‘The Hard Work Starts Now’: New Era Begins For English Test Cricket

England’s upcoming tour of the West Indies will go down in English cricketing history.

Not for the results, the standard of cricket or for anything that happens on the field.

Instead, future generations will remember it as a seminal moment where it can be finally said that the England Cricket Board (ECB) ‘got it’.

For years talented players haven’t lived up to their collective potential in the test arena. The management at the ECB seem to have finally recognised the need for change.

Let’s be clear here. This recognition is not in the form of a press conference soundbite, signalling an intangible commitment to some kind of action in the all-to distant future.

Rather, this recognition takes the form of a quite extraordinary action, the express purpose of which is to catalyse much overdue change in English test cricket.

They’ve invested in pace bowling. They’ve changed their brand of cricket. They’ve employed different coaches. They’ve reinvented the landscape of your average cricketing dressing room. They’ve even enacted structural changes to the English game. Yet none of these seem to quite match the gravity of dropping two of the finest cricketers to have ever played the game.

Paul Collingwood set to take temporary charge of England ...
Paul Collingwood has been named England's interim head coach for the upcoming tour of the West Indies

Greatness Deserves Respect

 

James Anderson and Stuart Broad are not even in contention for selection in the upcoming tour of the Caribbean.

Outraged at worst, apathetic at best; there are an abundance of people questioning this move, and it’s easy to see why.  

To say Broad and Anderson deserve to be dropped on the back of their on-field performance isn’t just a load of rubbish, its a dumpster truck full of toxic waste.

Their unwavering commitment to the longest format has persisted in a cricketing landscape that is becoming ever more dominated by the white ball.

Not only did they shelve eye-watering amounts of money in the name of English test cricket, but their application has been exemplary. Often compared to fine wine, Broad and Anderson seem to just get fitter and fitter as they get older, and their on-field performances reflect this.

Veteran Broadcaster Jonathan Agnew has even hinted at their experience is their weakness: ‘What is there to learn from taking Broad and Anderson on this trip? We know exactly what they can do - they've been doing it for years.‘

Despite constant questioning, Broad and Anderson have delivered both at home and abroad.

Those who want to question the Burnley Express’ record away from home can do so at their own peril, and JTCricket assumes no responsibility for any damages caused by Anderson's rebuttle.

To that end, one must also recognise the agency of their supporting staff in any recent ‘poorer’ performances. Serious questions remain over the circumstances in which Broad and Anderson were used, or more pertinently were not used, in the most recent Ashes defeat.

Don’t get me wrong; they’re very good. But I’m not sure even they can take wickets with their feet up in the dressing room.

One can wax lyrical about the dynamic duo until the cows come home, but all you need do is ask yourself the following: where would England be without Broad and Anderson?

Future  First

Strange then, you might think, that I should see this not just as a good thing, but rather as a necessary paradigm shift in the direction of English test cricket, the importance of which simply cannot be understated.

Their omission is a not so tentative first step in the right direction, laying the foundations for a different, and ultimately successful, future.

Removing these two living legends signals more than just the introduction of fresh meat, however. While that too has its merits, the crucial point here is that this change shows willing.

Willing to admit that there’s a need for drastic change in English cricket, something that’s been missing since Joe Root became captain in 2017.

But also willing to be staggeringly courageous in their pursuit of transforming English test cricket for the better.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall the decision was made to leave out two of the greatest to have ever played the game.

On that very issue, interim director of cricket Andrew Strauss ‘feel(s) that it is important to look at some exciting new bowling potential and give some added responsibility to other players who have featured previously.

No-one doubts the quality and experience that James and Stuart bring to the England set-up. It will be up to the new managing director and permanent head coach to decide on whether they will be involved this summer and beyond.

This selection of this squad is the start of a process and a journey to get England Test cricket back to where it needs to be - and the hard work starts now.’

To leave 1177 combined test wickets out of a squad takes is not just remarkable, its an audacious decision of herculean proportion that might just be the making of English test cricket.

The power structures of English cricket appear to have finally acknowledged that ‘playing your best team’ simply no longer cuts the mustard on the most competitive of international scenes.

Only a fool would say with certainty that things will only improve from here; I’ve been following England too long for that.

But even if this rebuild doesn’t lead to the golden age of English test cricket, England will still be able to claim a victory most illusive. The victory of trying something different. The victory of disregarding short-termism with the knowledge that trying something else and failing is better than doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

There will eventually be a process of mourning for the loss of two greats of the game.

But when England win Down Under. When England take to the field in the World Test Championship final. When England restore their position as the best test team in the world, any question of Broad and Anderson's exclusion will surely be but faded memories in the minds of jubilant fans who know that England are a force to be reckoned with once more.

Perhaps, come the summer,  management will decide the new-look team needs to be bolstered by the ‘crown jewels’ that are Broad and Anderson. Or maybe the death knell has already sounded for Stuart Broad and James Anderson’s test cricket residential.

I suppose only time will tell.

But one thing is for certain. The time for change in English test cricket has well and truly arrived. 

I, for one, cannot wait to see what it brings.

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