How Eng­land cricket fi­nally came to flower

Accrington Observer - - SPORT -

CRICKET

ENG­LAND grad­u­ally flow­ered un­der Joe Root af­ter a fa­mil­iarly mis­er­able set­back in Syd­ney but their con­querors are still rud­der­less af­ter one of the most shame­ful episodes in their his­tory.

Root was laid low by a se­vere bout of gas­troen­teri­tis – which would serve as an un­for­tu­nate metaphor for Eng­land’s Ashes woe – and a nadir was reached when they slumped to 27 for nine against New Zealand in Auck­land in March.

The tourists would even­tu­ally ‘re­cover’ to 58 all out en route to an­other Test se­ries de­feat away from home but at­ten­tion and schaden­freude had al­ready shifted to Cape Town and the ball­tam­per­ing scan­dal en­gulf­ing Aus­tralia.

Opener Cameron Ban­croft was caught on cam­era at­tempt­ing to ma­nip­u­late the ball with what was later ac­knowl­edged to be sand­pa­per in an in­ci­dent or­ches­trated by vice-cap­tain David Warner, with skip­per Steve Smith in on the plan.

The fall­out was cat­a­clysmic. Not only are Smith and Warner still banned but coach Dar­ren Lehmann re­signed while an in­de­pen­dent re­view into the in­ci­dent saw sev­eral of Cricket Aus­tralia’s hi­er­ar­chy stand down.

The no­to­ri­ous ‘head­but­ting the line’ mantra Aus­tralia had bullishly used in re­cent years was re­placed by terms such as ‘elite hon­esty’ as the new coach-cap­tain axis of Justin Langer and Tim Paine at­tempted to draw a line un­der the saga.

‘Sand­pa­per­gate’ over­shad­owed South Africa’s first Test se­ries win at home against Aus­tralia since read­mis­sion, at the end of which AB de Vil­liers and Morne Morkel an­nounced their in­ter­na­tional re­tire­ments.

Of far more sig­nif­i­cance, at least on th­ese shores, was Alas­tair Cook bring­ing the cur­tain down on his record-break­ing Eng­land ca­reer, fin­ish­ing with a timely 33rd Test cen­tury against In­dia.

His haul of 12,472 runs in 161 Tests is un­likely to be sur­passed by any of his coun­try­men in the near fu­ture, and he was given a fit­ting send-off at The Oval as Eng­land wrapped up a 4-1 se­ries win over the world num­ber one side.

It would be in­ac­cu­rate to as­sume the in­stal­la­tion of Ed Smith as na­tional selec­tor served as a panacea but his de­ci­sions to re­store Jos But­tler and Adil Rashid to the Test set-up and give left-field call-ups to the likes of Sam Cur­ran have seen Eng­land win eight of their last nine Tests.

In­deed, they closed the year in style, white­wash­ing an anaemic Sri Lanka 3-0 for their first ever clean sweep in Asia, with Ben Stokes branded as the dif­fer­ence be­tween the teams.

It has been a bit­ter­sweet year for the fiery all-rounder, who was found not guilty of af­fray at his sum­mer trial at Bris­tol Crown Court fol­low­ing a no­to­ri­ous late-night melee out­side a night­club in the city cen­tre last year.

Yet the in­ci­dent is now in his rear view mir­ror af­ter a Cricket Dis­ci­pline Com­mis­sion de­ter­mined he – as well as Alex Hales, his com­rade on that night – would not miss any more Eng­land matches.

Hales came to the fore as Eng­land racked up a world record one-day in­ter­na­tional score of 481 for six against Aus­tralia.

De­spite the no­table up­set de­feat against Scot­land in Ed­in­burgh, Eoin Mor­gan’s big-hit­ters rose to the top of the world rank­ings and are well po­si­tioned for the acid test of the World Cup on home soil next sum­mer.

Heather Knight’s Eng­land fell at the fi­nal hur­dle in the Women’s World Twenty20 as they were beaten for a fourth suc­ces­sive time in the com­pe­ti­tion by Aus­tralia in the Caribbean.

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