With the Sri Lanka test tour due to get underway in less than a fortnight, now seems as good a time as any to discuss one of the most frequently-debated issues of England’s recent cricketing history: how to compete away from home.
There are those that argue for a more balanced approach to the side (and specifically our bowling attack). For example, we need quicker bowlers to win in Australia, and better spinners to win on the subcontinent. Exactly how practical that is, though, is questionable. Let’s say for a moment that England go with the following 6-man bowling attack for their first test match in Sri Lanka this November: Anderson, Stone, Curran, Ali, Rashid, Stokes. I’ve gone with those 6 as it’s probably the most common combination I’ve seen over the past few months. Resting Broad away from home could be a smart move, while the pace of Stone and Curran’s left-arm over approach will provide some much-needed variation.
The other side
That may be all well and good, and could pay off in the short term for Joe Root’s men. The only sticking point is the issue of continuity. Would that same 6-man bowling attack be as likely to secure a 4-1 series win over India as the one that did so this summer? Arguably not. Anderson, Broad, and Woakes should all play in England for me, simply because we’ve seen how devastating they can be. Their mastery of the Dukes ball, combined with some helpful English tracks, makes most international batting lineups look pretty ordinary. Away from home, though, the attack is quickly branded “too same-y” and incapable of taking 20 wickets.
Some will argue that two different bowling attacks, one for home games and one for overseas tours, doesn’t pose a problem at all. “Horses for courses” and all that. The only potential problem comes if England’s test team becomes unsettled. Things aren’t exactly stable as it is, and there’s a lot to be said for players understanding their roles and getting a run in the side.
The bigger picture
Perhaps the key is simply developing players that can succeed all over the world. Jimmy Anderson’s the closest we have to that. Yes, his “struggles” away from home are well-known, but if we consider what he’s done over the past 5 years or so it becomes clear that he’s not the problem. He consistently goes at 2 or 3 an over in the subcontinent; the problems are generally that we don’t take wickets from the other end. If we could find a combination of 4 bowlers, who complement each other’s styles, then maybe that’s the key. Let’s say that Olly Stone does well against Sri Lanka. Would it be worth playing him over someone like Woakes at home, in the knowledge that Anderson and Broad will likely tear through the Aussies on their own? Stone could back them up and become a wicket-taker overseas, while he complements the swing-kings during home test series.
Of course, all of this is just speculation. It’s completely irrelevant if we don’t have the right players for either challenge.
We’ve just won at home, and it seems likely that we’re looking to change things up a bit for this winter. Anderson, Broad, and Woakes are all in the test squad, however, so it will be interesting to see whether Stone and Curran make it into the final XI. Personally, I’d definitely look to play at least one of them; I’d lean towards Stone as we’ve been looking for a 90mph bowler for some time. For now, though, let’s concentrate on a strong showing away from home. We can pose the continuity question before next summer’s Ashes.