Australia may have retained the Ashes, but England can pick up a few positive points from this summer’s Test match cricket. From the miracle of Ben Stokes at Headingley to breakthrough stars like Jofra Archer, it seems that all is not lost for the England team.
But with England’s batting order still looking prone to collapse and bowlers like Jimmy Anderson entering the twilight of their international careers, there are big questions for what comes next. All of which shows that England’s upcoming winter tour could prove to be a fascinating period in the development of the new-look England cricket team.
Looking ahead to England’s 2019 winter tour
England face a tricky winter tour that sees them playing against New Zealand and South Africa who are both higher placed in the ICC Test rankings. These Test series will prove to be tough challenges for the England team, but they can at least take comfort from the fact that they won’t have to bowl to Steve Smith for over a year.
The England skipper Joe Root has said that he wants to use the winter tour to build up a new-look side for the next Ashes series. As a result, there could be plenty of new faces making an appearance in the southern hemisphere this winter.
New Zealand – Second-place in the ICC Test rankings
The Black Caps will be desperate to play against England to make up for their 2019 Cricket World Cup final defeat. Although Test cricket is a very different game, New Zealand should be able to use home advantage to great effect.
England’s tour of New Zealand includes five T20 matches that run from 1 to 10 November. These take place before two Test matches that will be played at the Bay Oval in Tauranga from 20 to 25 November, and Seddon Park in Hamilton from 28 November to 3 December. The Bay Oval game marks the first time that this cricket ground has been used for a Test match.
New Zealand had the upper hand the last time that these two teams met in 2018. The match at Eden Park in Auckland saw the Black Caps winning by an innings and 49 runs. Trent Boult was the star player with his left-armed swing bowling producing excellent figures of 6 for 32 in England’s horrendous first innings of 58 all out.
Things improved in the second test in at the Hagley Oval in Christchurch with a decent century for Jonny Bairstow. But it remains to be seen how England will fare against a batting lineup that features the staying power of Kane Williamson and Tom Latham.
South Africa – Can Proteas bounce back to former glories?
Although South Africa might not be the Test match force that they were five years ago, they should still cause plenty of problems for England. The visitors will play four Test matches against a Proteas side that are third-place in the ICC rankings.
The first Test takes place at the Supersport Park Cricket Stadium in Gauteng from 26 to 30 December. This will be followed by the second Test at Newlands Cricket Ground in Cape Town from 3 to 7 January.
From here, South Africa will entertain England for the third Test at St George’s Oval in Port Elizabeth from 16 to 20 January. The fourth and final Test takes place at Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg from 24 to 28 January.
It’s been two years since England last entertained South Africa in a Test match series. 2017 saw England winning 3-1, and it featured many memorable moments from the England stars. From Joe Root’s 190 at Lords, to Moeen Ali’s excellent all-rounder performance at Old Trafford, England were clearly the better team.
But South African players like Quinton de Kock can always deliver results with the bat, and the Proteas will definitely be keen to bounce back from what was a fairly dismal 2019 Cricket World Cup.
Ashes 2019 – What went wrong?
The 2-2 draw in the Ashes could have been so much worse for England. For many parts of the series, England looked like they had been concentrating too much on one day internationals. Here are some of the biggest problem areas that England will need to work on ahead of their winter tour.
The inevitable batting collapses
Every time that England went into bat, there was always an air of trepidation among their supporters. Much of this was down to the excellence of Australian bowlers like Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood, but England’s batting line-up looked particularly liable to collapse.
Nowhere was this more evident than during the first innings at Headingley. The pitiful England score of 67 all out was the lowest Ashes score since 1948, and it signalled big problems in how the team bat.
Jason Roy came in for much of the blame and his batting average of 13.75 from eight innings tells the story of what a horrendous time the 29-year old had. But Roy wasn’t the only villain in England’s batting line-up.
With players like Jonny Bairstow having a batting average of just 23.77 and Jos Buttler only being saved from humiliation thanks to his efforts in the fifth Test, it seems that England need to find a new way to give their bowlers a score worth defending.
Failing to cope without Jimmy Anderson
Having to bowl against Australia without their leading wicket-taker was a huge blow for England’s fortunes in the Ashes. Jimmy Anderson bowled four overs in the first Test, but a recurrent calf injury took him out of action for the remainder of the series.
As a result, the English bowling attack frequently lacked precision and inspiration. The biggest winner out of this was undoubtedly Steve Smith. The Australian star proved to be virtually unbeatable throughout the series and emerged with an astonishing batting average of 110.57 from seven innings.
The sight of Steve Smith racing to a score of 211 in the fourth Test highlighted just how toothless the England bowling attack could look without the experience of Anderson. While Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad did an decent job, they couldn’t recreate Australia’s bowling attack that always boasted three consistently strong pace bowlers.
Fielding mishaps make all the difference
England were often their own worst enemies in the last Ashes campaign. English cricket fans had to suffer Steve Smith being dropped multiple times, and the fact that Jofra Archer missed out on getting him caught and bowled on 65 before he raced away to 211 was a pretty good snapshot of how England missed numerous chances.
While there will always be dropped catches in cricket, England seemed to blow it at critical times. Even Jonny Bairstow came in for plenty of criticism as a result of his wicketkeeping performance before he managed to stump Matthew Wade in the final test.
Sometimes the fielding positions and bowling choices seemed to let Australia get away with too much. Joe Root has been captaining the England team for two years but he still seems to find it hard to work out how to solve problems like getting Steve Smith out.
Positive points from England’s Ashes campaign
While England gave us some truly dismal performances during the Ashes, it’s important to remember that it wasn’t half as bad as the disaster that was the Ashes tour of 2017/18. Plus there were some individual performances that suggest that England might have what it takes to become an even better Test cricket team in the future.
The arrival of Jofra Archer
The 24-year old Jofra Archer was one of the most exciting things about the 2019 Cricket World Cup, and it was great to see him explode on the Test match scene against Australia. During the course of the series, Archer picked up 22 wickets and produced England’s best bowling average of 20.27.
Highlights included 6-62 at the Oval and 6-45 at Headingley. But it was the sheer pace that Archer brought that really revitalised the England bowling attack. A good fast bowler had been missing from the England side for too long, and Archer’s wicked bouncer that took out Steve Smith in the second Test undoubtedly paved the way for the legendary victory at Headingley.
Sam Curran and a wave of new talent
One of the biggest questions of the Ashes series was why they took so long to introduce Sam Curran into the side. The young bowler looked to have experience beyond his years in the final Test, and he picked up three key wickets in the first innings.
But Sam Curran is just one of a wave of promising youngsters who could bolster the England team long after the likes of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad have retired from international duties. His brother Tom Curran suffered with injury for much of 2019, but he could be a strong addition to the bowling line-up. Plus Dominic Sibley or even Zak Crawley might also benefit from some valuable Test experience this winter.
Ben Stokes inspires a generation
But if there’s one thing that the 2019 Ashes will be remembered for, it will be Ben Stokes’ magical innings at Headingley. It was a batting achievement not seen since the days of Ian Botham, and it will undoubtedly inspire many more youngsters to play cricket.
As the 28-year old punished Australia’s bowlers with outrageous reverse sweeps and handed England the most unlikely victory, it made the case for why cricket is such a wildly unpredictable and popular sport.