England can take invaluable lessons from 2012 ahead of Ashes series
Harry Kemble reflects on 2012, a year in which England cricket experienced plenty of highs and lows
For England, the year 2012 has been one to forget – on paper at least.
Seven Test losses, including two series defeats home and away, means the last 12 months cannot be called a success.
Yet, what this side has learnt during the same time is difficult to quantify statistically. Those lessons will be invaluable for 2013 where back-to-back Ashes series lie in wait.
A resounding 2-1 victory in India ended a turbulent period for Alastair Cook’s side.
The win gave an intriguing insight into Team England when, frankly, from the outside it seemed on its knees after the defeat in Ahmedabad.
The team’s strength of character, the successful transition from Andrew Strauss to Cook, the coming of Jimmy Anderson as a world-class bowler and the formidable duo of Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar were just a few highlights that will give supporters huge hope leading into next year.
Of course, there were other triumphs too. Arguably the most important was the batting unit’s success over the Indians’ normal trump card, spin bowling.
Wherever England turned, they were faced with questions about their ability to play spin – even when at home against sides not renowned for world-class slow bowling.
It was the question hounding them from the UAE to Edgbaston, with the arrival of West Indies’ spin king Sunil Narine and, later, when the South Africans included Imran Tahir.
But, to the surprise of many, they answered back emphatically by nullifying everything that India threw at them by way of spin right up to the end of the tour.
Opposition teams will always have lingering hopes that they can expose what is undoubtedly an unavoidable weakness for England: the seaming pitches where they play the majority of their cricket.
Yet this immediate group of players they have beaten their demons and defied their critics.
Was it was the skilful work of head batting coach Graham Thorpe, instructed to pass on his expertise against facing the spin fine art?
Or, more simply, Cook’s incredible second innings of 176 in Ahmedabad, that changed the team mood to hope?
We may never really know, although I favour the latter. Confidence is everything even for a team at this level.
The successful manner in which the saga surrounding Kevin Pietersen was handled is one thing we do know.
Initially, the ECB were praised before being criticised over the long running fracas.
Eventually, however, there were beaming smiles back on faces, including the outspoken but celebrated poster boy himself. For that, the ECB can give itself a pat on the back.
It is unlikely such an issue will arise again – at least not in the near future.
England have always been one step ahead when faced with the heavy schedule of international cricket – especially now with the new appointment of Ashley Giles as limited overs coach to take the load off Andy Flower.
Anderson and Jonathan Trott have both been rested for the impending one-day international series versus India in January showing a willingness to prioritise in another important year.
One thing is sure, England has learned from its mistakes.
Coming into 2012, England were rigid about how to combat difficult issues facing the team.
The ECB has managed to lay down a rulebook which is understood from the top to the bottom. And, never an organisation known to learn from its own mistakes, it has this time gained credibility by doing so – winning over the team as well as the public.
However, the selectors shocked by choosing just one spinner for the first Test – a decision which ranks alongside some of the worst seen in English cricket. India won comfortably after smashing 521 in their first innings.
During England’s rise to number one in the world in 2011, the seamers were the mainstay.
Perhaps with their minds on this, the selectors chose to stick with the same strategy in the first Test.
Only, Panesar’s return in Mumbai instigated a revival of near Lazarus proportions.
The Sussex spinner’s 17 wickets at an average of 26 was one of the main reasons why the series turned out the way it did.
The surprising selection of Joe Root for the final Test in Nagpur also showed a welcome flexibility so different from earlier this year.
The Yorkshire batsmen scored a dogged 73 in the first innings to drive England to a spirited total on an extremely docile wicket.
Many anticipated Jonny Bairstow or Eoin Morgan to get the nod but the selectors chose an uncapped batsman. It was a risk, but someone in the selection team knew Root had the mental aptitude to succeed.
It was a tough call over the number six position that has proved troublesome to fill since Paul Collingwood’s retirement. Samit Patel, Ravi Bopara, James Taylor, Morgan and Bairstow have all been put there, but none have really nailed it down.
Root will hope he can make the position his own with the Test team off to New Zealand in February before heading home to face the Aussies.
At the time of the Ahmedebad nightmare, Cook and his players looked down and out. Now they have a steeliness and fight that few would have predicted 12 months ago and those virtues will serve them well next year.