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Assessing England’s winter of two halves and what it means for future

I

t was the ultimate winter of two halves for England’s Test team. 

Indeed, it is only a month since they were being criticised for being too conservative in one of their greatest ever victories in Chennai, a result which extended their winning run overseas to six Tests, their best in a century.

Thing went south fast, with the next two games played on more sporting pitches that their batsmen simply could not handle, the policy of rest and rotation stretched them badly (they missed Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali, while Jonny Bairstow’s disrupted rhythm made him a shadow of the player he was in Sri Lanka), and the burden of carrying the batting became too great for Root. To top it off, they badly misread conditions when selecting their team in both the last two Tests. 

Here’s an assessment of each department of England’s team.

The over-reliance on Joe Root, who scored a staggering 546 more runs than anyone else on tour and more than the five players who lined up in England’s top three combined, is obvious.

The rest just did not have the trust in their defensive games against high quality spin on turning tracks. The hope is that the youngsters will be better for it; the worry is that none looked more assured at the end of the winter than at the beginning. 

BCCI

It seems as if an important period at the start of the county season looms where, after a few weeks off, Rory Burns, Dom Sibley, Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope all have an opportunity to score big runs and restate their respective cases to start the summer. Dan Lawrence has the platform to displace any of them, while Bairstow seems the only batsman unlikely to be in the conversation this summer. He is older, and off to the IPL. 

Looking ahead, balance is an issue. Number 4 and 5 are perfect for Root and Ben Stokes. Both Pope and Lawrence look like No6s at this stage of their young careers. The trouble comes up top; since making 267 at No3, Crawley has only opened. If he is given another go at first drop (his preferred position), Burns and Sibley (the most limited options) seem the only viable openers and one of Pope or Lawrence will miss out entirely. 

The health of this department remains rude. Buttler did well with the bat and gloves in the three wins, then Ben Foakes kept with class and flair in the defeats. As England subsided, his batting fell away, so did not do enough to displace Buttler, whose wise counsel was missed as well as ability against spin. 

Perhaps, as one of the few Englishmen with a trusty defence but limited boundary options, Foakes never really stood a chance at No7 or, finally, No8 before a weak tail. But he did average 15. Had Buttler been available for the whole tour, it seems certain that he and Foakes would both have been in England’s side by its end.

BCCI

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