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The nucleus of this England side is not going to change overnight, but some key players are now the wrong side of 30 and will leave tough holes to fill when the time comes
August 22, 2013
News : Flower tight-lipped over his future
News : Moores hopes for Kerrigan support
Report : Smith achieves his moment, England miss theirs
Features : Kerrigan suffers on nightmare debut
Matches: England v Australia at The Oval
Series/Tournaments: Australia tour of England and Scotland
Whatever else happens over the last three days of this match, England may reflect on the Oval Test of 2013 as having provided a disconcerting peek into their future.
It is not just that their two debutants in this match - Chris Woakes and Simon Kerrigan - have endured tough baptisms into Test cricket. It is that, over the last four years, England have now brought 12 new players into their Test side without any of them making an incontrovertible case for long-term inclusion.
You have to go back to 2009, when Jonathan Trott won his first Test cap, to find an England player who can be said to a have made an uncompromised success of his elevation.
Since then a dozen men have been tried - Michael Carberry, Steven Finn, James Tredwell, Eoin Morgan, Ajmal Shahzad, Samit Patel, Jonny Bairstow, James Taylor, Nick Compton, Joe Root, Kerrigan and Woakes - and, while four or five (Taylor, Finn, Bairstow and Root in particular) may yet prove themselves worthy Test players, none have yet progressed to become long-term, automatic selections.
As a result, England continue to rely on the same trusted characters. But the unsettling suspicion is that, scratch beneath the surface of this strong England side, and there are doubts about their bench strength.
While England look relatively well stocked with top-order batsmen - the likes of Varun Chopra, Luke Wells and Sam Robson - and tall, fast bowlers - the likes of Jamie Overton, Boyd Rankin, Finn and Tremlett, who responded to be overlooked for this match by claiming five wickets for Surrey on Thursday - they are no closer to finding a replacement for the swing of James Anderson or the spin of Graeme Swann.
Maybe that is not surprising. Anderson and Swann are two of the best bowlers England have possessed in decades. But they are both over 30, they are both required to shoulder heavy workloads and neither can be expected to do so indefinitely.
While it had been presumed that Monty Panesar would inherit Swann's role in this side - and there are whispers that this could, just could, be Swann's final Test in England - recent revelations about Panesar have thrown some doubt over his long-term involvement. Suffice it to say, it would be naive to conclude that his bizarre behaviour in Brighton recently was simply an aberration.
That would mean that Kerrigan could be England's first choice spinner much earlier than had been anticipated. Aged only 24 and with an impressive first-class record, Kerrigan no doubt has a bright future. But on the evidence of this game, he is some way from being a Test cricketer.
In some ways, the second day of this Test was even more depressing than the first for Kerrigan. There are caveats to the decision not to bowl him - it was a day truncated by poor weather and conditions favoured the seamers - but to see Trott called into the attack ahead of him hardly provided a ringing endorsement of his captain's faith in his abilities. Perhaps a more sympathetic captain might have found a way to involve Kerrigan a little more.
Any judgement on Woakes' debut depends on how you perceive his role. He bowled tidily enough on a flat wicket and will surely never let England down. Whether that is enough to justify a Test career as a third seamer is highly debatable, though. And, while he may yet score match-defining runs from No. 6, what has become clear is that he cannot be viewed as a viable alternative as the incisive swing bowling replacement of Anderson. England don't have one.
|In some ways, the second day of this Test was even more depressing than the first for Kerrigan. There are caveats to the decision not to bowl him - it was a day truncated by poor weather and conditions favoured the seamers - but to see Trott called into the attack ahead of him hardly provided a ringing endorsement of his captain's faith in his abilities|
It may be too early to draw conclusions as to the reasons for the struggles of recent England debutants, but part of the problem may lie in the county game. Over the past few years, English county cricket has witnessed the removal of Kolpak registrations - a well-intentioned but not entirely positive move - an increasing difficulty in securing top-quality overseas players, an absence of the top England players on international or even Lions duty and the premature elevation of inexperienced cricketers due to young player incentives.
Every change was well intentioned, but the combination has weakened the breeding ground of England's Test team. There are too many weak young players who might never have made it into professional sport a decade ago competing against one another.
Compare it to the side that took England to No. 1 in the Test rankings. It contained four men in the top seven (Alastair Cook, Andrew Strauss, Trott and Matt Prior) who had scored centuries on Test debut, two more (Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen) who had scored half-centuries and a bowler (Anderson) who claimed a five-wicket haul.
Every one of them had been developed in county cricket at a time when young players had to fight for inclusion among Kolpak registrations, experienced England players and some excellent overseas cricketers. County cricket prepared them much more thoroughly.
There is a strong suspicion that the next few months will witness a changing of the guard in the management of this England side, too. Andy Flower, arguably the most positive influence on England cricket in a generation, may well step down from his day-to-day coaching role with the side after the tour of Australia this winter.
While he is highly likely to remain involved in a role overseeing the England teams - a position similar to that undertaken by Hugh Morris at present - it is anticipated that Ashley Giles will assume day-to-day coaching responsibilities.
Sooner or later England must embrace change. The next test for them will be to see whether the improvements of recent years are the result of a once in a lifetime collection of players - the likes of Pietersen and Cook and Anderson and Swann - or whether, with all the money invested in age-group teams, talent identification and coaching, the national centre of excellence and a dozen other schemes, the entire system has been transformed to ensure continuity of excellence and a constant conveyor belt of quality players.
The evidence of this Test has not been especially encouraging.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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