Cricket’s longest summer in memory means you could be forgiven for not being across what happened in the West Indies recently. But like at the World Cup, it was good news for Australia.
With the Ashes just over two months away, England were held to a 1-1 Test series draw in the Caribbean, a result that has placed serious question marks over the future of coach Peter Moores.
Despite a disastrous World Cup campaign, where they missed the quarter-finals, England were expected to bounce back and comfortably beat a West Indies side missing the likes of Chris Gayle, Sunil Narine and Dwayne Bravo, who were all on Indian Premier League duty.
Incoming England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Colin Graves said before the series that there would be “some enquiries” if Alastair Cook’s men did not win, and the signs were encouraging when they named their 16-man squad.
Included was promising all-rounder Ben Stokes, while six players who helped Yorkshire win the County Championship last season – Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Adam Lyth and Jonny Bairstow – were also picked.
England have never properly replaced Andrew Strauss but left-handed opener Lyth, named as the Professional Cricketers’ Association Player of the Year in 2014, was the country’s top run-scorer in Division 1 of first-class cricket last year, hitting 1489 runs at a superb average of 67.68.
Yet he carried drinks for the entire Test series, with Jonathan Trott – a specialist No.3 – chosen to open instead. Trott made 72 runs in three Tests, including three ducks, before retiring from international cricket. He was the conservative choice.
Leg-spinner Rashid, who has played in the Twenty20 format for South Australia, was another key cog in Yorkshire’s success last season, and surely three Tests on slow wickets against the West Indies was the perfect chance to introduce him to cricket at the highest level.
Rashid can be unpredictable and – like many other leg-spinners – is prone to bad deliveries, but his good balls are often unplayable. He also mixed Powerade for the tour.
In his place, England opted for 33-year-old off-spinner James Tredwell in the first Test – a man who struggled to get a game for Kent in the second division of county cricket last season. He was the conservative choice.
Tredwell, to his credit, took five wickets in the opener, but when England were chasing a result, he was found wanting. And his gentle tweakers won’t give any Australian batsmen nightmares. He suffered an arm injury in that Test, though, giving England selectors another chance to blood Rashid.
With two Tests remaining in the series and a further two against New Zealand before the Ashes begins in Cardiff on July 8, England selectors could – and should – have made the necessary change.
Of course, Rashid was not selected for the second Test, or the third. Batsman Moeen Ali and Root – handy off-spinners but far from specialists – did the spin bowling work instead.
But that’s the problem with English cricket. Stubbornness.
See Cook’s continual selection in one-day international cricket, despite his form clearly not warranting it, only to be dumped on the eve of their World Cup campaign, giving Eoin Morgan no chance to get settled in the captaincy role.
Two players who Australia have not seen much of, who have been in excellent form over the past year, were not given a chance. It was a missed opportunity.
If England are to win back the Ashes in July and August, James Anderson will have to play a big role.
He helped his side win the second Test and was one of the few players to emerge from the tour with credit, taking 17 wickets at an average of 18.
Root (358 runs), Ballance (331) and Cook (268) batted well but two collapses in the third Test saw the West Indies level the series.
England’s batting lacks depth and, despite returning to county cricket, Kevin Pietersen looks no closer to returning at Test level, a significant boost for Australia.
And what about Geoffrey Boycott’s views on Cook? He said: “Alastair is so up his own arse, he thinks he is untouchable as England captain and the only guy who can do the job.”
England are eating their own again. And it’s music to the ears of Australian cricket fans.