Special guest and SportPulse cricket columnist, Jack Marshall writes on England's depth and bench strength and the role that it has had on the team becoming the number one ranked team in test cricket.
England's Strength in Depth
The year is 2009. England, fresh from an impressive 2-1 Ashes victory over the Aussies in the home series some four or five months earlier, are the touring team visiting the bastion of world cricket known as South Africa. They are not expected to tear the Proteas up, they are not hoping for a four-nothing whitewash. They are, in reality, looking to compete with a team regarded as one of the best, if not the best, Test sides in the world… in their own backyard. Nowadays, standards are higher. In the current series against the Springboks, England, now are the number 1 Test side in the world. How things have changed; how drastically our default suppositions have been altered. And England can thank their improved strength in depth for their meteoric rise in Test cricket.
|England with the test championship mace.|
In years and decades gone by, England have looked to foreign shores for a template guaranteed to breed cricketing opulence in the hope that such a formula would leak through to the Test team and end the longest wait for prosperity in the Gentleman's Game. But it is the current County set-up in British cricket that is the envy of the rest of the cricketing nations as the Championship continues to churn out world class talent and temperamentally adept protégés, from an assembly line that shows no signs of abating.
Since 2005, 26 debuts have been handed out to impressive county talents, 15 of which can be regarded to have had solid Test careers or to have a future in the game given their current young age. This list includes Kevin Pietersen, Alastair Cook, Monty Panesar, Matt Prior, Chris Tremlett, Ravi Bopara, Stuart Broad, Tim Ambrose, Graeme Swann, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Onions, Jonathan Trott, Steve Finn, Eoin Morgan and Jonny Bairstow, many of whom could lay strong claims to warranting a place in many other Test sides. This is irrefutable evidence of an improvement in English cricket, whose ameliorated County blueprint has added to the ranks of the England Test Team. This can honestly only be good news.
The improvement in the county game has replicated more 'Test-ing' conditions on a more familiar basis, subsequently exposing young and promising potential to higher standards earlier on in their cricketing careers. This unveils those who have no or little chance at succeeding at the highest level, and sieves out the real gems: the truffles amongst the dirt, singling them out to England and boosting their chances of making a future in the game. The more completive county game can be seen plainly in the results of past years.
|The current English team selected for the Oval test.|
Last season, the climax to Division 1 could not have been closer as Lancashire edged to the title by the seam of their whites. Nottinghamshire in 2010 won the 'Champo' on an enthralling last day, marginally beating Somerset to the pip by making up a 6-point gap between the two sides thanks to late wickets. 3 years ago, Durham emphasized their domestic dominance by running away with the title, with future England stars such as Jonathan Trott and Graeme Onions leading the way for Warwickshire and Champions Durham respectively.
Simply put, the County Championship has gradually improved and revamped its standards to new echelons, and the current England side is reaping the rewards as blooded youngsters who have consistently performed in such an environment are now plying their trade internationally, the likes of Trott, Bopara, Prior, Bresnan, Broad, Onions, Finn and Tremlett being the standouts.
But the repercussions are not solely restricted to the first team. The fact that the caliber of cricket has experienced gradual augmentation has created the situation we find the England Test team currently: seemingly infinite strength in depth. Should an England player not be available, either through the unlikely facet of injury or through lack of form, there is always another of similar skill ready to take his place.
Speaking hypothetically, lets say either Strauss or Cook break a finger on the the first morning of a test. What happens? Carberry, who averages 43.96 with 26 centuries in First Class cricket, comes in. A middle order player like Pietersen or Bell succumbs to a muscle niggle? Eoin Morgan, who has 2 Test centuries, or James Taylor, who averages 48.70 with a best of 237 on the domestic scene, can slot in. Matt Prior suffers a freak back spasm, Steve Davies or Craig Kieswetter, both of whom have averages hovering around 39 in County Cricket, walk into the team. Strength in depth.
And the bowlers? The stocks are arguably even more capaciously furnished: Bresnan pulls a hamstring, Steve Finn, the fastest England bowler to 50 Test wickets, is selected. Stuart Broad breaks a toe? Chris Tremlett, the second highest wicket-taker in the last Ashes series, picks up the phone. Anderson's elbow is stiff, a man who has 34 wickets at 14.26 in Graeme Onions walks into the team. England's strength in depth is copious, and not restricted to any single area in the team. Swann, you say? Enter Monty!
Pressure on those in possession of coveted places in the Test team spawns a unique mentality as memories of the cold-sweat experience when out of form spurs batsmen and bowlers alike to cash-in when conditions allow it. Complacency is not a word you will hear in the England camp as every single player knows that they are just 5 bad innings away from being dropped, they are on the precipice of being ruthlessly tossed aside in favour of someone else. This disposition is invaluably indispensable and has incentivized the entire team to a groundbreaking degree.
|England celebrating the victory against the WI at Lords earlier this year.|
This undeniably removes a soupçon of pressure from those coming into the team as they are allowed time to bed in and acclimatise to the necessities of Test cricket. To come into a successful team makes the job of the young pretender evermore simple as opposed to coming into a team because all else has failed, and YOU are expected to provide the solution. England can nurture and cultivate talent under minimal pressure to better slope the parabola of their development, making for better players in the long term.
Much has been made of strength in depth in this England team. It has been praised and vaunted, but not recognised definitively as one of the pivotal reasons for England's escalation. Great teams have perennially boasted such a virtue, and can be used as a rather accurate hallmark of a truly great team.
-----------------Jack Marshall is an English student from Manchester who lives in Gran Canaria, Spain. He loves cricket and football and supports Manchester City and the England Cricket Team. In his free time he likes to read, write on sport and listen to music.
Listen to Jack talk about the England - South Africa test series on the Verbal Slogs podcast.