The summer that so nearly wasn’t. Fans who’d waited longer than ever for Test cricket might have felt disappointed when rain forced a further agonising delay, but the Sky production on the morning of the 8th July was a remarkable, moving piece of television.
First the fifteen minute recorded feature with Michael Holding and Ebony Rainford-Brent (who’s warmth and wit as a commentary pair made them an instant classic) offering their experiences of racial injustice. From Rainford-Brent came a damning though not surprising account of her own experience within the English game – dogged by subconscious prejudice and overt discrimination from childhood to retirement.
Holding hails from Jamaica. His youth was largely free from discrimination, though he doubts not the colonial legacies of institutionalised racism. An-all time great of the game, through cricket Holding became a globe trotter but with each stamp on his passport came more exposure to the backwards power structures that persist to this day.
Holding was the most elegant fast bowler cricket has seen and is just as eloquent with his words. Across this VT and the off-the-cuff discussion that followed, came a complete deconstruction of the forces behind institutional racism. Raw pain for the lived experience and contempt for those who allow it.
Since the murder of George Floyd, many have woken up, but too many and too many in the game still kick back. Listening to Holding, their stance becomes weaker than ever;
“Please. We Black people know White Lives Matter. I don’t think you know that Black Lives Matter. So don’t shout back at us about all lives matter. It is obvious, the evidence is clearly there that white lives matter. We want Black Lives to matter now. Simple as that.”
Play, eventually, began. With it came entertainment through memorable performances, an opportunity that looked unlikely in April, pride that the game made it possible and to many watching; comfort. The rhythms of a tight test match can sustain interest like no other sport and that is exactly what the first of each series brought. The Buttler-Woakes partnership in the first test against Pakistan should be remembered as one of England’s best.
Ultimately, England should be satisfied with their summer work. Two test wins against strong opposition were fully deserved. The visitors should be proud of their efforts too, though the West Indies’ search for a batting unit able to support their bowlers continues as their top order really struggled against England’s relentless attack. Pakistan showed more fight with the bat and their youthful attack will be better for the experience of bowling under pressure with the Dukes ball.
Some enhanced their reputations over the summer. Dom Sibley showed he knows his game well enough to provide the much needed ballast to the top order with his blueprint of careful shot selection and unbreakable patience. Ben Stokes carried on doing Ben Stokes things – did anyone predict anything different?
At the start of the summer there was reason to question Buttler’s future as wicket keeper but after making battling contributions against the West Indies he let loose against Pakistan in a match-winning partnership with Woakes in the first test and a second test century in the third.
That third test was dominated by Zac Crawley. His 267 in the final test was a remarkable performance. Combining a calm temperament, varied shot selection and considerable power he raced his way to making England’s 10th highest score of all time. Few would have predicted such a knock at the start of the summer but from now on expectation will be high for the young batsman.
The summer saw two incredible milestones. The old pair of Broad and Anderson passing 500 and 600 wickets respectively. After the infamous decision to leave him out of the first test and a visit to the Sky diary room that beat all 45 series of Big Brother for value, Broad was England’s player of the summer taking 29 wickets at just over 13 apiece. Anderson produced mixed returns across the summer though always looked threatening and reached 600 with the last act of the summer. The first seamer to do so and probably the last too.
It’s hard to do justice to these two greats but what has kept them on top all these years is an ability to improve, love of the game and desire to reinvent themselves. For both, their career average has fallen as their careers progressed and ‘Broad and Anderson 4.0’ could be the best vintage yet.
England looked strong as a collective this summer in a way which they haven’t for a number of years. Yet dull media talk swirled all summer over how best to prepare England’s bowlers for the away Ashes series next year. What was posed was a false dichotomy between winning at home with established names of Anderson, Broad and Woakes or give more experience to taller, quicker bowlers like Archer, Wood, Stone and Robinson.
The debate typified the annoying tendency in English cricket to focus on Ashes series as the be all. The basis of the argument also jumped to the conclusion that the only way for England to win down under is with a battery of bowlers bowling in excess of 90 miles per hour. It also ignored that England’s pace reserves are well stocked and experienced and that rotation over then next two years and even on the Ashes tour looks inevitable and will allow England to select the best attack in each condition.
Whilst a lack of bowling variety was brutally exposed on the previous tour where powder puff bowlers like Craig Overton and Tom Curran were utterly ineffective and even Broad and Woakes struggled, their best bowler was again Anderson.
This isn’t too surprising, Anderson is England’s best ever and, looking at recent successful tours (England 2010/11 and India 2018/19) the recipe for winning in Australia big first innings totals and disciplined, relentless bowling. England should worry more about developing the next Cook or Pujara than the next Boyd Rankin. In Sibley and Crawley they have a start.
Image Credit: Cricket Addictor