So another test summer is done and dusted. Early on Sri Lanka were easily dismissed until the last test at Lords where they showed some backbone and gumption to earn a draw. Previously they were cannon fodder putting up minimal (and that’s being generous) resistance up at Headingley and Durham, though to be fair to them the conditions they had to play in during those first two tests were as alien as could be for the tourists, I’m sure it will be reciprocated when England next visit Sri Lanka.
A DIFFERENT PAKISTAN
Next up came some real opposition in Pakistan, a side England lost to in the UAE. Now to be fair even though this series was going to be much more competitive, it was still expected that England in their home conditions would prevail with a win, if not necessarily as comfortable as earlier in the summer. What followed was a superb series which ended in a 2-2 draw. The tourists fronted up magnificently and arguably deserved to win the series. Pakistan played superbly in winning at Lords but then lost the next two tests at Old Trafford first, where they capitulated after England put on a massive first innings total and then whilst in pole position at Edgbaston (an over 100 runs first innings lead), they crumbled on the last day. However at the Oval they dominated from start to finish, this time gaining a 200+ first innings lead before finishing off in style by knocking off a nominal 40 runs to win the match and retain the series trophy. Captain Misbah ul-Haq is such an outstanding leader of men and with the return of Mohammad Amir, emergence of young opener Sami Aslam as well as the added experience of players such as Younis Khan and Azhar Ali, the immediate future looks good. They could even be the number one test team in the world come the end of this summer which would be an amazing achievement for a team that does not even play test matches in their own country.
Whilst Pakistan were superb, England were their usual inconsistent best. Their batting at times was a joke. Alastair Cook and Joe Root are world class, unfortunately the rest in the top five are not. Alex Hales after a couple of 90s against Sri Lanka had a poor series, James Vince looks out of his depth and Gary Ballance, brought in after Nick Compton was dropped, managed only one significant innings over the series, their places are up for discussion. This was covered by the superb batting of the lower middle order – Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali and Chris Woakes but as was seen through the series they cannot always be expected to do this. Their field cricket flattered to deceive too. FAR TOO MANY DROPPED CATCHES!!! It is hard enough getting 20 wickets, so trying to get 21,22,23…. and so on – you make things much harder for yourself. The bowling has been decent, though not always on the money, but England have plenty of seam resources. One thing is for sure the bowling was miles better than the batting and if I was one of them I would be furious with the so called frontline batters. Chris Woakes was the outstanding bowler over the series, James Anderson and Stuart Broad were a bit subdued and Ben Stokes was injured for two of the tests. Spin is a massive issue; Moeen Ali is adequate but also very expensive. Sourcing further options for the Bangladesh and India winter tours is key.
LACK OF RESPECT?
So an opportunity missed for England in my opinion, especially as there was an outside chance for them to go to number one in the world. A worry for me is the complacency, maybe even arrogance at times England have shown through the series. None more so than at the Oval when after getting 2-1 up in the series, winning the toss on an overcast day, with a weather forecast for sunshine for the second and third days, meaning very likely the best days to bat (they were), captain Alastair Cook decided to bat. For me a strange decision smacking of wanting to allow certain England players more opportunities rather than going for the jugular and trying to roll out Pakistan, who would have still had the Edgbaston collapse fresh in their minds, and go a long way to winning the series. The decision making axis of coach Trevor Bayliss, assistant Paul Farbrace and captain Cook has to be questioned constructively when poor performances / days occur and this has happened on far too regular an occasion this series. They have been an excellent triumvirate for England so far but now is the time the team must push on and become consistent or the goal of becoming the number one test team in the world and retaining the Ashes in Australia in the winter of 2017-18 will be a pipe dream. Plenty of work to do then, questions that need answering and problems to be solved.
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