So hang on – it all happened in a surreal blur – did we win two series? Having lost those Silent Tests? If so, was all that dramatic, exotic and occasionally eerie stuff going off in ‘The Desert’ a rip-roaring success? I guess it was. Or it felt that way at the end.
Now faaaar be it from me to de-mystify the Pakistan-England triple-series thing to the extent that the boomtastic power or – more seriously – the romance of it is lost, but if we dust it down (sorr-rree) and try to engage proper growed-up reflection mode, how does it all look? Where are England at? What have we learned about the magnificent and bewildering flux that the game itself is in?
First thing that springs to mind – before even offering genuine congratulations to the England Group, which I do – is that the fabulous, explosive diversity between the three codes (T20/50 over/Test) is splintering things.
This may not be bad. There are implications and opportunities for all of us, for one thing. Fans have every right to be excited at the surge of energy pulsing through our ‘typically sedate’ pastime. Scribes and pundits have a renewed supply of high horses to git on up upon. Change is begetting change and whilst this may be challenging it does appear to be heaving us all forward. In the flux, admittedly.
Meanwhile, in the wunnerful postmodern matrix that is probably the game itself, England played away to Pakistan in (for example) Dubai! Appropriately, it turns out another extraordinary series – and why wouldn’t it? Firstly we are lulled into a 3-match Test Bit that asks familiar questions about technique against spin, or absence of spinners… and then it comes over all noisy and color-full and barnstormingly new again. Like the world. Like the kit. Like that red or white or pink or whatever thing – the ball.
Happily, through this full-on sensory assault, it’s clear that England have dumped their Short Format Dunces caps. And therefore any review of the tour may have to include the profoundly encouraging conclusion that ‘we’ve definitely got talent’.
We can and must chalk this up as progress whilst we smile our crazy-innocent smiles, imagining how the players feel. Surely the Barmiest England fan could never have predicted the journey from humiliation (World Cup – all that) to the narcotic worldiedom (epitomised by Buttler in that 100-in-an-instant innings) might be achieved with such startling speed. We’ve gone from not mentioning the cricket to rolling around the floor scattering goodies from the box.
Look at the players. See into their faces, lit up with pre-Nintendo joy! All of them! Go through the list of those with reasons to be closer to ecstatic than cheerful. On the less obvious side that may include Topley, Woakes, Willey and arguably Parry. In and around Roy or Buttler’s wantonness they all shared in preciously groovy stuff with real, notable contributions – important for them, important for us. Given the finale, with Jordan’s absurdly successful Super Over capping off a third consecutive T20 win and we’re all buzzing, all wallowing in the team-bath of their confidence.
Deep breath and zoom out again. Factor in the acceleration away from what used to be commonly assumed (four or five or six an over, consistent line and length) and this fecund-new environment offers players the hopefully energising prospect of reimagining the scope or direction of their careers. Because if we are at the point where any self-respecting international side needs to equip itself with three teams for increasingly(?) diverse formats of cricket, where today’s norms are smashed into history week by week, the stumpy goalposts have been smash ‘n grabbed – never mind moved.
This is that most unlikely of phenomena the cricket revolution and it continues to spin out the challenges. It has both an undeniable centrifugal force and fascinating implications for coaching and for execution of skills. It’s gonna be a boon to both the Specialist Coach industry and to Bullshitters Ubiquitous. (We’ll all need more experts, allegedly.)
I recall hearing England Coach Trevor Bayliss say something recently about great players being able to perform across codes but great players (by definition) account for a small minority even amongst international exponents of the game. Going forward we can only imagine selection is going to be as much about format as talent, because we move (do we not) increasingly into extremes? Athleticism will of course be ever more non-negotiable in a sexed-up game but players will likely be ultra-groomed for specific roles: Death Bowler; Attack Dog; Infuriating Nurdler. All this as well as international-class core skills.
I don’t see it as a problem that in the case of England only Root springs to mind as a very likely starter in all formats; I see that as a developing consequence of changes in the elite game. Haverfordwest CC may not have to concern themselves too deeply with this uber-horses for uber-courses thing but international coaches will. And their players will then make judgements about what they target; what role(s).
Where this multi-faceted thing leaves Test or longer-form Cricket everywhere is a question. It could be that a not insignificant bi-product of the contemporary urge for positivity on the park is dynamism off it – leading to tough calls over restructuring domestic competition or ‘providing space’ for ‘acclimatisation’/prep/performance of traditional cricket around blocks of white-ball action.
My ole mucker John Lydon railed about anger being an energy; it may be ironic or just plain weird that T20’s and now even 50-over’s punkiness reminds me now of his brilliant subversions. For me, cricket – comfortable or not – does need to feed on this current Youffy Explosion.
Zoom in again, to waaaaay back when, at the beginning of this particular (Pakistan) tour. Note that England got beat in two out of three of the Tests, meaning Farbrace and Bayliss – who clearly return with tremendous credit, generally – have things to think about. Christmas is coming… and so is Boxing Day.
The squad these two sagacious gentlemen picked for the upcoming South Africa tour felt a top seamer and a top spin bowler short, amongst other things; some felt it ‘unbalanced’ and yeh, I got that. The widely discussed Hales Gamble and the selection of Ballance also prompted a degree of malcontentment. There is consensus, at least, that this next venture for England Cricket – to face Steyn and Morkel etc – may tell us a whole lot more about the real strength of Bayliss’s group than the Pakistan games, in all their richnesses, could ever do.
Us Brits may be rejuvenated by Ashes memories and now Action Movie action via the desert. We approach South Africa as Jos Buttler might – with a lump in the throat but a store of confidence we hope to tap into. Huge ask but if England can continue to let their instincts flood through, whilst playing the match situation, who knows what further drama they may unleash?