English cricket: Why the Three Lions’ stock is growing

England v New Zealand: 2nd Investec Test - Day Five

Squad for first warm-up match against Essex: Alastair Cook (c), James Anderson, Jonny Bairstow, Ian Bell, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad, Steven Finn , Graham Onions, Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior (wk), Boyd Rankin, Joe Root, Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott

If you could’ve asked for a championship finals with the two best teams in the world, the England v India encounter last week could not have been more appropriate; that the teams were so closely matched in  their strengths was visible.  Come the big contest against Australia on the tenth of July, however, and the balance may be a little more than slightly tilted in England’s favour.

The Ashes series of 2010/11 was the coming of age, a turnaround year for England’s cricket. In fact, it was the series that saw many of their players make their mark at the international stage. Jonathan Trott, Matt Prior and Alastair Cook were amongst the most improved players and made the English batting a lethal force alongside the established stars in Strauss, Bell and Pietersen.

Since that series, Trott and Cook have taken their games to  legendary levels. Arguably among the top five contemporary Test batsmen, their journey began with the Ashes and the fact that they’re twice the players that they were back then is England’s biggest advantage against an Australian bowling attack – and team, to be honest – that has gone the other side of the slope since then.

Ian Bell’s growing consistency makes him a permanent fixture in the middle order and Kevin Pietersen couldn’t have gotten too much worse. It is a rather daunting batting line-up that England possesses – all the batsmen seem to be perpetually in good form.

This can also loosely be said of new kids Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow. Joe Root is slowly emerging as a top-quality player  with a steady head, which is one of the many reasons he edges Nick Compton out of the side and makes it as an opener despite never doing so for the national squad before. This, of course, allows an extra slot in the middle order that could be filled by either Bairstow or Tim Bresnan, who was also part of Strauss’s winning team in 2011.

James Anderson, Stuart Broad, Steve Finn and Graeme Swann make up the core of the bowling attack. Bresnan is the popular fifth-bowler option and waiting in the ranks are Graham Onions, who had the most promising start to his career before injury struck, and latest Irish-convert Boyd Rankin.

The trend of kick-starting their prime in 2011 persists with England’s bowlers as well. The top four choices still remain the same and Anderson’s growth into a leadership role for that attack has changed the dynamic a great deal.  Cook will be spoiled for riches when it comes to picking his bowling line up as well.

Overall, on the personnel front and on paper, England might as well sign a petition to keep the Ashes with themselves. Very little could go wrong with this campaign. In fact, in all of the years that have passed since the great Australian batch of 2007, no Test team has looked more perfect and balanced than this.

There is a possibility, of course, that a few players might turn woefully out of form during the course of the series. But because the back-up is so sound and the conditions so familiar, Alastair Cook and his team would have to put in a great deal of effort against their own cause if they were to slip up.

Not too much has gone against England’s way in recent times. The prospect of an eager Kevin Pietersen and a home crowd that isn’t as modest as they used to be will be amongst Australia’s biggest problems. The only dull thing that could happen as a direct effect of the English team is the possibility of a one-sided Ashes.

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