In August 2011 Andrew Strauss stood on the field at the Oval after the final test of the summer holding the ICC’s mace in acknowledgement of the team’s ascension to the top of the ICC test rankings. The England captain could have taken the opportunity to heap praise upon his team in the end of test of interviews but instead Strauss opted for a stark warning to his men by declaring:
"The greatest pitfall is feeling that we've done it all and that we're not willing to put in the hard work to continue it. I'd be very disappointed if our side fell into that trap.”
Two years on and with the ability to reflect on Strauss’s sentiment in speech, we can see that it has defined a turn in fortunes for English cricket, not one of continued improvement despite an away series victory in India would suggest, but of a gradual decline from the pedestal of test cricket.
Maybe there’s something in the psyche of the English sportsman that struggles to deal with being the hunted rather than the hunter. Case in point being the football team post 1966 that exited in the quarter finals of the World Cup in 1970 and couldn’t even qualify for 1974.
Or perhaps the rugby team post 2003 that only topped the six nations table once in the past decade. English cricket has been there before, ascending to great heights in the early half the noughties that culminated in their first Ashes victory in 16 years, only to see results fall away dramatically the following year.
The climb to No. 1 in the world was built upon a strong foundation of first innings runs, the fourth test against India being a good example of this, with England declaring on 591 to allow the bowlers to be aggressive in their pursuit of 20 wickets. The once strong top six has slowly crumbled with all five batting mainstays over that period showing noticeable declines to their averages.
The statistics below show a comparison of the last two years with the two prior to Strauss’s comments in 2011:
2009-2011 – firstname.lastname@example.org
2011-2013 – email@example.com
2009-2011 – firstname.lastname@example.org
2011-2013 – email@example.com
2009-2011 – firstname.lastname@example.org
2011-2013 – email@example.com
2009-2011 – firstname.lastname@example.org
2011-2013 – email@example.com
2009-2011 – firstname.lastname@example.org
2011-2013 – email@example.com
A collective dip in form over the past two years from the batting unit has been papered over despite a difficult series against a poor New Zealand team last winter and an unconvincing Ashes victory in the summer.
England’s hopes of winning this series are already over and ultimately their grip on the Ashes may be lost for good tomorrow. With that the selectors must now decide what shape the phoenix that rises from this series’ ashes will take.
There will be a number of difficult questions to discuss after its conclusion which will ultimately decide which way the selectors will go with the batting lineup in the future. The end goal will be for the likes of Joe Root, Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Ben Stokes to propel England back to the top of the test rankings with the next generation of talent.