“The next few weeks would be as important for England cricket as ever. While their limited-overs side is going places, the Test side has hit a rough patch and they will need to regroup quickly especially with a buoyed Virat Kohli-led Indian outfit prepping up to conquer the English later this year”.
Let’s face it. The Ashes drubbing was a huge low for England cricket. They had brushed aside South Africa and West Indies and even without the domineering presence of Ben Stokes, England were expected to fight better, fare better. Yet, a 4-0 loss was in more ways than one, a bolt from the blue for a team which prided on their Test competency.
Lack of real pace and intent from their seamers, the inability of their batsmen to step up and the downright shoddy show of Moeen Ali, a big factor in their team balance in home games, all led to a gargantuan disaster.
The series has closed out and Australia are battling it out against South Africa in South Africa as England, fresh from an ODI series victory against the Kiwis, take them on in Tests. In many ways, this series is even more crucial for England than New Zealand although the latter plays very few Tests in a year.
England have a point to prove. There was scything criticism, and understandably so, after their Ashes debacle, and the team needs to regroup. They haven’t left Australiasia yet in what is turning out to be a tiresome long tour but the stakes are as high as the Ashes with fans hoping that England find their feet back after being pushed from the precipice in Australia.
James Anderson, the vice-captain, made a very notable point in the buildup to the Tests.
“Most teams I’ve played in, the vice-captaincy didn’t mean people talking anymore or other people talking less,” Anderson said. “It’s a group effort, a team, we need everybody’s input – Alastair Cook’s input, Stuart Broad, and we need the younger guys to start chirping up a bit more, to be honest and having some more input. That’s what we want to do as a team – get to a point where everyone has their say. We’ve got an open and honest dressing-room, all we’re trying to do is improve this team.”
For England, in particular, this holds true. The younger group of players impressed in bits and pieces in Australia but if they want to feel belonged, they should voice their opinions and blend in.
Test cricket is rough. Long tours away from family and friends are even tougher, especially if you have been slaughtered in the fashion England were in Australia. This makes the contribution of fresh faces even more important. Their energy, enthusiasm and sheer passion for the game needs to spurt out if England are to resuscitate.
England carry quite a baggage after the Ashes that three of their senior players and three youngsters are staring at a possible axe.
Alastair Cook, Stuart Broad and Moeen Ali fared rather poorly in Australia and will need to step up as senior players if England are to compete. The conditions in New Zealand ideally aid both seamers and spinners of late and Moeen Ali, as much as Stuart Broad, will have an avenue to showcase that they aren’t really done.
Cook, on the other hand, had a terrible series exempting a fabulous double hundred on a flat baked surface at Melbourne. His returns have varied between the sky and deep mud with consistency flying out through the window. England need Cook at his very best particularly with Mark Stoneman still finding his feet.
This brings us to the younger brigade – Stoneman, James Vince, Dawid Malan and Chris Woakes. While Malan was exceptional and set his place down in stone after the Ashes, the other three have a lot of introspection to do. The New Zealand series offers them a chance to redeem themselves.
Stoneman was convincing in parts but lacked the big scores while James Vince, as is always the case, delighted with his strokes before falling prey to the very same tendency to unfurl one too many of them. Ben Stokes return compounds Chris Woakes’ problems. Woakes is a much more senior player than the other youngsters but hasn’t really stamped down his place in the side. He had a great ODI series, in which he walked off with the Man of the Series award, but red ball is a completely different ball game as they say.
Woakes will need to step up with wickets and quick if he is to keep pushing for the third seamer’s slot behind Anderson and Broad. Anderson, for one, has donned the role of welcoming the younger guns to the Test side and creating a warm enough environment of them to thrive.
“I think we’ve got some really special players and I want to see this team doing well. I just try and do everything I can to help the guys come through, whether that’s the bowlers or talking to the young guys, help them settle into Test cricket as quickly as possible, or even the batsmen – chatting to them in a net session. I think it’s an important job, certainly for the more senior guys, to do”, he said.
The next few weeks would be as important for England cricket as ever. While their limited-overs side is going places, the Test side has hit a rough patch and they will need to regroup quickly especially with a buoyed Virat Kohli-led Indian outfit prepping up to conquer the English later this year.