May 1, 2014

An English sort of revolution

It's all change for England heading into the home Test season. Or is it?

It's mostly going to be the usual suspects for England this summer © PA Photos

The English are sometimes said to be conservative with a small "c". So whilst London might have provided a safe haven for Karl Marx to write Das Kapital and publish The Communist Manifesto, his host nation's most famous revolution resulted in more people being killed by an automated loom than by firing squad.

English cricket often gives the impression of a similar attitude to change. The various county grounds scattered across the shires are hardly a seething maelstrom of radical anger. National selectors are more likely to provoke a raised eyebrow by staying faithful to a struggling player than by a sudden show of faith in exciting but unproven youth. And whilst the ECB might have invented T20, it has left it to others to develop the format and use it in shaping the finances of the modern game. It's all very evolution rather than revolution, I'll take an umbrella with me just in case - conservative with a small "c".

But failure is often the catalyst for change. And the last six months have seen enough failure for even English cricket to realise that change has to come. The result is a new head coach, a parting of the ways with their most talented batsman that is yet to be fully explained, and more question marks placed over the international future of the recent Ashes squad than you'd find on the Riddler's costume.

So this season will see a different England. Change is coming; new players are to be drafted in, a fresh start made. At least that's the impression you get from seeing the Test side debated in the press and among supporters. Everyone has an opinion over who should replace Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott in the batting line-up, who the keeper should be, and which spinner gets to spend his summer being unfavourably compared to Graeme Swann. Between us all we've managed to narrow the next Test squad down to a trim 30-40 possible candidates. It's all very exciting; revolutionary, even.

Yet when you look at who has performed in domestic cricket so far this season, it's mostly the names of current England players that catch the eye. Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Gary Ballance have gone from the ignominy of a five-nil whitewash in Sydney to being amongst the heaviest run scorers in county cricket. James Anderson who was ineffective in Australia and Steven Finn who was deemed "unselectable", have dominated the bowling.

But then one of the most painful truths for England from their humiliating Ashes tour is that the players they selected were, by and large, the best available. Nick Compton and James Taylor might feel harshly treated, and the decision to take a group of tall fast bowlers and then hardly use them was strange, to say the least, but most of the players on that tour will be strong candidates for the Test series against Sri Lanka in June.

Joe Root and Matt Prior had a tour to forget, but once they have proved themselves to be fully recovered from injury, I'd expect them to be first choice players again. Whilst Ben Stokes would have to break his wrist punching the Archbishop of Canterbury rather than a dressing-room locker not to walk back into England's troublesome No. 6 position after the assured way he made it his own during the Australian summer.

That leaves one batting berth open, with Sam Robson looking likely to join Cook and Root in England's top three, a toss up between Moeen Ali and Scott Borthwick to fulfil the spinner's role. and one more seamer to join Stuart Broad and Anderson.

So for "England's new start" we'll have a coach who has been reappointed to the job, and a Test side that could contain nine or ten players from the recent Ashes tour. As change goes, it's a very English revolution.

My first-choice England team for the upcoming Sri Lanka Test series: Alastair Cook, Sam Robson, Joe Root, Ian Bell, Gary Balance, Ben Stokes, Matt Prior, Scott Borthwick, Stuart Broad, Chris Jordan James Anderson.

Dave Hawksworth has never sat in a press box or charged a match programme to expenses