Even as Test cricket season has spawned the imagination for the Ashes still a fair way away, the greatest Test rivalry is currently in danger as both of the traditional teams find themselves in a world of peril, overtaken rather blatantly by other, more hungry and certainly more competitive teams and undone by their own policies and operations.
Australia would like to think they are a leg up when it comes to the Ashes, although it was not that long ago when Australia found themselves at the receiving end of a bucket load of criticism for a year that truly brought to the forefront the descent into ashes that Australia’s cricket has been since relinquishing a world class team through retirements and failing to sufficiently bridge the gap in competitiveness as well as hunger.
England are facing a rather unusual scenario, but they are coming to understand this is currently a part of their fragile fabric, much like the last Ashes contended down under. However, while Joe Root would have liked to believe that their Ashes troubles, on and off the field, were a thing of the past, even the astounding 3-1 win over India at home and the 3-0 series whitewash in Sri Lanka prior to the tour of the West Indies could not overlook the fact that England have been struggling with Test cricket, and particularly with their top order batting even before the tour of the West Indies and are looking far from being a dominant Test team, capable or worthy of the historic rivalry.
The loss of Alastair Cook at the top of the batting leaves a vacuum with only Root amongst the world class batsmen in the England dressing room. Crowded with middle and lower middle order all-rounders, England are being forced to compromise the likes of Jonny Bairstow, shunted from the middle to the top, to make room for the likes of Ben Stokes and Sam Curran and the such. While their bowling is wearing an aging look though James Anderson and Stuart Broad would not consider themselves past their prime, there is concern that England do not have the depth in their batting to withstand the best in the business on a good day. Worrisomely enough, their coach, Trevor Bayliss, has openly stated he suspected that the cricketers are unable to make the transition from the shorter formats to the endurance test that is the five day format.
Australia, on the other hand, are in danger of falling for a similar sense of false security after their win over the visiting Sri Lankan team. Australia have been beset by problems not quite unlike the England team. With Australia desperately waiting for the one year bans on Steve Smith and David Warner to complete their terms, Australia have been badly exposed for lack of depth and consistency in their batting, the selectors’ fickle fiddling only making matters worse.
The ball tampering scandal, in hindsight, may at a much later date in Australia’s cricket history seem like a blessing in disguise because Australia are finally faced with the truth about their waning talent and lack of skill and temperament coaching at the domestic cricket level which is clearly hampering their stepping up from possible contenders to serious competitors without a steady core composition of players or cohesive, consistent thought process.
Despite their lingering problems that have seen them cede their home turf advantage to India for the first time in seven decades, the once reluctant skipper, Tim Paine, now dreams of captaining Australia at the Ashes. While the Test cricket season is certainly igniting some hopes while holding up a mirror to some of the burning issues, it is unimaginable to think that England or Australia will be able to come up with some answers between now and the Ashes later in the year, with the Test cricket rounding off to give way to the exigencies of the ICC Cricket World Cup that England are set to host this summer.