Sport360's Stuart Appleby offers some reflections on England's abject winter.
England have spent five months and six days touring this winter – 21 weeks in total. Personnel obviously chopped and changed throughout formats during the lengthy three-month stay in Australia and more recently, the stint in New Zealand – but still, it’s been a gruelling period away and Joe Root‘s men couldn’t be blamed for wanting to spend a night’s sleep in their own bed.
Christchurch draw symbolic of winter struggles
The Three Lions came close to finishing a grim period on a relative kind of high at the Hagley Oval but failure to take 10 wickets on the final day (five second innings dropped catches didn’t help) was actually symbolic of the team’s nose-dive plight away from British shores.
England have now gone 13 Tests away from home without victory – setting a new unwanted record – with 10 of those Tests seeing defeat. Even in a era where sides the world-over are finding it hard to land a glove overseas, this return is woeful and exasperated England’s inability to play well in anything but seaming and swinging conditions – although day five offered just that.
There were a handful of positives to take from the second Test as England did certainly have a fresh look about them with the inclusions of quick Mark Wood and frontline spinner Jack Leach injecting much-needed new blood – but why was change left right until the final match of the tour? A placid, one-dimensional attack needed derailing much sooner.
Ultimately, the 1-0 series defeat told the full story of a team in decline and England could learn a thing or two from Kane Williamson‘s shrewd outfit.
Plenty to ponder
Starting at the top of the order, all-time run-scorer Alastair Cook averaged just 5.75 against the Black Caps and was dismissed for under 20 in 10 of his 13 innings across the winter.
The 33-year-old’s role in the side will continue to be questioned but time looks to be catching up with a man who has opened the batting in 154 Tests. Failure to score consistently this coming summer against Pakistan and India, as well as address his tendency to nick-off outside off-stump against line and length seam, could mean the end of the road for the left-hander – putting pay to hopes of a 2019 Ashes swansong. Meanwhile, Mark Stoneman and James Vince’s batting hardships have only served to accentuate the spotlight on Cook.
Captain and coach
Critics have also happily weighed into skipper Root. It’s been a testing time for the Yorkshireman, no doubt, and his failure to convert any one of his past nine fifties into 100s is a real problem. Watching the 27-year-old field on his knees at silly point showed his dedication but nothing is going for him. He is still the right man to lead this team forward though.
A more immediate issue which the England and Wales Cricket Board are set to resolve is the future of Trevor Bayliss. The Australian deserves credit for keeping his cool and managing a mammoth workload since October, but the time has surely come for him to relinquish Test duties and focus on limited-overs cricket. England have certainly regressed on his watch.
Broad boost and Anderson heroics
Eleven wickets at just under 19 for Stuart Broad in New Zealand felt almost like his second-coming in international cricket. The pacer’s rejuvenation following a poor Ashes is just as important as Jonny Bairstow‘s continued excellent form with the bat and behind the stumps. The presence of Ben Stokes – who has not hit anywhere near his best form yet – is absolutely vital moving forward.
James Anderson set a new record on Tuesday, becoming the most worked pacer in Test history when he bowled his 30,020th delivery. A staggering statistic which goes to he is still the most important man in an XI which needs rebuilding. He can’t go on forever though and is 36 in July.
Aside from Anderson and Broad’s 47 winter wickets at 29.82 between them, 34 scalps at 72.85 from other bowlers is a worrying concern.