We did this last year, reasoning that a collage of moments from England’s home season might somehow paint a broader picture of where they stand right now. It feels like it does a little bit – but then who knows what’ll come next.
New dawns are widely regarded as immaculately positive things. While a day that didn’t feature one would certainly be suboptimal, it’s also true that every shit day you’ve ever had also began with a dawn.
Some days start brightly and continue in that vein. Others start brightly and descend. If nothing else, England’s latest new dawn has at least broken what was starting to feel like an unending night.
Here are 12 things that happened this summer:
- England hired Rob Key
- Ben Stokes was made Test captain
- Jack Leach was (repeatedly) picked
- Stuart Broad was embiggened
- Joe Root celebrated *at* a cricket ball
- Jonny Bairstow went nuts
- Hinry Knuckles was caught off his batting partner’s bat
- Stuart Broad conceded a world record 35 runs in an over to Jasprit Bumrah
- England chased a lot of runs to win four Tests in a row
- Eoin Morgan retired
- Dean Elgar was elbowled
- Ollie Robinson came back
We were broadly in favour of Rob Key’s appointment as managing director of England men’s cricket, and not purely because of our long history of complete unquestioning hero worship. Key very definitely loves cricket and he very definitely wants England to do well. He is also a clear-thinker in an organisation that tends towards trite positivity.
Brendon McCullum was then hired as Test coach off the back of his record of turning a crap side around and making the format slightly better during his playing career.
A lot’s been said about the loyalty shown to alphabet-straddling opening partnership Alex Lees and Zak Crawley, but an equally pertinent example of the same man-management policy was the relentless inclusion of Jack Leach. This was in marked contrast to how the spinner had been treated by the previous regime and in marked contrast to how spinners had been treated in general. In the first series of the summer, against New Zealand, England’s most-dicked-about player got through more overs than any other bowler bar Stuart Broad, despite missing almost the whole of the first Test as a result of an overzealous fielding effort. Stokes kept picking him and kept giving him overs and in the third Test of that series, Leach took 10 wickets and England won.
The soft-binning of James Anderson and Stuart Broad for the tour of the West Indies was swiftly undone at the start of summer and presumably never spoken of again. Broad was also given an exciting new job, which we’d guess smoothed another change – his demotion to first-change bowler – later in the season. The greatest batter in Test history was given a nightwatchman role sufficiently reimagined that he was rebranded a ‘nighthawk’. “He was going out with half an hour left to play to try to literally slog,” explained Stokes. “That’s where we are at the moment.” Broad certainly seems to have been enjoying himself this summer.
There’s no great insight into wider trends here. This was just a weird and great thing that happened.
There’s a certain oversimplifaction of Ben Stokes’ and Brendon McCullum’s methodology in some quarters. It’s easy to take stuff from the very end of the spectrum – like the implementation of a nighthawk – and present it as if all they’re advocating is slogging. Stokes’ own skittish batting for much of the summer hasn’t done much to disabuse people of that notion. But really it’s about conditioning players to be more decisive. Doubt hampers positive play more than it hampers defensive play, they reason – so that’s where gains can be made. Wilfully going over-the-top with the attacking play from time-to-time demonstrates that players won’t be criticised (within the setup) for trying to play more positively. That helps suppress self-defeating doubt and so increases the likelihood of success. This is how Jonny Bairstow came to hit 45 runs in four overs against New Zealand having emerged after the tea break with England 139-4, still needing 160 runs for victory.
Somehow this only barely scraped in as the funniest dismissal of the day.
It could only have been Broad. The odds of it being Jasprit Bumrah were pretty low though. We ranked all eight deliveries in escalating order of ridiculousness/greatness. This was probably the comedy highlight of the summer, so we’ll link to the article again because we’re worried you won’t notice all the subheadings are links.
This has to be the weirdest thing that happened this season. Not only did England – up until this point one of the collapsiest teams in Test history – deliver some monumental successful run-chases, they did so four times in a row against the two teams who’d contested the World Test Championship Final a year earlier. At one point in the fourth one – a pursuit of 378 against India – they reached 100-0, which must rank as the most unlikely score all year.
The loss of England’s greatest modern captain was a bit of a blow for England’s white ball teams, who promptly embarked on a protracted streak of weary inadequacy with Jason Roy taking on the role of standard bearer. Then Ben Stokes retired from the 50-over format, signalling that the Test team was again the one we should all be paying most attention to – including anyone in county cricket with dreams of playing for England.
It’s rare that a touring captain will secure an innings victory in the first Test of a series and yet leave the tour feeling utterly deflated about pretty much everything. South Africa’s 326 at Lord’s was the only time they topped 180 in five innings and Dean Elgar’s dismissal – elbowing the ball into his own stumps – seemed to presage what was to come.
And we regretted our choice of tense for this article. After a back spasm, more back spasms, a tooth infection, food poisoning, another back thing and covid, Ollie Robinson failed to develop any further ailments – unless satisfaction with one’s lot in life can sideline a cricketer. Ollie Robinson 2.0 is pretty much exactly the same as Ollie Robinson 1.0 but with fewer bugs. Hopefully fewer spasms too because he’s an incredibly effective seam bowler.
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