Starting the 2014 calendar year with the final chapter in a largely forgettable Ashes series was not ideal for an England team that held high aspirations of remaining amongst the best in test cricket. The 5-0 whitewash defeat in Australia highlighted that England were second best throughout the series, with Michael Clarke’s men seizing the initiative and taking full control from day one of the first test at The Gabba. It created serious question marks over the quality of England’s batting and bowling, while it also resulted in the end of Kevin Pietersen’s illustrious, yet controversial, career as an England cricketer, along with Andy Flower’s tenure as coach as every new news story covered their demise in the Southern Hemisphere. Subsequent indifferent performances and results in all forms of the game have led to serious inquests over where it has gone wrong for a team that could seemingly do no wrong in 2013 to a faltering team in dire need of fresh ideas.
England’s captain has come under serious scrutiny from the media and cricket fans for a dramatic loss in form with the bat which has ultimately affected his captaincy. The manner in which England lost to India during the Investec Test Series in July and August further increased the pressure on Cook to stand down as captain, with critics believing he lacks the man management skills and ability to make critical decisions on the field to successfully lead the England team.
His stout resolution to remain as captain illustrates the considerable strength of a man who has been one of England’s best batsmen over the last five years, with Cook regularly scoring runs in all forms of cricket and standing up to the plate when those around him. It was these qualities that have put Cook on the road to redemption, although an agonising 95 in the third test against India means his wait for a much-needed century continues. While he remains the best man to lead England in test matches, his position as one day captain is under threat as the resounding defeat to India in the Royal London One Day Series illustrated that England do not have enough quality to perform in the shorter version of the game.
An important component of a successful cricket team is the ability to score runs on a frequent basis throughout the team. Having a number of high calibre batsmen who can turn a game on its head by remaining in and playing sensible, controlled innings is an invaluable commodity, but these qualities should run throughout a batting line-up. Tail-enders should not be expected to spare a team’s blushes, but 2014 has seen England’s bowlers try to score invaluable runs all too often. A number of England’s batsmen, most notably Cook and Matthew Prior, have failed to deliver with the bat, with batting collapses becoming a common theme as England have let so many promising situations slip with awful shot selections and poor dismissals. The growing popularity of the one day and Twenty20 formats may have blurred the lines for many players between how to approach the game in the short form and Test cricket, but this should not be an excuse for the number of collapses which have become a pandemic for England in all formats.