2014 has been a year to forget for English cricket, beginning with the woeful Ashes whitewash down under and ending with the, some might say, controversial sacking of Alastair Cook from the one-day side. In-between there have also been other moments to forget along with mixed results on the field of play.
As we move into a new year England will hope that the fortunes of the side will improve dramatically and 2015 will signal the start of a new dawn for the Test and ODI teams.
I have identified five areas that I believe England must look to improve on over the next 12 months. See if you agree.
1. Improve in ODI cricket
After England’s poor recent record in the 50-over format, compounded by a 5-2 defeat in Sri Lanka recently, they now have plenty of opportunities to improve their ODI cricket in the early part of 2015.
Shortly England will compete down under in a tri-nations tournament against ODI powerhouses Australia and India before beginning their World Cup campaign, also against Australia, on February 14.
During this time England will need to find a winning formula if they are to compete with the best and many of their players will need to step up to the obvious challengers ahead.
Now Eoin Morgan has been appointed as Alastair Cook’s replacement England may be reinvigorated by fresh ideas but in truth the personnel will not change too much.
England need to adopt a more dynamic approach to their cricket if they are to match the top ODI sides in the World and compete on a regular basis.
2. Reach the latter stages of the World Cup
What will be classed as a success for England? Obviously winning the tournament would be nice but also far-fetched in my opinion.
If England can progress through the group stage, which they should do, and reach say the semi-finals, I would regard this as a huge step in the right direction considering their poor run of form.
They must show signs of improvement in each and every game, even if defeated, and above all must ensure they defeat any lower ranked opposition with ease otherwise the knives will be out from the national media as the clamour to reintroduce Kevin Pietersen to the side escalates.
The World Cup has perhaps come too soon in the year for this team but this could also be a blessing as they enter the tournament with no real expectations or pressures from anybody outside the England set-up. The talent is clearly evident in the squad so we could be surprised by what we see.
3. Play a more positive brand of cricket
England have often been accused of being a dour team in both ODI and Test cricket but I suppose this comes hand in hand with a lack of confidence from poor performances and defeats.
We have become accustomed to England losing in ODI cricket but their Test cricket has also suffered this year with only the latter part of the series against India in the summer showing signs of the side we know and love.
In both formats England need to take the game to the opposition more and not be dictated to by sides. Australia bullied England during the Ashes and Sri Lanka’s experienced batsmen did the same during the recent ODI series.
Back in 2005, when England won The Ashes on home soil, England were constantly on the front-foot, scoring freely often around four runs an over. This exciting cricket brought many supporters back to the game and the national appetite for cricket was at its highest point.
In ODI cricket England have made a step in the right direction by selecting the likes of Moeen Ali and Alex Hales at the top of the order to set the tempo. They have other exciting cricketers, such as Jos Buttler, who have the x-factor but can probably go further by introducing a Jason Roy like player to the side in the future.
It will be interesting to see how the side approaches cricket in all formats this year.
4. Improve Alastair Cook’s form
For all the arguments both for and against Cook’s sacking as ODI captain there is no doubt that he is a quality batsman and still has a lot to offer the national side in the Test match arena when on form.
It is important now that Alastair Cook removes himself from the game for the next few weeks in order to relax and focus on the challengers ahead both for himself and the Test side.
He will not enjoy watching his team-mates competing in the World Cup, that is natural, but he must look further ahead to the Test tour of the West Indies followed by a tough summer against New Zealand and Australia.
England need Cook in top form again as there is no doubt he is one of England’s best Test batsmen and will, provided his form returns and injuries do not blight his remaining career, break all English batting records.
If Cook’s form does return then any question marks over his Test captaincy will no doubt disappear as well. At present he is still the best man to lead England at Test match level.
5. Win back The Ashes
England will continue their Ashes battle with Australia this summer and will hope to regain the urn that they so weakly surrendered in down under 12 months ago.
Ashes battles are deeply intense and England must make sure that any lingering scars from their 5-0 defeat are gone before they face what will be another pace battering from the Aussies.
England will need to fight fire with fire and not take a step backwards in a series that can be won by very small margins. The English public will want to see their team victorious on home soil for the fourth successive Ashes series and England will have more than a point to prove to their arch rivals.
England have good preparation time before The Ashes as they will have already toured the West Indies and played against New Zealand in the early part of the summer.
By the time the first Ashes Test begins in Cardiff on July 8, England should be full of confidence after, I predict, successive series victories where most of their players will be high on confidence after impressive displays.
Please feel free to comment on other areas that English cricket need to improve on during 2015.