England face a bleak future without top players

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In recent weeks English cricket has been blighted by continued off-field traumas which have culminated in batsman Kevin Pietersen - rightly or probably wrongly - having his international career ended by the ECB, however there are even wider concerns.

Once the dust from the Pietersen saga settles, whoever is given the role of replacing Andy Flower as head coach won't have long to celebrate their new job, they will soon realise that the position is something of a poisoned chalice.

There are much bigger problems on the hands of the ECB than the fate of a 33-year-old, albeit a great one.

We have heard noises, almost on repeat from those in suits, that this is now time to 'move on'. We are to 'move on' from our Ashes humiliation, we are to 'move on' from Pietersen, still possibly our best player.

So,when looking at how best to 'move on' it becomes apparent that there isn't too many paths to head down. 

Matters on the pitch are of far greater concern at this time.

If the tours by Sri Lanka and India - scheduled for summer - took place tomorrow, it would be very concerning.

The fallout of the Ashes mean that we are without a spinner, a batsman that averaged nearly 50 from over 100 Tests, an in-form wicketkeeper, an in-form and confident captain - make that a whole batting line-up - and a multitude of aggressive wicket-taking fast bowlers. 

Perhaps only two men came out of Australia having enhanced their reputations; bowler Stuart Broad and young all-rounder Ben Stokes.

Stokes was a somewhat surprising pick for the squad. The Durham man had varying levels of success from a handful of ODI caps before then, yet he had worked hard to repair his reputation having been sent home from the England Lions squad along with Matt Coles 12 months earlier.

It was even more of a shock when the 22-year-old made a Test debut in the second match at Adelaide.

Less of a shock it was when Stokes hit his side's only century of the whole series in Melbourne's MCG, a sublime knock that defied his young age.

That ton and subsequent decent performances with bat and ball have drawn comparisons with England's last great all-rounder, Andrew Flintoff. However, lets not laud Stokes as the saviour just yet. 

He has the potential to be an amazing player but English sport has been guilty of sabotaging careers early. Mostly through over expectation and too much hype, lets not let that happen to Stokes.

Before we all rest on one youngster, lets first see him get county averages up and down in terms of his batting and bowling respectively. A first class batting average of 35 when paired with a bowling average of 28 makes for a fine county player.

However, I believe at this present moment we really need great batsmen; county stars averaging 50 (Not a great time to end the career of one of our most skillful players?), and great bowlers; spinners and pace-men who are taking wickets at 20.

What was abundantly clear this winter is that we have an inability to hit big scores and skittle opponents. While Ben Stokes,at this stage, could be a brilliant tool in adding quick runs towards the end of innings and break the odd partnership, he cannot be expected to do the main legwork - not yet at least.

The problem is that we have nobody coming through the county game that looks capable of becoming the next great star.

In terms of batters; James Taylor has probably been the most consistently good batsman on the county circuit for Nottinghamshire, and Leicestershire before that, but even he hasn't set the world alight and has looked shaky in a smattering of internationals to date.

People like Gary Ballance, Varun Chopra and Moeen Ali seem to be able only to have one good season in a row. Eoin Morgan has impressed in ODIs but has struggled in the longer forms, while Jos Buttler also faces question marks over his ability to occupy the crease for long periods.

There are no obvious stars in the making with the ball similarly.

The spinning department is a long way off in being able to replace Graeme Swann; Scott Borthwick, Danny Briggs and Simon Kerrigan, the spinners to be, are yet to settle in international cricket. 

It's for this reason that Stokes has been thrust into the limelight as he is the only one to show genuine promise. 

Let's just hope, though, that if he has a quiet few Tests this summer that the expectant fans and media figures appreciate that he is only 22 and still has plenty to learn. If we are patient and leave him be, maybe, just maybe we may have some hope in an otherwise bleak future.

The upcoming county season will be more important than any others in recent years for expectant internationals and existing internationals playing for their futures. 

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England cricket
Kevin Pietersen

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