With the Ashes gone, England’s Test team are in what could be tactfully described as some disarray. But where there is despair, let us sow hope. A year ago, The Spin expressed six wishes for 2021, and most of them came true. Cricket’s gates did reopen, Michael Holding did have a bestseller, Ireland did keep busy and New Zealand did become world Test champions. One wish went badly awry: Zak Crawley never came close to a second Test century, and for someone who can play so regally, 2021 was an annus horribilis.
Another was only half-fulfilled: Mark Wood did get more Tests – seven in the calendar year, the most for him since 2015 – but appeared only once against India and was perplexingly rested in Adelaide last month, just when his speed was unsettling Australia’s best batters. Still, as the players say, we go again. Here are six wishes for 2022.
1) England reset
Joe Root, who has been wrong about most things in Australia, is right about this. England need to rethink their red-ball cricket, just as they did with the white-ball game in 2015. That operation had two masterminds: Andrew Strauss, England’s then managing director, who saw the need for it, and Eoin Morgan, the incoming white-ball captain, who made it happen by turning a team with no identity into fearless master-blasters.
Transforming the Test team will take brains. The squad needs a natural captain, someone steely and crafty, not smiley and woolly. The whole set-up needs a boss with more vision and verve than Ashley Giles, who has made his mark only by getting rid of the biggest brain in the England brains trust, Ed Smith. As national selector, Smith had a win/loss ratio in Tests of 1.75 (won 21, lost 12). His successor, Chris Silverwood, has a ratio of 0.17 (won one, lost six). The fixture list has been tough, the Covid protocols taxing, but that is still a steep decline.
Giles’s job should revert to Strauss, who relinquished it for personal reasons when his wife, Ruth, was dying of cancer. If he is only available part-time, the ECB can say “No problem”. It is a job that mainly consists of hiring people for other jobs lower down, though Strauss has the clarity and clout to change the mindset of those above him, too. He might even persuade them to turn down those mind-boggling bonuses.
2) The T20 World Cup is not ruled by the toss
Yes, there’s another one coming up, a year after the last. In October, Australia, the surprise winners, will defend the trophy on their own soil in what should be a more satisfying tournament. In the UAE the toss held too much sway: all six of Australia’s victories came batting second. By the end they were probably playing well enough to win batting first, but they never got to prove it. England, the only team to beat them, started sublimely but ran out of steam, lost Jason Roy to injury and succumbed to New Zealand in the semi-final. That should spur them on, along with the knowledge they can be the first men’s team to hold both World Cups at once.
3) England win the Ashes
The women’s Ashes, that is. The series covers all three international formats, a scenario England’s men can only envy. It begins on 26 January with a single Test, followed by three T20s and three ODIs. Australia’s women rule the world, so wresting the Ashes from them on their own turf is mission almost impossible. But the England captain, Heather Knight, has a gifted squad who have been battle-hardened by the big crowds in the Hundred. And they have plenty more to play for later in the year. Straight after the Ashes, there’s the World Cup in New Zealand, with England arriving as the holders. Halfway through the home season come the Commonwealth Games (in Birmingham, from 28 July), which will feature T20 cricket for the first time – with no men to hog the headlines.
4) Racism is given out
A month ago, Yorkshire seemed to be finally cleaning out the stables after their dismal response to Azeem Rafiq’s allegations of racism. They laid off all their coaching staff and brought in Darren Gough as managing director of cricket. Since then it has gone all quiet on the northern front. This could be because the players threatened to quit: Gough may be talking to them behind closed doors. Let’s hope that if push comes to shove he is prepared to let them go and start afresh, building a new team around Adil Rashid, who is too good not to be playing four-day cricket (assuming his shoulder can stand it). And let’s hope the rest of English cricket becomes more inclusive. Every team, professional or amateur, can help by taking the knee. Sky can help by giving the commentary spot vacated by David Lloyd to Mark Butcher, not just because he’s mixed-race, but because he’s top-class – shrewd, lucid and witty.
5) England work out how to play New Zealand
If you can’t beat ’em, copy ’em. Morgan’s blueprint for buccaneering was borrowed from his mate Brendon McCullum, who was the New Zealand captain at the time. In Tests these days the Kiwis are everything England are not: canny, efficient, clear-thinking. They are the only team Root has never beaten as captain (played six; lost three, drawn three) and they are coming over again for three Tests in June. We don’t know who will be in charge of England by then, but we do know they will have to work out how to deal with Tim Southee’s swing, Kyle Jamieson’s bounce and Neil Wagner’s belligerence – and how to ape New Zealand’s ability to punch above their weight.
6) Jofra Archer comes steaming in
England’s most exciting discovery since Ben Stokes has not played for them since March and if he goes to the Caribbean it will be to see his family. Archer will soon have lost a whole year to a stress fracture of the right elbow. Some have doubted whether he will play another Test, but the man himself doesn’t seem to be among them. On Australia’s Channel 7 at the start of the Ashes, Archer said: “This is really one cricket tour as a fast bowler that you don’t want to miss.” Quizzed about his recuperation, he said: “Everything’s been moving forward nicely.” He’ll be back. The question is when – and in how many formats.