Jonathan Liew’s piece for the Guardian on Tuesday, entitled ‘England retreat into safe and familiar embrace of Broad and Anderson’, yet bated by his tweet attaching the article captioned ‘England’s wasted summer’, ruffled many feathers on twitter amongst England fandom (to put it lightly). This writer was one of, well, seemingly everyone, to take issue with the piece, both due to the more minor details of his piece but more importantly the totally unnecessary, overarching negative tone of a piece which one would hope would celebrate a summer of test cricket which seemed nigh on unimaginable in May.
One of Liew’s first details he points out, halfheartedly praising, is that England have now won three straight series for the first time since beating India in 2011 and that they haven’t lost a home series since 2014, before swiftly re-focusing on the patchy form of England’s batsmen and an over-reliance on the ageing bowlers of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad. Yet, the former point should be a cause for tremendous celebration, not scepticism that it was delivered by an ageing team. Despite winning the Cricket World Cup in 2019, in a decade where success has been inconsistent, for example with Ashes series won in 2013 and 2015 being coupled with absolute pastings in the 2013-14 and 2017-18 series, consistent test match victories has surely been the most prominent issue which England have needed to fix. By hook or by crook, Joe Root has finally seemed to have done so.
Concerns about the poor form of new spinner Dom Bess, with just 3 wickets in 71 overs, and the fact that half of the top 6 batsmen, namely Rory Burns, Dom Sibley and Root , failed to pass 50 in any of England’s 4 innings vs Pakistan, Burns worst of all with a combined 20 (with an average of 5 this is hardly the form of a 1st man) are certainly valid. But what of the exceptional discovery of Zak Crawley, with his mammoth 267 in the 3rd test, almost totally overshadowing a marvellous innings of 152 for Jos Buttler, a player finally back in best form behind the stumps as well, encapsulated by a spectacular superman catch off Shaheen Afridi in the same test. For the former, aged at just 22 years, if an innings of 267 isn’t enough of a cause for excitement or a source of key discovery, then I don’t know what is. Couple this with a return to form for Ben Stokes and it could be an electric partnership.
As for the bowlers, although a return for more established spin bowler Jack Leach may be necessary, Bess didn’t just ‘proved his worth’ in South Africa but was totally unplayable at times in January (a fifer for him on the 3rd day of the 3rd test). Liew certainly isn’t calling for him to be axed, but a criticism that ‘Austria’s batsmen [would be fine dealing with him never mind Australia’s]’ is a ludicrously harsh statement for a player aged 23 just going through a rough patch, where wet weather will have, by and large, butchered spinning conditions. Further, with Bess at age 23 and Leach at 29, isn’t Root doing exactly what Liew is calling for and ‘investing in the future’? More widely, his point seems to be that with Anderson and Broad taking the lion’s share of England’s wickets we have learnt little, yet what if we’ve learnt that Broad is still a phenomenal bowler and can offer this quality for years to come? Surely this is also a positive lesson learned and a reason for excitement?
I’m far from a cricket expert, so perhaps my gripe just comes from a more general problem among many English sports writers- an obsession with focusing on the future when surely winning in the present is surely the first thing that matters. Not just the winning in the present, but also enjoying the sport, which is what sport, in its most distilled essence, is there for. Crawley’s 267, Buttler’s return, Anderson’s 600 and vintage Stuart Broad provide just that. In a summer where it seemed there would be no cricket at all, surely this point is more true than ever before?
If you continually focus on the future, you’ll never enjoy the fun and success of the present.