So reports of the demise of the English cricket team, not to say those of the close of Alastair Cook’s Test career, proved premature.
Just as the great Ashes legend itself is rooted in an act of hyperbole (a notice placed by cricket-lovers in the Sporting Times in 1882, after Australia’s first win in England, saying that “English cricket died at The Oval” and “the body will be cremated and taken to Australia” – come on chaps, it’s only a game!) much hyperbole has been unleashed by England’s struggles down under this winter.
That’s the way of it more than ever in the modern age, of course, with round-the-clock air-time to fill alongside the infinite soapbox that is social media. There is no filter. International sportsmen play amidst an ocean of public opinion – not all entirely sensible.
England’s domination of the fourth Test made plenty of opinions look silly. There will be no whitewash after Australia left the MCG grateful for a draw having “parked the bus” for the last two days – hardly the strategy of a team vastly superior to its opponent.
Of course, England still have plenty to address. The top-order scores at Melbourne underlined one concern with Cook’s unbeaten 244 set alongside a 15, 17 and 14 in the top five. The seam-attack needs fresh impetus. Successors to James Anderson and Stuart Broad must be found soon. Then there is the question of spin. Where is England’s next specialist spinner of Test-winning quality?
Yet despite the Ashes defeat (in notoriously tough conditions – “it’s the most difficult tour of all” warned Bears sport director Ashley Giles, who experienced two, before a ball was bowled), England have plenty on which to build. Chris Woakes, Ben Stokes and Jonny Bairstow are a lower middle order to base a team around for years. Mark Stoneman and James Vince have the class, if they attune fully to the demands of the greatest format, to score many Test runs.
Then there are Joe Root and Cook. Root has not scored heavily in this series but name a Test batsmen, even from the very top drawer, who scored a stack of runs in every series he played. Still relatively new to captaincy, Root will be so much better for the outing, as they say. Cook, meanwhile, just showed in Melbourne, once again, his enduring class as a batsman and as a man.
Yes, England have a few issues. But every international team has issues. Australia for sure, heavily reliant on one batsman and possessing a seam-attack with much more cricket behind it than ahead.
If the Ashes were to take place in England in 2018, Joe Root’s side would surely start favourites and probably win. Reports of England’s demise are premature – but then quite a few reports these days do tend a lack a bit of perspective.