Following the debacle in the last Ashes series, England needed changes in the Test side, particularly in the batting department.
They certainly made some changes, both in bringing youth in and also altering the batting order to find the right balance. Despite certain amounts of criticism levelled at the selectors regarding one man in particular, they needed to move towards the future, and have pretty much done so.
The youth have come in and blossomed. The future is looking very bright, led by Gary Ballance and Joe Root.
England vs Sri Lanka
The first series after the Ashes was against Sri Lanka. England lost 1-0. The bowlers underperformed, with only Anderson averaging below 30.
Sam Robson, Gary Ballance and Moeen Ali were all called up to the Test side replacing Michael Carberry, Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen, while Joe Root was moved back down the order. The young batsmen shined.
Gary Ballance, a Yorkshire middle-order batsman who averages over 50 in First Class cricket was promoted up to three as a replacement for Jonathan Trott.
It was only his second Test match, and he scored an unbeaten 104* in the second innings of the first Test at Lord’s when there were wickets falling around him. He averaged 67 for the series.
Joe Root was moved down to five after previous stints opening and batting at number 3. He scored an unbeaten 200 in the first innings of the first Test, looking comfortable again in the middle order, showcasing his quality and helping England post a very convincing 550. He averaged 86.33 for the series and was in terrific form.
Moeen Ali returned scores of 48, four and two in his first three innings in the series, but on the fifth day of the second Test, with England needing to bat the day out to draw both the Test and the series, he scored his maiden Test hundred. He remained unbeaten on 108 and very nearly saved England, but with wickets falling around him, and number 11 Jimmy Anderson fending off to short leg with two deliveries left, his hard work went unrewarded. For a batsman renowned for being flamboyant and free scoring, he dug in that day and did well. He averaged 54 for the series.
Sam Robson was called up as opener after a very productive County season in 2013 for Middlesex, as well as for the England Lions and scored his maiden Test century in the first innings of the 2nd Test after a difficult first Test match at Lord’s. He averaged 42.75 for the series.
England vs India
England were much better in this series. After a stalemate at Trent Bridge on a poor wicket in the first Test and defeat in the second Test at Lord’s, England won the remaining three Tests convincingly when the bowlers rediscovered their best form. The young batsmen always helped set up a good platform for the bowlers, however, with some help from the senior batsmen.
At Trent Bridge, England were 298-9, 159 runs behind India’s first innings total when Jimmy Anderson joined Joe Root at the crease. Sam Robson and Gary Ballance had earlier scored 59 and 71 respectively with the others failing. Joe Root had just reached his half-century. But they both put on an incredible 198 run partnership that pushed England into a 39 run lead. Jimmy Anderson (81) played the innings of his life, but it was Joe Root’s calmness, maturity and quality that stood out in his unbeaten 154. He showed real character, and what to expect for years to come. To help England get into a lead from a likely deficit was fantastic to see.
The second Test at Lord’s was Gary Ballance’s turn again to really shine. On a green wicket at Lord’s, India had scored 295. England’s top six except Ballance also struggled with Cook (10), Robson (17), Bell (16) and Root (13) all going cheaply which set England back. It needed Ballance to stay in and make a hundred to which he obliged. Ali (32) struggled for fluency, but a 98 run partnership with Ballance was important. When Ballance was dismissed for 110, England still had a lot of work to do, but Ballance’s innings kept them in the game. Unfortunately England lost the Test with a poor second innings that saw them bowled out for 223 with Root (66) the only batsman to pass 50.
England dominated the next three Tests. In the third Test, Jos Buttler replaced Matt Prior as the wicket-keeper and made his Test debut. England scored 569-7d; Alastair Cook returning to form with 95, but another brilliant innings from Gary Ballance (156), his top Test score, along with Ian Bell’s wonderful 167 set England up well. Jos Buttler provided the icing on the cake as he scored an 83-ball 85 on debut, showing his big hitting capabilities that excited the crowd. India hit 330 in reply, which required England to score quick runs, declare, and bowl India out again. Alastair Cook (70*) and Joe Root (56) hit brisk fifties before England declared on 205-4. England went on to win the game by 266 runs.
The fourth and fifth Tests saw England rout India – only needing to bat once in each Test. The openers were now out of sorts, but Joe Root and Jos Buttler excited the crowd again with fifties at Old Trafford. England won that Test by an innings and 54 runs. At The Oval, Gary Ballance hit 64, but Joe Root really blossomed again with an unbeaten 149.
In the 2014 summer, Joe Root was England’s top run-scorer with 777 runs at an average of 97.11 with three fifties and three centuries. Gary Ballance was second in the run-scorers list with 704 runs at an average of 70.40 with three fifties and three centuries. Jos Buttler had a very good start to his Test career with two fifties in three innings. Moeen Ali had a quiet series against India after his maiden century against Sri Lanka, as did Sam Robson. The senior batsmen in Alastair Cook and Ian Bell averaged 37.60 and 39.45 respectively, with each scoring three fifties in the summer, though Bell was the only one of the two to score a century.
West Indies vs England
England are currently playing a three-Test series in the Caribbean. Sam Robson was dropped from the Test squad after a disappointing series against India, while Adam Lyth and Jonathan Trott were both called up. Moeen Ali missed the first Test through injury. England opted for ‘safety’ over ‘potential’ when picking their Test side for the first Test when Trott instead of Lyth opened with Alastair Cook. But England’s batting yet again gave the fans something to really be excited about.
England were in trouble at 34-3 on the first day when Joe Root joined Ian Bell at the crease. Both batsmen dug England out of a hole and started to bat more freely after a tricky start as the day went on. Bell showed his usual class and elegance, while Root was continuing on from where he left off last summer scoring freely and playing the ball very late. He was dismissed for 83. Then entered another exciting talent in Ben Stokes, who returned to the side after a difficult 2014. He showed his capabilities scoring at a brisk pace and increasing the run rate, punishing anything that was short or wide. England collapsed after he was dismissed for 79 off 95.
Gary Ballance had endured a poor winter with the bat in the one-day arena which had threatened to affect his batting in the longer format of the game when he couldn’t get runs in the warm-up games and got dismissed for 10 in the first innings. There were suddenly doubts about whether he could bat at three and get out of form soon, but he put any doubts aside when he reached his fourth Test century after tea on the fourth day with a powerful thump down the ground off Sulieman Benn. Joe Root scored 59 in the second innings, Ben Stokes hit a brisk 35 and Jos Buttler made up for his 22 ball duck with a quick fire 59* off 56 balls. The exciting talent shone through again, with some of the senior guys struggling.
England’s youthful middle-order have been performing excellently for the last 12 months and it makes for an exciting future. The senior batsman, Ian Bell, who has scored 22 Test centuries and averages over 45 in 106 Test matches provides an excellent foil for Gary Ballance and Joe Root, who promise to be the main-stayers of England’s batting for years to come. With Ben Stokes at 6 and Jos Buttler at 7 who add fire-power and can take a game away from the opposition in a session, it adds a fantastic balance to the batting line up. Moeen Ali will have to get back into the team, more for his bowling, but where?
They now need to sort out the opening conundrum with Alastair Cook’s form compounding the lack of a suitable opening partner.
When they do, I think England’s batting line-up could be the strongest in world cricket. There is depth in the middle-order, with James Taylor and James Vince both waiting in the wings, and there’s openers such as Adam Lyth, Alex Lees and Alex Hales who have the potential to succeed at Test level if called upon.
Alastair Cook is England’s biggest batting worry with captaincy putting too much pressure on his game. He’s not showing the patience he did two to three years ago with the bat, but if he regains form and confidence, England’s batting will be world-class once again, with a good combination of youth and experience, as well as the right balance between the accumulators and enforcers with the bat.
I am looking forward to the future.