After a fairly disastrous winter Test series down under, the England cricket team is back in a familiar position – rebuilding after an Ashes defeat.
The situation is not as bleak as it was in the 1990s, when England teams would routinely be thrashed home and away by Australia. For a start, the England Test team hasn’t lost a home Ashes series since 2001. On the other hand, Australia have only lost once to the old enemy on Australian soil since 1987. The record suggests that England will be strong favourites once again when the Ashes title is up for grabs in 2019.
Before then, however, England have some questions to answer, most notably in the Test format where they have slipped to fifth, behind Australia, India, New Zealand and South Africa. Since they briefly ascended to the world number one spot under Alastair Cook, the five-day team has been on a steady decline, and the 4-0 defeat to a hard-working but not outrageously talented Australian side has confirmed the extent of that slump.
It has been a similar story in the shortest format. Although England have had some success in the Twenty20 format, their form has fallen away of late. They have only won three of their last 10, and at the time of writing, have failed to win any of their games in the tri-nations series with Australia and New Zealand. The one area in which England are still competitive is the 50-over game. They have been consistently one of the best teams in this format for three years now, and their 4-1 victory in Australia has been the only highlight of a dismal tour.
As always, the summer fixtures will give the England team in all formats the chance to regroup and reassert themselves in familiar surroundings. Who will Joe Root’s side be facing this summer, and what can we expect from the home team?
First up is Pakistan in late May and early June. England will be strong favourites with Stakers.com to clinch their two-match series against Sarfraz Ahmed’s side, given that batsmen from South Asia tend to struggle against swing bowling, and there should be plenty of atmospheric assistance for James Anderson et al at that time of the year. Of course, that works both ways. In Mohammad Amir, Pakistan have an effective swing operator of their own, and he can expect some success against a fragile England batting order.
The series of five Tests against India later in the summer is likely to be a tougher experience. These are the games that will test England’s depth of resources, and in which the leading contenders to replace Anderson and Stuart Broad will fight to establish themselves. It will also be an important series for England’s spin hopeful Mason Crane and for batsmen such as Mark Stoneman, Dawid Malan and James Vince, who are yet to secure their places, and who will face a trial by spin. With home advantage, England will be favourites, but Virat Kohli’s young side are talented, aggressive and dangerous and cannot be taken lightly.
In the shorter formats, there are some key clashes against Australia and India that will help to shape the line up for next year’s World Cup. Having just beaten Australia 4-1 in the 50-over format, Eoin Morgan’s side will be confident of repeating that success in a five-match series sandwiched between the visits of Pakistan and India. Australia are some way off the pace in this format, and another big England series victory is on the cards.
The three one-day internationals against India are likely to be a different story. India recently beat South Africa on South African soil to go top of the world rankings, proving that they are a threat in this format in any conditions. Their free-scoring, prolific batting line-up and array of tricky spinners will pose a major threat to England, and every one of these games should be close. If England are to lose a major series this summer, it will be this one.
Finally, the Twenty20 matches – one against Australia and three against India – are likely to be unpredictable as some experimenting with line-ups is to be expected. This is probably England’s least effective format at the moment, and while they can be expected to achieve better results than those of the weakened side that lost heavily down under this winter, they won’t be in a position to dominate in any of those games.
After a dispiriting winter, England fans will be keen to see their team get back into the winning habit, but Pakistan, Australia and particularly India will provide strong opposition in all three formats. It promises to be a fascinating summer of international cricket.