That’s Andy Zaltzman’s assessment of 2021. Was he referring to England’s year in cricket? Or just year as a whole? I guess we’ll never know…
Regardless, after losing yet another Ashes series on Australian soil, there's a storm brewing in English cricket.
Could careers be on the line? A system overhaul on the horizon? The exact response to this latest, to use the polite term, bludgeoning of England’s test cricket raison d’être will only become clear with time.
It would seem, however, that this was the last straw on the all but collapsed camel’s back for the England Cricket Board’s (ECB) latest attempt at restoring its position as a force in the red-ball arena. There is an inordinately long list of now paradigmatic issues list of issues that the ECB is dealing: institutional racism, systemic deficiencies, irreparable marginalisation of red-ball cricket, insecure batting line-ups and bowlers performing in foreign conditions. The list really could go on.
All of these are haunting England, but there is one glaring topic that has yet to be broached: the captaincy.
While most issues have been addressed by the ECB, the silence on Joe Root’s position as captain has been deafening. To encourage discussions on the area, let’s take up the question of the armband.
It is important to note that the square (Joe) root (not funny?) of exactly no-one, not even the Australians, are questioning the Yorkshireman’s position as a batsman in the team. Scoring over 1000 runs more than anyone else in the England team this calendar year is more than just extraordinary, its borderline farcical. The relevant issue is his role as a leader. The many instances where his captaincy has fallen short of the mark cannot be overlooked, be that misjudged on-field decision making, erroneous team selections, or that which actually matters at the end of the day, winning games of cricket.
Are those vying for Root’s blood justified? Is it sensible for Root to relinquish the captaincy now?
Yes.The need for change at the top of English test cricket is not just glaring, it’s blinding.
There is an element of truth in how much England owes Root. Without him, England would have driven straight past ‘the middle of nowhere’, arriving instead in the depths of a runless cricketing wasteland, hitherto undreamt of save for only the hardiest of Middlesex fans. An outstanding batting record does not justify his position as captain, however. Having been in the job since 2017, now boasting the asset of experience, he must take responsibility for his teams‘ performances, and be held accountable for their failures. The sympathy extended to Root after the 4-0 rout in 2017 simply is no longer warranted.
That all sounds rather pessimistic, so let’s change the tune and start 2022 as we mean to go on; with a healthy dose of optimism.
We should frame Root’s removal as captain in a positive, optimistic manner. Rather than discussing damage limitation, make the decision a proactive choice to refresh England’s elite red-ball team. There is absolutely no reason to think that the red-ball team can’t replicate the trajectory of their white-ball counterparts. Even if it was by ‘the barest of margins‘, the white-ball revival still worked. Put simply, a new captain would galvanise the team, enabling a hard-reset of all the facets of the English test team and their aspirations. Removing Root would allow a reassessment of the answer to questions vital to any successful team. How do we want to be perceived? Think of ’nice-guy‘ New Zealand, or the former ‘tough-guy‘ Australia teams of bygone generations. What brand of cricket do we want to play? Do we continue to encourage players to ’express themselves‘ or instead back players like Dom Sibley who don’t look flashy, but blunt the new ball? A new captain would redefine the parameters, presenting an opportunity for positive change in the England side.
Its the million dollar question; quite literally given the money in the modern game.
The answer? Eoin Morgan.
At first glance this may appear nonsensical even by JTCricket’s warped standards, but hear us out.
There’s a tentative consensus that Ben Stokes could be the heir to the English throne, but a lack of form, off-field controversies, and potentially inconsistent availability, leaves this path fraught with danger. If Stokes takes another indefinite break, it’ll be back to square one. (Since this article's release, Stokes has confirmed that he has no ‘ambition to become England captain’.)
In the absence of alternatives, Morgan’s name is the front-runner in the race to succeed Root. His pedigree as a captain in the English white-ball game is unrivalled; to the point where his captaincy secures him a spot in one of the most competitive white-ball XIs the game has ever seen. Consider him a modern day Mike Brearley: contributing where he can as he readjusts to the longer format, but always being worth his weight in gold as captain should he not deliver with the bat.
Furthermore, Eoin Morgan has an edge on his competitors. He has a surprisingly impressive, if outdated, test batting record having, scored 700 runs at an average of 30.43. If Morgan can replicate these numbers, then he’ll be more of an asset than most of the current middle order, and it is feasible to imagine he would only improve with time. Not only that, but in stark contrast to the notably weary, cliché-addled tones of Joe Root after the last test, Morgan can be motivated. After a now 7 year hiatus, Morgan has indeed signalled his intention to return to the longer format of the game, granting him the impetus necessary to succeed in orchestrating yet another zero-to-hero story for an England national team, a task so immensely challenging it really cannot be understated.
Perhaps most importantly, the decision makers at the ECB don’t stand to lose from this. If Morgan is appointed and England achieve their full potential, the ECB will be winning test matches again, thereby muting any controversy over Morgan’s appointment. Should this fail, then the ECB can save face by playing it off as a transitional phase led by an interim captain, with Morgan being the glue that sticks the England team together during the arduous rebuilding process. A process which, independent of successes, would see Morgan take the next longer term captain under his wing, impart all of his knowledge and experience, laying the foundation for a sustainably successful test future after he retires.
Rather than this being a ‘we predicted X would happen in a previous article‘ exercise, this is meant rather as a constructive, evidenced, and most pertinently hopeful piece on how England could use a ’record-breakingly‘ bad year to fuel a transformation for the ages. There are no guarantees in cricket, that’s a given. But with Morgan at the helm there would, at the very least, be hope for a better future; something which is presently in dangerously short supply for even the most loyal England fans.