After a year of waiting it would be senseless to get carried away with England’s success in Southampton over India, but a first win in 11 Tests was, at least, met with a huge sense of relief. And rightly so.
So bad have the past 12 months been for England that they have incorporated a 10 Test winless streak, 10 debutants and the use of 25 different players; English Test wins have become as rare as hens teeth.
Six of those debutants featured in this win: Jos Buttler, Gary Ballance, Moeen Ali, Chris Jordan, Chris Woakes and Sam Robson. Of the others, it is likely that we will see Ben Stokes again imminently, although the futures of Simon Kerrigan, Scott Borthwick and Boyd Rankin remain less certain, at least at Test level.
This first taste of victory for the newbies bodes well for England. All these debutants have been brought into a battered and bruised squad, with the exceptions of Woakes and Kerrigan who were introduced for the final Test of the 2013 Ashes at the Oval. Ballance, Stokes, Borthwick and Rankin all experienced the crumbling of an empire in Australia first hand.
The optimism of this first win must be tempered by the fact that the structure of that crumbled empire is still largely in place. The same authority figures loom large.
Alastair Cook, as captain, still needs to prove he is the right man for the job. Peter Moores, as coach, needs to do likewise in his role. Paul Downton, Giles Clarke et al at the ECB need to prove that they can learn from their mistakes and are not stuck in their ways.
One Test victory doesn’t make a summer.
After so long being forced to look only at negatives, though, let us throw caution to the wind for a moment and look ahead. Robson needs a few runs now, although he has plenty of time between the end of this series ad England’s next Test assignment, in the Caribbean in April 2015, to work on his exposed flaws of getting squared up by swing bowlers.
Ballance has been a revelation at three. A middle order batsman by County trade, he has excelled in the top order. This has also allowed Joe Root a more solid grounding in the side at five. He should be left well alone there, now.
Ali has more to offer with the bat, as witnessed at Headingley Vs Sri Lanka, but his bowling has vastly improved, as witnessed by his six-for at Southampton. Buttler at seven was a breath of fresh air. Matt Prior was clearly finished as England’s keeper/batsman, so it was with some relief that Buttler was able to come in, play his shots and that his keeping was up to par. There appears no reason to go back to Prior now. He was a fine player for England, but his best days are behind him and England cannot afford to be sentimental at this stage.
Jordan struggled in Southampton, but there is no need to panic after one poor Test. His run up needs some work, but this has been identified and should be easily rectified. Steven Finn should sound a note of caution as to the meddling with fast bowlers by this England coaching team, though. Woakes, for his part, bowled much better than a return of zero wickets from the Test suggests.
I fear that there may be some more time to reflect upon the negatives before this series is done. So, for now, we shall leave it as an all too rare recent moment to bask in the glory of an English Test victory…
By Miles Reucroft