How England’s test team is correcting past mistakes

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 14: Eoin Morgan of England kisses the trophy after the Final of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 between New Zealand and England at Lord's Cricket Ground on July 14, 2019 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

A recent history of England’s test team

The first recognized test match took place between England and Australia in 1877. Since England has played 1022 test matches – at least 192 more than any other test playing nation. However, between 2015 and 2020, England’s approach looked clueless, and they often gifted test matches to the opposition – especially away from home. In this article, I will look to analyze the mistakes that they made in this period, and explain how England’s test team has begun to fix their glaring issues.

Australian cricketers Victor Trumper (1877 – 1915, centre, left) and Clem Hill (1877 – 1945, centre, right) making runs against England during the Second Test at Lord’s, London, 15th-17th June, 1899. Illustration from a photo by L. E. Mongiardino. Original publication: Illustrated London News, pub. 24th June 1899. (Photo by Illustrated London News/Rischgitz/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

England playing “attacking cricket”

After a shambolic 2015 Cricket World Cup, England appointed Trevor Bayliss as head coach and Paul Farbrace as assistant head coach. Together they developed a philosophy to play a modern brand of cricket in both one-day internationals and test matches. It turned out to be a huge success in limited-overs, with England winning the 2019 Cricket World Cup.

However, this did not work for England in test cricket. Risky strokeplay resulted in a high percentage of dismissals bowled or caught on the fence. The Duke ball has moved prodigiously in the past in English conditions, and therefore such strokeplay was never likely to work for a prolonged time. Jonny Bairstow, for example, averaged 58.80 in test matches in 2016. But, as his limited-overs game began to progress rapidly, his test average fell even alarmingly. Subsequent test averages in 2017, 2018, and 2019 were only 34, 30, and 19.

England has attempted to fix this problem, by ditching “attacking players” and picking test specialists in the middle order. Ollie Pope is an example of someone who has had great success in recent times. He has shown solid a technique against the moving ball and has not gone chasing after deliveries. Jos Buttler is now the only “attacking” batsmen picked consistently.

Spin to win for England’s test team

It took England multiple overseas failures to realize that they needed to field a specialist spinner in their test line-up. The issue was finally recognized after Maharaj spun South Africa to victory in Australia in 2016 and New Zealand in 2017 – while England lost the same tours subsequently. The mistake they made was playing Moeen Ali as a frontline spinner abroad when he preferred to be a batting all-rounder.

In recent times, England has given both Jack Leach and Dominic Bess consistent game time – even at home. In their recent tour to South Africa, this tactic paid off handsomely. Dominic Bess spun England to victory in Port Elizabeth with his guile and accuracy. England will need to continue their investment in a top-quality spinner if they are to win more test matches abroad.

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