England’s Ashes capitulation at Melbourne not only saw them give up their hopes of reclaiming the urn, it also continued a horror run of results in Test cricket.
Joe Root’s side have won just once in their last 12 games and are the first English team to lose nine in a calendar year. The response has been some familiar questions about the state of the game and what might be done to put it right.
Here, we take a closer look at some of those issues and asks what can be done to improve things.
Is there an appetite for change?
There are no bigger voices in English cricket than Joe Root and he has come as close to calling for a systemic overhaul as anyone who wears the captain’s blazer is likely to. Speaking after the gruesome defeat in Melbourne, he said: “You look back at 2015 and the reset that happened in white-ball cricket and maybe that’s something that needs to be happening in our red-ball game as well”. Head coach Chris Silverwood has been more circumspect but has nodded to “questions” and “conversations” that need to happen after the Ashes concludes, suggesting he sees work to be done.
Is Test cricket still the pinnacle and should it be?
There is no doubt that the five-day format is being squeezed from nearly all sides by the glossy allure of its shorter, snazzier counterparts. But it remains the ultimate challenge of a cricketer’s credentials and, in England specifically, it pays. Ticket sales for Test cricket are strong, broadcasters pay well for the long form and, outside of pandemic times, travelling support is enormous (as well as enormously lucrative for host nations). England play more Tests than anyone, if they don’t fight for it, nobody will.
How bad has it got?
The truth is, England’s Test team has been coasting on the achievements of a handful of greats for far too long. Joe Root is a batter for the ages, who is tracking to finish as the country’s highest ever run-scorer, while James Anderson and Stuart Broad sit comfortably on top of the all-time wicket-takers list. Ben Stokes does not have such unimpeachable numbers but has proved himself to be a match-winner like no other and is a genuinely elite all-rounder. That aside, the pickings are slim. It is years since a player came into the set-up and established themselves as a world-class operator. Instead a conveyor belt of county exports come and go.
What is wrong with the County Championship?
For a number of years there have been complaints that the domestic first-class competition has been shovelled to the edges of the season – with the majority of games played early on or in the first knockings of autumn, rather than the height of summer. That often translates to green, unpredictable pitches that leave batters skittish, gentle seamers in charge and spinners under-used. In a world where big totals, extreme pace and mystery spin rules the roost, none of these skills are being honed in the county game.
So why not shuffle the dates?
It appears the England and Wales Cricket Board will provide more championship matches in the peak months next year, but decisions elsewhere mean it can only go so far. The decision to create a ring-fenced block for The Hundred is great news for broadcast partners, who have an easily digestible window to sell, but it means other formats can be crowded out. Introducing a new format and keeping both the 50-over and Twenty20 tournaments simply creates too much white-ball cricket. Something must give.
Is the IPL a problem?
The ECB’s relationship with the Indian T20 circus has certainly changed from the time that it caused a breakdown in relations with star player Kevin Pietersen. Nowadays, handfuls of players are signed off to take up franchise deals even if that means missing out on a few hard yards on the county circuit or – in 2021 – sitting out a series against World Test champions New Zealand. The genie is out of the bottle at this stage, but the best English players facing each other in county action raises the standard for everyone.
Anything else while we’re here?
Yes. England play too much international cricket. The treadmill simply never stops. Next winter alone they have five separate touring commitments. Is it really a surprise that players get chewed up and spat out of a system that never allows for proper down time or a chance to work on technical aspects away from the pressure cooker of elite competition? Nobody at the ECB has ever shown any inclination to dial down the fixture list, with the balance sheet too dependent on a constant diet of games. Where quality is concerned, sometimes less is more.
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