England v Australia, 5th Investec Test, The Oval, 2nd day August 22, 2013

What's next for England?

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
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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 ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Blokker on August 24, 2013, 6:55 GMT

    Anderson is over 30 and he averages over 30 per wicket too. Clearly a very good bowler but not great.

  • Mervo on August 24, 2013, 6:19 GMT

    It will be tough, without more imports/overseas players from SA or even young Australians. Bairstow and co look average but Cook and Root are young. Tremlett looks the goods to me and spin wise they will be in the same situation as Australia. The series in Australia will be interesting with this current series being pretty close, except for one test when Australia were terrible and another where rain saved England.

  • balajik1968 on August 24, 2013, 5:06 GMT

    Interesting. Even in their worst periods England did not lack for talent. What they needed was a good manager. Duncan Fletcher for some time and Andy Flower have done well. What could take a toll on England is the back to back Ashes; it is only 10 Tests over 8 months, but the intensity could cause damage. I back England to win down under, they still have the stronger team. But the worry is after the series, the players could be sated with a sense of achievement. Flower could choose to leave on a high.

  • dummy4fb on August 24, 2013, 4:53 GMT

    @great note-u missed pujara. He has 4 centuries in the space of 1 year. But ur point is well made.

  • righthandbat on August 23, 2013, 23:30 GMT

    Personally I would think that Ballance or Taylor were better choices than going for Woakes. Tremlett should've played instead of Kerrigan but if Kerrigan and Woakes can play better as the match progresses then it will have been a useful debut.

  • LeeHallam on August 23, 2013, 16:35 GMT

    A very selective version of history. Anderson was hardly an immediate success, it took him four years to get a regular place. Some of the dozen players Mr Dobell mentions were players picked for one off situations or as injury cover, half have been in squads this series. Only two(Morgan & Compton) have been given a good run and dumped, though perhaps if Cook or Root were injured Compton would still be their replacement. As for those Aussies who see this as a sign of hope for the next tour of England, I suspect there will still be more of the current England side playing then than of the Australians.

  • josphe on August 23, 2013, 16:35 GMT

    I think this article is quite wrongly directed at England..Every little mishap with the team and an article is written..If you look at the core players of both south Africa and Australia they're about the same age as England's..However if you look at the reserve players for each of these teams I'd say England has the strongest, if you look at the back up TEST players for Australia and South Africa it doesn't look to good..Just look at how easily the S.A A boys were dismantled by India A..No Australia domestic batsmen is saying pick me with his performances, whereas England have the like of Balance, Taylor, Lees to name a few, all under the age of 25..Australia had to go to a 35 year old just showing how empty their cupboard is..They do have good pace back up but most of them are constantly breaking down. So if anything you should be saying what next for Australia, because if anything I see England dominating Australia for a long time to come..

  • whofriggincares on August 23, 2013, 14:44 GMT

    I don't think you can judge Kerrigan on those 8 very nervous overs, but you would have liked to see him get one to grip and actually turn. That is what set's the great spinners apart from the good ones they actually get the ball to turn even when conditions don't suit be it a grassy pitch or even a first day pitch. As I said he looked very nervous and wasn't getting much revs on the ball at all. If he was an Aussie that great and insightful analyst @FFL would call him the 5th seamer! All jokes aside I am sure there is a lot of talent in the English system but translating that into consistent performance at test level is any talented cricketers great challenge. Given a population of 65 odd million in the UK (not including 50 million in south Africa ;) ) the likelihood of there being enough top notch talent to keep them in the top 4 nations is high. The fact that Australia was able to dominate world cricket for a decade and a half drawing from only 20 odd million is quite remarkable.

  • dummy4fb on August 23, 2013, 12:59 GMT

    So not so long ago Kolpacks were supposedly ruining the game, now apparently their absense is doing the same. Am I the only one who remembers that Root scored 180 in the second test and has just made another half century? Bairstow's series average wasn't much different to Pietersen, Trott or Cook's either. As for Kerrigan, judging a young attacking spinner on eight overs on a flat trac against Watson in that type of form is plain unfair. The lad has a brilliant record for Lancashire and may well factor if it turns on the second day. Nothing the vast majority posting here have ever done comes close to the pressure he faced yesterday, so cool down on the criticism.

  • bennybow on August 23, 2013, 12:26 GMT

    Excellent article George. For all the England management's strengths, vision is not one. The guaranteed places for our top 6, keeper and Swann causes an issue while ironically we currently have half a dozen fine quickies to pick from. You mention "a dozen men have been tried" without noting that Carberry, Tredwell and Shazad only got 1 Test and Taylor 2 - not "tried" but filling in. Carberry may have turned into a fine England opener over the years but we'll never know. The county game could and indeed used to do better, if only ECB hadn't denuded it of all the top players. A dozen have been removed to play against Bangladesh A for goodness sake! Time for some fresh ideas at the top I reckon.