England Cricket: A not-so-brilliant summer for the Barmy Army despite World Cup success
As the sun begins to set on a superb summer for cricket, especially English cricket, England fans settled down for another nerve-shredding Sunday of cricket as England’s hopes of regaining the Ashes hung by the thread of Jack Leach’s glasses' wiping cloth. They say things come in threes, but a Sunday, one Benjamin Stokes and every cricketing superstition under the sun couldn't combine again to see England take the Ashes down to the thrilling decider at the Oval that this summer deserves.
The hero of the summer Ben Stokes strode to the middle at Old Trafford after some resistance from Jason Roy ended with two and a half sessions still to survive. His Headingly heroics are now at risk of becoming a mere footnote in an Australian triumph if England fail to win the final Test.
This is almost irrelevant, however as cricket in England has a bigger problem than the result of this Ashes series, the popularity and future of the game itself. Thanks to a summer of brilliant cricket, the buzz around the sport – last felt during the mesmerizing 2005 Ashes series – has returned. Games of football in parks and on beaches all over the country have been replaced by games of cricket, for now at least.
However, with the Australians upping their game and being on course to spoil the second half of the party (Stokes has gone, the Ashes urn takes another step through security towards the boarding gate) there has to be the realisation that this amazing summer may not be enough to inspire a new generation of players and fans.
Whilst I can only talk for Northamptonshire where clubs are folding on a regular basis, teams are finding it harder and harder to field any eleven, let alone a youthful, fit and improving eleven. This is surely a trend seen in many counties and quite frankly it is this that should concern the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB). The ECB has decided to put all their eggs in the basket of The Hundred. It has been marketed as a way to attract new people to the game, but surely the last thing cricket, and specifically English cricket needs is more cricket!
This summer, England have discovered, showcased and then promptly worked into the ground the exciting talent that is Jofra Archer. Besides him, the likes of Ben Stokes, Chris Woakes, Jason Roy, Joe Root, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow and even Moeen Ali have all had an incredibly busy and intense summer of International cricket.
Ben Stokes is arguably the only one of these seven who has consistently been at his best and coped with the change of formats. This may be due to the fact he trains harder than anyone else, or that he was just too determined to make up for his on and off-field failings in the past. Whatever the reason, does a fourth format really seem like a good idea? Inflicting more cricket on these already overworked superstars of the game isn't the best way to go about things
Despite a sturdy Somerset wall in the shape of Craig Overton and Jack Leach giving hope of the improbable, England failed to pull off a third magical Sunday this summer and we now know Australia have at worst retained the Ashes, with one Test still to play.
Whilst at the beginning of the summer many England cricket fans would have settled for losing the Ashes to win the World Cup, I suspect just as many would not. It would appear therefore all England Cricket has achieved is demonstrating they cannot split their focus successfully between existing different formats, let alone a new one. When the Test team was superb and topped the Test charts, the ODI side was underwhelming. Now the ODI team are world champions while the Test team falters to an unconvincing win against Ireland and is trailing at home in the Ashes, the worst home result for 19 years.
A Test team full of attacking ODI batsmen have just batted during the fourth Test for a combined 29 overs more than Australia, to score 185 runs less. This uncertainty is a reflection of the muddled thinking coming from the ECB, players not knowing when to attack or defend, mirroring the fact that decision makers seemingly don't know how, or in what direction to grow the game.
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