Online Sport Editor Freddie Turner previews a new era for English cricket and selects his line up for the first test match of the summer.
English cricket fans began this winter buoyed from another successful summer and hopeful of seeing their fourth consecutive Ashes series win. Five soul destroying months later, which consisted of an abysmal Ashes whitewash and a tame World T20 showing culminating in an embarrassing thrashing at hands of the cricketing minnows of the Netherlands, things could not be more different.
Andy Flower has departed after four and half successful years and has been replaced by his predecessor. Yes that is correct, ex-coach Peter Moores is now new coach Peter Moores, such is the inbred and unimaginative nature of the antiquated ECB. Whether Moores can be more successful in in his second stint remains to be seen but he will need instant results to win round the cricketing public who appear unconvinced by his appointment.
On the pitch there have been more controversial changes, none more so than the decision to end the career of egotistical genius Kevin Pietersen. A career which had more drama than an Eastenders omnibus, he was the leading English (ish) batsman of a generation but his off field antics appear to have finally proved too detrimental.
Meanwhile, another huge figure has left the team in Graeme Swann, the chirpy off spinner was pivotal in England’s success in recent years and the fans favourite will be very difficult to replace. Whilst Jonathan Trott has unfortunately had to take some time away from the game, after a reoccurrence of his anxiety attacks that plagued him in Australia.
With these big departures, this summer will see the start of a new era for English cricket. With a two match test series vs Sri Lanka beginning on June 12th before an exciting five match series against India, throughout July and August. What side will be selected for these encounters is far from clear but here is my XI for the first test.
- Alistair Cook– The captain came under fire down under and will need a successful summer to silence his critics and regain his reputation. With 25 test centuries to his name his batting pedigree speaks for itself but he will hope for an upturn in form coinciding with tactical nouse.
- Sam Robson- Robson backed up his impressive summer of 2013 with a bucket load of runs for the Lions this winter and began this season with 163 at Lords against a strong Nottinghamshire attack. The Aussie born right hander is compact and enjoys facing pace bowling, his technique should be well suited to the rigours of test cricket. Michael Carberry can consider himself the victim of extremely poor timing, with his well-deserved chance coming in a shambolic team against a rampant Aussie attack and at 33 it is unlikely he will keep his slot.
- Ian Bell– The Ashes hero of 2013 was unable to repeat his heroics in the winter. However, with KP and Trott no longer in the equation, his experience and ability in the middle order will be essential. I expect he will be given the number 3 slot in the absence of any viable alternatives.
- James Taylor- At 5ft 6 inches tall Taylor is diminutive yet dynamic. Nicknamed Titch, the ex Shrewsbury school boy has a first class average of 49 and is an imposing player of seam and spin. He tasted test cricket briefly in 2012 but was shunned without being given a fair ‘crack of the whip’. Another successful winter for the Lions has kept him on the coaches’ radar and his ability could make him a mainstay for years to come. Joe Root is another candidate both for an opening or middle order slot and he undoubtedly has a future at this level. However, the winter exposed flaws in his footwork and a season at Yorkshire would benefit him greatly.
- Eoin Morgan-With KP missing, England will now suffer from a severe entertainment shortage in their middle order. The Irishman has the ‘X factor’ to fill this void. A standout in one day cricket, his clean hitting and repertoire of strokes is world class. If he can translate this into the longer form, he could be a huge player for England. His first spell in Test cricket was not overly successful as he only managed to average 30 in 13 tests but in turning down the riches of the IPL to focus on his early season form he has shown he fancies a second chance. Gary Ballance will also be vying for a middle order spot
- Ben Stokes– The lofty ginger was the only bright light in the dark abyss that was this winter’s Ashes series. A century in Perth and 15 wickets showed his all-round capabilities. Breaking his hand by punching a locker was far less impressive and he will need to sort his temperament out moving forward. If he can add consistency to his undoubted talent, he will be a fixture in this England side for many years.
- Matt Prior -England’s cricketer of 2012 had a horrific year in 2013, culminating in him being dropped after three tests in the Australia. His batting which had previously been so consistent failed him and even his wicket keeping was below par. At 32, he is reaching the twilight of his career but he will believe he has at least a couple more years on the international scene. Scoring the first century of the county season proved he is ready to fight for his place with young talents Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler, who would benefit from a couple of years plying their trade at county level.
- Scott Borthwick– His bowling is perhaps not quite international class yet but with the premature retirement of Graeme Swann, England are lacking in the spin department. Monty Panesar struggled in Australia and Simon Kerrigan’s test debut at the Oval last year was one of the worst in history. Adil Rashid and Moeen Ali are both excellent cricketers but Borthwick’s bowling is the most potent. On his day his leg spin is excellent and his batting is more than handy.
- Stuart Broad– Broad came out of the Ashes series with his reputation in tact as he was England’s leading bowler amidst the barraging of the Aussie press and public. He will want to add to his 238 test wickets and spearhead this new look England side to success.
- Steven Finn- England’s drink carrier in chief over the winter, Finn was the only tourist not to play any Ashes cricket. After making changes to his run up he appeared to have lost all rhythm and confidence. However Finn remains the quickest bowler in England and has genuine wicket taking ability. England must place their faith in the Watford giant, who could become a world beater. Chris Jordan will hope to impress for Sussex and push Finn all the way for the third seamer role.
- Jimmy Anderson– England’s greatest bowler of a generation appeared to have lost his panache over the winter, as he failed to get the Kookaburra ball to swing and seemed to have lost a yard of pace. Back on home turf, he should be back to his best and will be crucial once again. On a personal note he needs 41 more wickets to overtake Sir Ian Botham and become England’s leading test wicket taker of all time.