Two short months ago the England cricket team was on a high. After whitewashing a stumbling and erratic Indian team on home soil during the four-game npower test series, England clinched the number one spot in the global ICC rankings and wrapped up a successful ODI series at Cardiff with a 3-0 victory over the visitors. During the summer campaign England were clinical, aggressive, and firing on all four cylinders.
Now skip ahead two months to the final ODI match at Kolkata on October 25. A beleaguered England team, already 4:0 down in the series against India, were about to cruise to their first win in the sub-continent, that is, until the entire batting line-up, except for Cook and Kieswetter, collapsed like a house of cards constructed on top of a particularly active fault-line. What appeared to be so easily accomplished on home soil turned out to be a much more arduous task abroad.
The rub of the green…
Much was made of England’s meteoric rise through the test rankings this summer. Commentators and journalists began asking the question of whether or not this English team could rank up there with the great West Indian and Australian sides of the past. Most cricket enthusiasts accurately predicted that England still had a lot of work to put in, before such comparisons could be made. After all, England have still yet to prove themselves in subcontinent and Caribbean conditions; and there is also the small matter of the one day game still to resolve.
With England unable to win a single ODI fixture in India, except for the 20:20 match at Kolkata, Andy Flower and his team once again have a clear set of objectives for the future: Win on the sub-continent and forge a successful one-day team.
With only a brief rest over the Christmas period, England will once again be back in action against a resurgent Pakistan in a three-match test series in the UAE. Despite the no-ball match-fixing scandal and Kamran Akmal’s continual chirping from behind the stumps, Pakistan look reinvigorated as an international team and some might say they are somewhat dangerous. With a constant flow of fast bowlers and some talented players in the side, defeating Pakistan on their adopted home soil will be no easy challenge.
After Pakistan in the UAE, England will jet off to Sri Lanka for a two-test series starting in Galle on March 26. The chance to gain some much needed experience in sub-continent conditions will not have escaped the England’s teams notice. One cause for concern is England’s current lack of 2nd spinner. Although Graeme Swann is rightly counted as one of the world’s best off-spinners, England has yet to find another decent attacking spin option. Calls for Monty Panesar’s return are likely to be heeded by the England camp, unless Tredwell or Rashid can break into the squad before then.
After four months of touring England will be back on home soil for a summer campaign starting with a three-test, three ODI and one 20:20 series against West Indies, a five ODI series against the old enemy in June, and a final summer showdown of three-tests, five ODI and three 20:20’s against South Africa in July. The combined striking force of South Africa’s Morkel and Steyn will undoubtedly be England’s toughest challenge over the summer.
If everything goes to plan, England will have successfully held on to the number one test ranking ahead of the winter’s pièce de résistance: The ICC 20:20 World Cup, hosted in Sri Lanka. Starting in September, England will be challenged with holding onto their first ever international cricket trophy, this time without the skills and sage captaining of Paul Collingwood.