As the England captain, Alastair Cook, leads his team out for the first Test against New Zealand at Lord’s he will attempt to lift the gloom that has settled on English cricket. He himself will be heartened by the public support he received from the new director of cricket, Andrew Strauss. Nevertheless he knows he will always be under scrutiny unless his form and the team’s fortunes improve.
There were significant signs of improvement in Cook’s footwork in the recent series in the West Indies – it was crisper and more precise. The swing bowling of Tim Southee and the excellence of Trent Boult, combined with the left-arm angle he provides, will, however, pose the captain a much greater threat.
In his Test career Cook averages 41 against all right-arm seamers and 35 against the left-armers. Right-arm bowlers have recently been quick to bowl round the wicket to create this angle. This will be a fascinating contest throughout the series and, of course, there are two Mitchells, Starc and Johnson, waiting in the wings.
Cook and England’s preparations for this Test series have, obviously, been overshadowed by the sacking of the coach Peter Moores and the exclusion of Kevin Pietersen. Moores was a dedicated, hard-working coach who, I believe, lacked the necessary international pedigree to be successful within this management structure. I would like to see him working with some of the country’s best young talents instead.
Although Pietersen would not have made my final XI if everyone was fit, I would have kept him available for selection. I would urge both parties to sit down again to try to resolve these outstanding issues for the good of English cricket.
However, the beneficiary of this situation may be debutant Adam Lyth, who is set to open the batting with Cook. Usually there would be much press attention on a new player, which can be a distraction while trying to prepare for the game.
Naturally there is a gulf in standard between county and international cricket: more good balls to keep out and fewer scoring options. Technique and patience are tested. However, the biggest difference is something you can’t plan for: the attention, the scrutiny, the crowds. This is your big moment and you can’t mess it up. Often thoughts such as “What happens if I fail?” occupy your mind.
You will get told many times in the days leading up to the game by coaches and players to just do what you do for your county. Easy to say, much more difficult to carry out. You are sharing a dressing room with players you have grown up admiring and playing against individuals you’ve revered for years.
So mentally it’s so different and not easy to approach this incredible experience in the same way you would a county game. I remember feeling more exhausted after five days of Test cricket than anything else.
Lyth is now an experienced and seasoned professional. He has a good understanding of his own game and is perhaps more selective in his strokeplay now than a year or so ago. Watching him last year, he showed on a few occasions the necessary skill and determination to get through tough periods when bowlers were on top. If he plays well he may also add more urgency to a very one-paced top order.
Another debutant could be Mark Wood, the Durham paceman who has impressed the England set-up throughout the winter.
England should be in search of a third seamer. Ben Stokes, who should be in the team, is currently a fourth seamer. It is time now to give either Chris Jordan or Wood a run in the team.
New Zealand are arguably cricket’s most popular team after the entertainment they provided in the World Cup.
In contrast to England they have a very stable management now, though they too had problems a couple of years ago after Ross Taylor was sacked as captain in December 2012. Coach Mike Hesson and captain Brendon McCullum have done a superb job since and will, ironically, provide inspiration to Andrew Strauss et al in the coming months as they restructure their own management team.
A well-led, happy team will provide tough opposition. But winning Test matches abroad has become a very difficult assignment in recent years. Since January 2013 there have been 83 Tests played with only 13 being won by the away team and 50 won by the home team.
So all eyes will be on Cook and his team. To a man they have survived the recent culls. They will know that only their performances will be able to prevent any upheaval.
English cricket is in search of stability now and only the players can provide that.Reuse content