Saturday, 1 September 2012

The End of an English Era?

As Strauss makes his way out the door, we can look back at recent times. Being an English cricket fan over the last 7 or 8 years has yielded infinitely more joy and success than the 7 or 8 years before. We've seen Ashes wins galore, whitewashing India, a 9 test series undefeated run and perhaps best of all, climbing to the top of the test rankings. 

We've witnessed the emergence of world class players like Cook, Broad and Finn alongside those consistently near the top of the rankings (e.g. Anderson and Pietersen), all combining with a host of late bloomers, coming to the fore as they reach and pass 30 - Trott, Bell, Prior, Swann and Tremlett.

Ably, if never inspirationally, led and managed by the determined and intelligent pairing of Strauss and Flower, England became the best, most consistent and most dominant test team in the world. In the wake of another Pietersen shambles, and after a bizarre series in the West Indies including being dismissed for 51, Andrew & Andy rebuilt an England team and instilled a clinical professionalism and exceptional drive to win. We began to believe in our national team. We convinced that we were the greatest, and could beat anyone or get a result no matter how bad things looked. And for a while we were and we could. 

Coming off the back of demolishing the Aussies down under for the first time in 300 years (fortunately Glenn McGrath's predictive abilities aren't quite as accurate as his bowling), England were on the verge of reaching the top rung of the ranking ladder.
England needed to beat the World No. 1 team by at least two matches in order to displace them at the top. The might of India's batting in the shape of Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman and Dhoni came to prevent that from happening. But even when India had us on the ropes, we came out swinging (if you excuse the pun), exemplified by Broad & Bresnan in the second test. In the end, the Wall could only watch as the rest of the house came tumbling down around him, and England claimed a series whitewash and the top spot.

But as has been pointed out, it's not exactly been a dreamy year at the top. The fighting spirit and performance when up against it has been lacking in 2012. Too often we have succumbed when faced with a challenge and lacked the gusto, heart or concentration to scrap our way back in. We folded and collapsed like damp paper against Pakistan, Sri Lanka and now again against South Africa. 

Our batting lacked focus and determination, only showing spirit when attacking with abandon, providing a glossy veneer to otherwise worrying displays. Our success over the last few years kept us believing right up until the moment that Prior's edge found Smith's hands, but the truth is that South Africa were by far the better team all series. Our bowling lacked invention and discipline, with the highest runs per wicket in a series since the 06/07 Ashes whitewash. It would seem a suitable time for Strauss to call it a day.

Shaun Pollock doesn't believe that SA can maintain their status and dominate - they have a few players into their 30s and some tough series coming up, but with the likes of ABDV, Steyn, Morkel, Duminy all still with plenty of years to come, they aren't exactly going to be going anywhere soon. Perhaps they will grow complacent or arrogant, as has been suggested happened with England, only time will tell.

One thing is for sure, whenever Jacque Kallis retires, the game will have lost one of the absolute greats. Few would question that Garfield Sobers was the best all-rounder cricket has ever seen, but it's hard to argue that the big man from Cape Town comes in second. He is the 4th highest test match run scorer in history and right up there with his bowling as well. A truly class act.

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