Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Testing Times for England and South Africa

Interesting times in the cricketing world. A year and a half ago I wrote a piece about the end of an era as Strauss retired from international cricket and handed the reigns over to Alistair Cook. In truth, it was more of a stage 2 in the Andy Flower era, with the majority of the team remaining the same and a similar feel about the whole set up. The last couple of months however are a totally different kettle of fish. The unceremonious dumping of Kevin Pietersen, the withdrawal of Jonathan Trott, utter collapse in
form of Steven Finn and Matt Prior and sudden retirement of Graeme Swann left an England squad in tatters. Coming off the back of a successful series might have meant you could buy time and put things together again slowly. However, as it was it was unquestionably the most embarrassing and dismal tour in English history, wholesale changes were inevitable - including the departure (or at least slight shuffling) of Flower

A brief limited overs tour against an equally dismal West Indies won't do much in terms of rebuilding for the test arena, but it's a start at least. Getting a couple of wins (however unconvincing) is positive and certainly there are good signs from Broad and Root in particular. 

Buttler and Taylor could have big
roles for England in the coming years
The truth is that teams go through phases, and no side ever remains on top indefinitely. The Aussies dominated world cricket throughout the 2000s, but then became decidedly mediocre and are only coming out of that slump now (although they're doing it spectacularly!) England have had a real good run of it over the last 5 years or so, and it looks like a bit of spell on the sidelines. As a fan it's hard to take but accepting the reality of blooding youngsters and letting faithful servants go is necessary for having genuine success again in the future. It's only a shame that we had to be murdered down under to shock them into realising it. A big series against a young and confident India team this summer could be fascinating.

The other major storyline in world cricket at the moment is the retirement of Graeme Smith. One of the mainstays of the last 10 years is going to leave an almighty hole in the South African set up. Following so quickly on the heels of the departure of Jacques Kallis, one of the greatest players in history, is going to make it extremely difficult for them to stay on top of the test rankings. A home defeat to Australia is their first series loss for 5 years and could spell a slipping in their domination of the test arena. They still have top class players such as Amla, De Villiers, Steyn and Philander but no team can lose Smith & Kallis and not feel the ill effects of it. 

Incidentally, I don't really think that fact that Australia have gone to South Africa and won adds any level of consolation to our humiliation. Perhaps a small amount of perspective and vindication that this is a genuinely strong Aussie team, but the reality is that England played dreadfully and with no pride or fight. Hopefully those days are behind us 

Cricinfo provides a fantastic page showing the upcoming series of all the international teams. 

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