Great cricketing year can lead to a golden era
England's long and glorious summer has finally come to an end. Stephen Brenkley in Kolkata looks back and sees good omens
England began and ended their year with victories. It is possible that the innings defeat of Australia in Sydney in January will be recalled down the ages more affectionately than the win by six wickets against India in a Twenty20 match in Kolkata on Saturday night. But the way things are going you never can tell.
Nobody can be quite sure that the epic deeds at the SCG when the oldest foe was swept away by methods that were as skilful as they were remorseless will not be airbrushed from history. T20 will be king of all it surveys and the events at Eden Gardens when a beaten team had the last word will be cast as an enduring monument to their renown.
Both, as it happens, were significant. The first match of 2011 confirmed a series as well as a rout, the last came as a merciful consolation, at the end of an unexpectedly depressing tour, which endorsed the team's standing. For the first time, England hold the Ashes, are ranked as the No 1 Test nation, are World Twenty20 champions and also the top rated Twenty20 side.
It is worth a parade but there would be rain on it in the form of the pesky one-day international charts, in which England have slipped to fifth and are jolly lucky that there are others who are worse in certain circumstances. If only there were only two forms of the game – but perhaps it is important to be careful what you wish for.
By any reckoning England have had a good year, and should be team of it when these things are announced. The 5-0 drubbing in the one-day series by India this month was deserved and untimely in this respect, but it should not diminish the previous deeds.
In all, five captains, all gently advised by a thoughtful, studious coach in Andy Flower, have propelled them to these heights: Andrew Strauss, whose team it still seems to be whoever is in charge, Alastair Cook, who is a work in progress if ever there were one, Stuart Broad, who barely had time to bed in, Eoin Morgan, who did the job with relish in the land of his birth and finally Graeme Swann, who looked the most natural and instinctive of the lot.
The squad – Swann's squad as it had by now become – left Kolkata for home early yesterday morning on a red eye flight, having beaten India by six wickets only eight hours earlier. India were 120 for 9, losing wickets carelessly to some splendid swing bowling and England knocked them off thanks to Kevin Pietersen's 53 from 39 balls.
They now have an unprecedented two months off in which they should dwell on their achievements and rest aching, weary limbs from the treadmill that international cricket has long since become. In January, it all starts again, with a virtually unbroken sequence of 30 months.
Next year, starting in the United Arab Emirates of all places, going on to Sri Lanka, coming home to England and thence departing for India, England will play 15 Test matches. They will also up the ante considerably on international Twenty20 matches because they have a title to defend, also in Sri Lanka, in September.
The year after that (pay attention at the back) they are playing in two Ashes series, home and away, as well as fulfilling various other limited overs obligations between times. The World Test championship, scheduled to be played in England in 2013, might have bitten the dust but it will only be replaced by the Champions Trophy.
If they are still the best Test team in the world at the end of that lot, they will also still hold the Ashes. It would mean an unaccustomed period of dominance for England. They have produced formidable teams in the past but they have tended to peter out, the most telling recent example, of course, being the team that won the 2005 Ashes. No combination of the 12 players who performed in that series appeared for England again.
Without taking anything for granted – and that has been done before as well – there is a different feeling about the manner in which the England of 2011 go about their business. In a fashion that would be the envy of the new World Series champions, the St Louis Cardinals, they appear to have all the bases covered. From one to seven in the batting with support on the way, from any number of seam bowlers with genuine knowledge of their craft, and with the world's best spinner, they are robust.
Fallibilities exist. The question of the second spinner must soon be answered, and will be when the squad for the tour of UAE is announced in a fortnight. In theory, Monty Panesar would complement Swann, turning the ball the other way as he does, and his 69 Championship wickets at 27.25 for Sussex this summer, easily more than any other spinner, represented something of a renaissance.
In certain conditions, England may feel it necessary to depart from what has become their tried and trusted balance of six batsmen, four bowlers and a wicketkeeper. If Matt Prior is the wicketkeeper, this could be comfortably accommodated but it would be helpful if the second spinner was more accomplished a batsman than Panesar.
This might open the selection door for Samit Patel, who is desperate for a bash at Test cricket, but his bowling at Test level could never be used for more than filler purposes. The younger brigade such as Scott Borthwick and Simon Kerrigan are far from ready.
Incidentally, although Patel began to look like a real international cricketer on the tour of India and could easily be judged on his batting alone, it would be a mistake to think that he is ever going to be Samit the Svelte. For Patel, the battle for fatness and fitness may never be truly over. And all the better for that, some might say.
England's fielding, in all forms of the game, has dropped off slightly but worryingly. They won six of their eight Test matches this year and, eventually, it was despite their catching. Throughout the year, they have missed Paul Collingwood wherever he fielded, and while that is not reason enough to send out an all-points bulletin demanding his recall, the others need to step up smartly. Slip fielding especially ain't easy, except when you are taking the chances.
But everywhere you look there is Test class, and what made Saturday's emphatic T20 win so alluring was that it was achieved by a young and athletic side with different traits. The running catch on the boundary taken by the 22-year-old Alex Hales, one of five players under the age of 23 to have played for England in India, was made to look deceptively simple. It would not have been taken by most of the side.
Whatever posterity goes on to say, the greatest act of the year was performed in the first week of January and whatever followed afterwards – even had it been World Cup triumph – could not eclipse it. Australia were beaten by an innings and 83 runs, having been overwhelmed only a week earlier at their other historic ground, Melbourne, by an innings and 157 runs.
This was England playing Test cricket at its most complete. In that match Alastair Cook made his third century of the series and went on to make another three during the course of the year, including a stately 294 at Edgbaston against India. Ian Bell made his first Ashes century and in August against India at The Oval played the most indelible innings of the year.
There is some competition – from the international player of the year, Jonathan Trott, from a resurgent Kevin Pietersen – but when the mind turns to cricket in the next month or two it will recall Bell's melodious batting on the second and third days.
The fast bowling has been uniformly excellent. Sydney apart, Chris Tremlett (remember him, he is up andrunning again) launched England to an improbable win in Cardiff against Sri Lanka with an superb spell on the final afternoon, Jimmy Anderson had the ball on a piece of elastic against India at Lord's, Stuart Broad rebuffed his mounting number of critics in resounding style with a hat-trick and six wickets at Trent Bridge, and Tim Bresnan was never found wanting in any form of the game.
All stirring stuff and capped off with the emergence of Steve Finn in the past two months. He is tall, fast, accurate, swings it and many batsmen in the course of the next eight years will feel as though they have been slipped aMickey after facing him.
Swann stands alone still. But a crucial time awaits him next year. In the UAE against Pakistan and in India in four Tests next autumn he has to live up to his billing all over again.
The loss in India this month and the face-saving victory were all overshadowed by another element which could not have been predicted. None of the six matches attracted capacity attendances, three had vast tracts of empty seats. And this in the powerhouse of the game. It was a warning about complacency, about overkill, about where the future lies.
For England for the moment, it lies in two months off. Toodle pip boys. Enjoy it while you can.
Golden summer: England's top performers
Runs Ave. HS
IR Bell 835 119.28 235
AN Cook 738 73.80 294
KP Pietersen 695 77.22 202
Runs Ave. HS
AN Cook 600 46.15 119
IJL Trott 518 43.16 98*
C Kieswetter 489 32.60 72*
Runs Ave. HS
KP Pietersen 127 42.33 53
C Kieswetter 102 25.50 58*
EJH Morgan 96 48.00 49
Wkts Ave. BBI
SCJ Broad 33 22.30 6-46
JM Anderson 28 26.53 5-65
GP Swann 25 32.48 6-106
Wkts Ave. BBI
TT Bresnan 19 37.84 3-43
GP Swann 18 27.88 3-18
JW Dernbach 16 41.56 3-30
Wkts Ave. BBI
RS Bopara 8 9.75 4-10
JW Dernbach 7 15.00 4-22
SR Patel 5 22.00 2-22
P W D L
7 5 2 0
Sri Lanka in England
26 May - 20 June
England win series 1-0 with two rain-affected Tests drawn
India in England
21 July - 22 August
England win four-Test series 4-0 with some superb and ruthless displays
P W T L NR
15 6 1 7 1
Sri Lanka in England
28 June - 9 July
England win series 3-2 clinching thrilling decider at Old Trafford
India in England
3 September - 16 September
England beat a tired, bedraggled and injury-hit touring team 3-0. One rain-affected match is tied on Duckworth Lewis and one match is a no result.
England in India
14 October - 25 October
England fail to adapt to conditions and India win handsomely, 5-0
P W D L
5 3 0 2
Sri Lanka in England: 25 June
Sri Lanka win by nine wickets
India in England: 31 August
England win by six wickets
West Indies in England
23 and 25 September
England and West Indies win one each
England in India: 29 October
England win by six wickets
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