Six defeats and six victories in 11 matches since they thumped India 4-0 last summer is a fairly accurate assessment of the quality of cricket Andrew Strauss’ side have played.
It’s easy to react to the South Africa series bleakly, but the while England were outplayed in every department, this is not the time to toss the current team into the waste paper basket and start again.
Clarity of thought and the adhering to processes got a strong – if sometimes workmanlike – England side to the top of the tree and the same formula must be stuck with if they’re going to reclaim that spot.
Unfortunately however, things could get much worse on and off the pitch before they get better. England’s next Test match is in Ahmedabad against India in November, the first of a four-Test series which will be a severe examination of a side who imploded the last time they were faced with sub-continental conditions in the UAE against Pakistan last winter.
The issue surrounding Kevin Pietersen has dominated the cricket headlines since the close of the second Test, and his future seems unlikely to be decided quickly after the batsman was left out of both England’s ODI squad and the team destined for the ICC World T20 defence in Sri Lanka.
Therefore, whether or not Andrew Strauss will still be in charge at the Sandar Patel Stadium on 15 November is the most pressing question facing Team England.
At his post-match Test conference at Lord’s, the skipper stated his hope that he remains the man to plot England’s route out of the current slump, but he stopped short of an equivocal commitment to the job.
At 35, Strauss is the oldest member of the England squad but his dedication to remaining one of its fittest means age is not an issue for the left-hander.
The Middlesex man has played 100 Test matches, half of them as captain, and despite two centuries against the West Indies earlier this summer, his batting once again looked patchy against South Africa. Most opening batsmen who play as long as Strauss encounter a bogey bowler, so he can be partly forgiven for his travails against Morne Morkel, particularly as England are not scheduled to play South Africa again until 2015.
Rightly, given his dedication and success, Strauss will be given time and scope to assess his own future, a process aided by the fact that he is not due to be on international duty again until the squad for the India tour is announced. But for the sake of England’s future, the right decision will need to be made.
Despite Alastair Cook’s success as ODI skipper, England would dearly love Strauss to return after a break with the renewed vigour which will be required, both on and off the field. And there is plenty of carrot dangling in front of him.
England will play three first-class warm-up matches in India ahead of the four Tests, the same approach which paid such dividends in Australia two winters ago. India are strong in home conditions, but are a relatively weak side with a poor bowling attack. If England can regain their 2010-11 form and develop a clear batting method challenging surfaces then a rare series win is there for the taking.
After a brief pair of home and away series’ against New Zealand to get their eye in, there is then the small matter of back-to-back Ashes series’, by the conclusion of which Strauss will be 37.
Strauss is one of England’s most successful and respected captains, and the sight of a man clearly muddled in his thinking after his toughest week in charge leaving a straight ball and leaving his side 6/2 on the fourth evening at Lord’s was galling for his supporters.
The suspicion nags that it could be the final act of his career.
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