What a summer it was. England drew the World Cup final and won the World Cup. They drew the Ashes and lost the Ashes. England collapsed on numerous occasions and tested the nerves of their fans. Ben Stokes played the best innings in Ashes history.
Jofra Archer announced himself as not just an international calibre cricketer, but one of the best fast bowlers on the planet. Stuart Broad provided superb bowling and even better comedy.
Trevor Bayliss, brought in with a remit to improve the team’s white-ball fortunes, achieved his ultimate goal – a World Cup victory.
Bayliss’ laidback leadership style hasn’t been for everyone, and the Test team has remained inconsistent through his tenure. Heading to the IPL to coach Sunrisers Hyderabad, England’s first post-Ashes task is to find a new head coach.
It’s possible England choose to split the coaching duties between the white and red ball formats.
Former England internationals Alex Stewart, Graham Thorpe and Chris Silverwood are all in the frame to replace Bayliss.
The favourite to get the job when Bayliss was hired, Jason Gillespie, might be considered, but his time at Sussex hasn’t been anywhere near as successful as his spell with Yorkshire. Gary Kirsten and Stephen Fleming could be interviewed, too.
Having conquered the world with the white-ball, whoever the new England coach is faces the task of balancing the short and long formats.
Bayliss struggled to do so, with the Test team arguably neglected as they focussed on revamping the ODI side. That job has been done – England are the best white-ball team in the world – now they need to pick the best route for the Test team.
For all the talk of ‘positive’ Test cricket under Bayliss, England bizarrely lacked an identity. The only constant was batting collapses.
There is undoubted talent for England to build around, but the decisions being made by the ECB are creating more obstacles on the path to building a formidable Test team. The Hundred, the marginalisation of the County Championship, make player development hard.
When it comes to team selection and player evaluation, England have often opted to pick on talent. That led to the selections of Jason Roy and Jos Buttler. County success and handy legspin saw Joe Denly become a fixture in the Test team.
The end of the Ashes answered a few selection questions ahead of the upcoming tour of New Zealand. Denly and Rory Burns may not be the long-term opening solution, but they should bat at the top of the order against the Kiwis.
Buttler improved throughout the series, combining disciplined Test batting with that freakish talent we are so used to in white-ball cricket. Stokes, the author of one of England’s greatest Ashes moments, proved himself as a legitimate top order batsman.
There is a possibility that Anderson and Broad are rested and kept fresh for a challenging four-Test clash with South Africa. That would likely see Woakes retain his place and could see Olly Stone return to the team if he’s available after a stress fracture in his back.
National hero Jack Leach bowled beautifully on the fourth day at The Oval and has done enough to earn his place as England’s spinner this winter.
The uncertainties are at number three and with Jonny Bairstow. The cries of ‘Ben Foakes’ are getting louder with each failure from Bairstow – he averages just 27.81 in Test cricket over the last two years.
Foakes’ Surrey teammate Ollie Pope is also an option to slot into the middle order, which could see Buttler take the gloves. Pope averages just shy of 60 in first class cricket.
Skipper Joe Root changed his tune to move to three, but whether he stays there long-term remains to be seen.
James Vince, Sam Northeast, Zak Crawley and Dominic Sibley are all in contention for a top three berth. Stokes at three is possible if Sam Curran remains in the side as a fourth seamer.
The T20 World Cup next year will be on the mind of the new coach - England are the 7/2 joint-favourites in 888sport’s cricket betting.
Tom Banton will get a chance in the white-ball teams before long. Short-term, though, all eyes are on the Test team as they look to find a batting line-up that can consistently produce.
With the end of the Bayliss era comes a different focus. Revolution of the Test team isn’t required. The core is there of a very good team.
Constructing a batting line-up around Stokes and Root – and getting the captain back to his best – is the key, because the prospect of an Anderson-Broad-Archer fast-bowling trio will have batting line-ups all over the world feeling uneasy.
An XI like this: Burns, Denly, Stokes, Root, Bairstow, Buttler, Curran, Archer, Leach, Broad, Anderson, has potential. An overhaul isn’t necessary. England have the talent to have a very bright future, particularly if they can fix their top order to be functional, if not spectacular.
This whirlwind summer deserves better than that, it warrants reflection. It’s been a never-to-be-forgotten summer for English cricket.
Test matches are still the pinnacle, yet a World Cup win and drawn Ashes is an overwhelming success. Lord’s on 14th July, Headingley on 25th August will be remembered for generations.
The stories will be retold to grandchildren in several decades’ time, the highlights reshown to fill rain delays. An Ashes win and it would have been the perfect summer.
The urn might still be in Australia, but we can be pretty happy with being just one Test victory away from perfection. The last few months have put cricket into the spotlight in a way it hasn’t been since 2005.
*Credit for the main photo belongs to Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP Photo*