England cricket fans are likely in a somewhat sombre mood following recent series defeats to Australia and Sri Lanka, but there are still a good few reasons to be cheerful for English supporters. After an incredible few years culminated in them finally being crowned the number-one Test side, this England team has suffered a dramatic fall from grace over the past year. Despite starting as firm Betfairfavourites, England surrendered the Ashes to Australia with all but a fight and then proceeded to drop their most entertaining and crowd-pleasing player – Kevin Pietersen – in a move that appears to be more about the batsman’s personality than his undoubted talent at the crease.
With a return to the top of the Test rankings now looking a long way off, English fans could do a lot worse than focus on the exciting younger players that have begun to break into the side – possibly pointing to a brighter future. The 1-0 series defeat to Sri Lanka earlier this summer may have been a real blow, not least to Alastair Cook’s captaincy or England’s hope of beating India this month, but the series did reveal there is a real pool of talent coming through at a time when the nation’s test team needs them most. With the likes of Pietersen, Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann all out of the picture, the England selectors know they have a huge job on their hands to bring through the next generation of Test players.
Not only does Moeen Ali bear a physical resemblance to both Hashim Amla and Mohammed Yousuf, but the 27-year old’s batting charecteristics clearly stem from watching the two world-class batsmen over the years. Following his call-up to the Test side for the Sri Lanka series, the Worcestershire star was one of only a few players to come away from the two matches with any credit. His 48 in the first Test was overshadowed by a brave and eye-catching 108 not-out in the second innings of the second Test before Sri Lanka cut short his innings when dismissing Jimmy Anderson after 55 balls, in a game that had Betfairpunters on the edge of their seats throughout. Able to dig in a keep his wicket when the pressure is on, Ali showed just what he is capable of in terms of his aggressive stroke-play during his maiden Test century.
But it’s not only Ali’s batting talents that have impressed. Moeen has the additional weapon of being a very capable off-break bowler, displaying his talents when taking three wickets against the Sri Lankans. Whether or not he can fill an all-rounder role in this England team remains to be seen, but he offers England another option in their pace-heavy bowling ranks and it definitely looks as though Ali could well cement himself in that number six position.
The Australian-born opener only qualified for England last year but made his Test debut against Sri Lanka last month. Following a modest opening game, Robson really showed what he is about with a stunning 127 in the second Test at Headingley. Robson’s impressive total helped England to posting a first innings score of 365 that led to a number of Betfairfans backing the hosts for the win. While Robson has a style that will see him receive his fair share of early dismissals, his technique is one that could well result in the 24-year old going on to establish himself as a very capable international opening batsman.
With his Australian upbringing, it’s unsurprising that Robson is extremely adept at playing spin. Against the Sri Lanka slow bowlers, the Middlesex batsman showed a level head and great footwork on his way to his maiden Test ton. Boasting a first class average of over 40, Robson has wasted little time in establishing himself as one of county cricket’s most consistent batsmen, racking up 12 first class hundreds before hitting his first England century. As well as Sam, younger brother Angus is fast earning himself a name for himself at Leicestershire. The 22-year old smashed an eye-catching hundred against India in a warm-up game ahead of the upcoming Test series against England, and both Robson boys could play a part in the future of the England team.
It’s been quite a turnaround for Chris Jordan over the past couple of years. Following his release from Surrey at the end of 2012, Jordan has gone on to shine for Sussex and work his way into the England squad. After initially catching the eye in the limited-overs teams, Jordan earned his Test call-up for the first Test against Sri Lanka at Lord’s, finishing his debut with five wickets from the match, retaining his place for the second Test at Leeds in the process.
While the 25-year old failed to add to his tally at Headlingley, the fast bowler did do enough to convince a number of England fans that he could be a mainstay in the bowling attack for years to come. Jordan will need to work on his variation of deliveries if he is going to become a genuine world class fast bowler, but he will likely hone his ability while playing alongside the likes of Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad against quality batsmen.
It’s not only his bowling which makes Jordan an interesting prospect but also his batting and fielding. Able to field in the slips, Jordan showed against Sri Lanka that he is more than capable of hitting some useful runs down the order.
Despite missing the Sri Lanka series through injury, Ben Stokes is still a crucial part of England’s plans going forward. The all-rounder was perhaps the only player to come out of the dismal 2013/14 Ashes defeat with any credit to his name, finishing with 279 runs from four Test matches, which included a stunning 120 in Perth. As well as his batting, Stokes also weighed in with 15 wickets to his credit with the ball, proving he is also an extremely useful medium-fast bowler to have in your arsenal.
The 23-year old is due to link back up with the England Test side ahead of the series against India, where Stokes will be looking to get back into the swing of things after missing the Sri Lanka series with injury, and Betfair fans are already backing the all-rounder to be among the series top run scorers against India this month.
England fans love nothing more than a big-hitting all-rounder but Stokes shouldn’t be billed as the next Freddie Flintoff or Ian Botham. While the New Zealand-born player has all the attributes to become a genuine world-class batting all-rounder like those England players did, he is very much his own player and not the same sort of character as Fred or Beefy. But despite the differences between himself and previous England all-rounders, both Flintoff and Botham have been quick to tip Stokes as being this country’s next great player to burst through and going on recent performances, England could definitely do with one or two of those at this time.