bit in relation to discussing team sports but at the very heart of the matter it involves one team evolving into another team. Now I’m not talking about one or two players leaving the team but numerous players departing or being replaced by a new crop of players.
There can be two types of transition. Sudden and gradual. These types of transition often take place not in isolation but in tandem and that is what I believe English cricket is experiencing. In late 2012, the then captain Andrew Strauss hung up his bat and retired from the game. At the start of this tour Jonathan Trott had to unfortunately depart due to a stress-related illness. Now Graeme Swann has retired and Matt Prior’s future looks to be in doubt after being dropped for the fourth test. If you think about it, four players who have been key for the recent years of success have all left the team in the space of twelve months.
The gradual transition of the Strauss era to Alistair Cook’s new team was well under way by the time three senior members became absent for the fourth test of the tour. This has led to England entering a rather nervy sudden transition where youth will need to be injected quickly into the side to avoid stagnation and to replace the old guard. In effect, Cook will have to build ‘his team’ much earlier than many predicted. Add in to the mix the fact that James Anderson, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen are all in their thirties and will not be ever present in the next decade, and the England dressing room is in line for several new faces.
However, let’s not get too hasty. I firmly believe that Anderson, Bell and Pietersen will continue to contribute for a few more years and Prior and Trott have not retired, they have merely left the team and could well return to the line-up in future matches. So it’s not all bad in the England dressing room; yes they have just been handed an absolute drubbing at the hands of the Australian team, but the departure of players from the Strauss era gives Cook a chance to rejuvenate the England team. It gives him a chance to create a new team that is ‘his team’ not the remnants of a team inherited from Strauss.
Looking closer, this process has already started. The addition of young batsmen like Joe Root and Ben Stokes has already happened and both have made fine starts to their Test careers. Indeed not spectacular starts, but decent starts nonetheless with Root hitting two test hundreds in 2013 and Stokes scoring a gritty 120 in the third test of this current series.
The departure of Swann gives England a chance to incorporate a new spinner into the team. Perhaps Monty Panesar might be given a long run of games but it seems more likely that we will see the emergence of spinners such as Danny Briggs, Scott Borthwick and Simon Kerrigan into the England team as regulars, providing they can perform. Replacing Prior could be tricky, but Jonny Bairstow has donned the gloves before and Craig Kieswetter has performed well for England behind the stumps in the limited overs format so perhaps they will be given the chance to nail down a starting spot in Cook’s new test team.
Even looking at Cook’s selection of his team for the fifth and final test shows us that this process is well and truly underway. Looking at the team Michael Carberry, Gary Ballance, Ben Stokes, Scott Borthwick and Boyd Rankin are all new faces that have been brought into the team this series. Add in to the mix young talents in the form of Jonny Bairstow, Steven Finn and Joe Root who have all played important parts for England already then you cannot shy away from the fact that England are a changing side. However, what I would argue is that amongst this group of upcoming players there is an immense pool of talent for England selectors to cast their rod into.
No doubt losing the Ashes to Australia and the departures of Swann and Trott have handed England fans a kick in the teeth. However, as we head into the New Year there is reason for optimism. A new year… a new team… the transition from Strauss to Cook has now properly begun and England fans should look forward to some new talent wearing the Three Lions proudly in the coming months.