© Getty Images
© Getty Images

2017 was the usual England year. In other words, they won both home series and conceded the urn in Australia. Their power hitters scored a lot of runs in limited-overs cricket and won them a lot of matches, but they eventually stuttered and failed where it mattered — in the Champions Trophy semi-final, that too at home.

To be fair, England were up against unstoppable forces during their two major assignments of the year — a resurgent Pakistan and Steven Smith. History will tell that you are almost certainly bound to fail against them despite your best preparations. You can bring the best knives and sticks of the kingdom to the battlefield, but what chance do you have against heavy artillery?

England had an unusual year. They played their first Test of the year on July 6, against South Africa at Lord’s. Never since 1970 (when South Africa’s tour to England was cancelled and a Rest of the World team toured England instead) have they started this late.

England beat South Africa 3-1, but the one-sidedness of all 4 Tests was reminiscent of the 2015 Ashes. England won by 211 runs at Lord’s, lost by 340 runs at Trent Bridge, and won by 239 runs and 177 runs at The Oval and Old Trafford respectively.

Joe Root lit up Lord’s with a regal 184 on his first day as Test captain. He added 6 more to that score. South Africa crumbled against Moeen Ali, who followed his first-innings 87 with 10 for 112. James Anderson took 7 wickets at Trent Bridge, but England crashed to a defeat against a superb South African bowling attack.

The 100th Test at The Oval followed. Alastair Cook (88) found some form, but he paled into insignificance as Ben Stokes smashed 115. England, trying out more options to bolster their batting-order, got in Dawid Malan and Tom Westley. They also introduced Toby Roland-Jones, who ripped the heart out of the South African middle-order with 5 for 57 and 3 for 72.

Moeen rounded off the Test with a hat-trick, the first at the ground. Curiously, this was only the 11th time in history that The Oval hosted a Test that was not the last of an English summer.

Jonny Bairstow (99) and Moeen (75* in 66 balls) got England the runs at The Oval. Anderson (7 for 54) and Moeen (7 for 126) got the wickets. Moeen finished the series with 25 wickets at 15.64 (5 more wickets than anyone from either side) to go with his 252 runs at 36.

At that point there was no stopping Moeen. Things would change drastically in The Ashes, where he would score 136 runs at 19.42 and take 3 wickets at 135 from the first 4 Tests.

Against West Indies, England won easily at Edgbaston in the first floodlit Test on English soil. Cook batted for almost 10 hours for a gargantuan 243 and Root got 136 before Anderson, Stuart Broad, and Roland-Jones routed West Indies by an innings.

Then West Indies defied all expectations at Headingley. Kraigg Brathwaite and Shai Hope refused to get out, and they chased down 322 without much sweat. Root had declared 8 wickets down, but the fault was hardly his on a day when Brathwaite and Hope could do no wrong.

Stokes (6 for 22) bowled out West Indies for 123 at Old Trafford and lifted England from 24 for 4 to 194. Then Anderson bowled one of his finest spells in recent times, leaving the West Indians all at sea with a sustained display of bowling with both the new ball and the old. He took 7 for 42, and England won easily by 9 wickets.

Anderson finished the Wisden Trophy with 19 wickets, at 14.10; nobody from either side got more than 11. England’s home summer of 5 wins and 2 defeats was probably slightly worse than what they had expected.

It was not quite the ideal side to retain The Ashes Down Under, but with Cook finding form, Root dominating every attack, Anderson back to his prime and Broad providing support, Moeen emerging as a potent spin option, and Stokes ruling roost with bat and ball, what could go wrong?

Then Stokes got involved in a pub brawl (why, before the most important series of his life?). Hales did not report it (why, again?). And even after England reached Australia, Bairstow head-butted Cameron Bancroft and Ben Duckett poured beer on Anderson.

In other words, England had as good as conceded the urn before Root and Smith strode out for the toss at Brisbane.

England scored 302 at The Gabba and reduced Australia to 76 for 4. They were on top, but they could not dislodge Smith. The great man remained unvanquished with 141 as Australia eked out a lead. Then, almost predictably, England were bowled out for 195 and lost by 10 wickets, and the fans had that feeling of déjà vu.

But surely England could win the day-night Test at Adelaide? Not quite. Smith failed (he got 40), but Shaun Marsh stayed put. Australia declared on 442 for 8. They batted on despite a 115-run lead. Anderson (5 for 43) and Chris Woakes (4 for 36) bowled their hearts out. England needed 354 and finished Day Four on 176 for 4…

… and lasted less than a session on the fifth morning. Two-nil.

Malan (140) and Bairstow (119) took England to 403 at Perth. Surely they could not lose from there? True, Smith was there, and he got a moderate 239, but it was really Mitchell Marsh’s 181 that snatched the urn away from the Englishmen. Josh Hazlewood took 5 for 48, England lost by an innings and conceded The Ashes, and a whitewash loomed over the horizon.

It took a docile pitch at Melbourne (so docile that it had to be reported) to deny Australia a whitewash. Of course, Cook carried his bat with 244 (in ten-and-a-half hours), but despite a 164-run lead, England had no chance — especially as Smith’s bat looked broader as the Test went on.

Cook leapfrogged three spots to reach the sixth place in the history of run-getters. A tally of 899 runs at 47 looks decent, but 487 of these came from two innings. Curiously, Root did better (966 runs at 51) but not significantly, which had a lot to do with the conversion rates of the two: Root went past fifty 10 times and got 2 hundreds, while 2 of Cook’s 4 fifties were 243 and 244*.

Bairstow had a rough year, but scored a hundred under challenging circumstances (he also had a 99, remember). He was nowhere close to his fabulous form of 2016, though he kept wickets well.

Stokes was sorely missed, and the numbers will suggest exactly why: you seldom get a man who can turn a Test on its head with either bat or ball. He was in form too, with 527 runs at 44, 16 wickets at 31 this year.

Anderson stood head and shoulders above any of his teammates, with 55 wickets at under 18. He finished as the fourth-highest wicket-taker this year. Of all bowlers with 20 or more wickets, no one averaged below 20 in 2017. He also went past Courtney Walsh’s tally of 519 Test wickets this year, and is currently fifth on the list.

Even in England’s woeful Ashes campaign his 16 wickets came at 26. Broad and Woakes (10 each) come next, and both of them average over 40. Yes, even at 35, Anderson has been England’s performer of the year.

The 50-over rise continues

To cut things short, England won 15 ODIs and lost 4 in 2017. Their win-loss ratio (3.75) was the best, significantly ahead of India’s 3. No side came close to their run rate of 6.38 (South Africa had 6).

There was nothing new in this. England underwent a thorough revamp of the ODI side after the 2015 World Cup debacle. Since then they have a win-loss ratio of 2.27 (India are next, with 1.89). Their run rate of 6.13 is still the highest, though South Africa has 6.05.

On the flip side, England’s economy rate of 5.67 is the third-worst. They are slightly better than West Indies (5.80) and Sri Lanka (5.83). In the three-year time span they (5.77) have been better than only Sri Lanka (5.88) and Bangladesh (5.90).

In other words, England have a side full of power hitters and bowlers who try their best to prevent opposition power hitters.

England lost the high-scoring series in India 1-2. They could not defend 351 after reducing India to 63 for 4 at Pune; they let India reach 381 after having them down to 25 for 3 (and finished on 366 for 8); and won a ‘low-scoring’ thriller (they defended a target ‘as low as 322’) at Kolkata.

They lost only 2 other ODIs in the year, but unfortunately one of them was in the Champions Trophy semi-final. From 80 for 1 and later 128 for 2, they could not make it past 211 against a superb display of seam-bowling from Hasan Ali, Junaid Khan, and debutant Rumman Raees. That defeat pushed their one-sided wins against Bangladesh, New Zealand, and Australia into insignificance.

Their other defeat came against South Africa, but only after they had claimed the series 2-0. They whitewashed Ireland 2-0 and West Indies 3-0 (away) and 4-0 (home, 1 no result).

Jason Roy’s poor form gave Bairstow a chance at the top. He grabbed the opportunity with both hands. After two cameos in the Champions Trophy, he smashed two hundreds against West Indies. He finished the year with 534 runs at 107 and a strike rate of 100.

Roy replaced Hales towards the end of the summer and immediately got 84 and 96. Hales himself had a stop-start year. Eoin Morgan scored 3 hundreds including two gems against South Africa and India. And Stokes’ belligerent unbeaten 102 knocked Australia out of the Champions Trophy. However, as in Tests, Root finished at the top of the runs tally, with 983 runs at 70 to go with a strike rate of 92.

Liam Plunkett did remarkably well with the ball, finishing fourth in the overall wickets tally in the year with 36 wickets at 22.47. In fact, Rashid Khan and Plunkett were the only bowlers with 4 four-wicket hauls in 2017. Adil Rashid’s 26 wickets came at 25.84, while Woakes got his 22 at 20.63 apiece.

Two of their finest bowling performances came against Australia, where Mark Wood (10-1-33-4) and Rashid (10-1-41-4) bowled in contrasting styles. To provide perspective, Australia scored 277 for 9 and England batted at almost 6 an over, which tells how well they bowled on a pitch that offered them nothing.

True, England’s excellent record is somewhat buoyed by the fact that they played 14 matches at home (they have a terrific 5.5 ratio from these matches). Overseas, the ratio comes down to 2 (4 wins, 2 defeats). However, they play the World Cup at home in a year and a half…

Men in Horrible, Abysmal, Eyesore Reds

England’s T20I record, while not as ghastly as their jersey, was sub-par. They lost the series in India 1-2 despite being in the lead. Ashish Nehra and Jasprit Bumrah derailed their chase in the second match. In the third, they decided to live and die by the sword in pursuit of 203; they ended up losing their last 8 wickets in 19 balls.

Some compensation came in the South Africa series, where they won the first match with 33 balls to spare. South Africa pulled one back (the margin was 3 runs) before Malan went on a rampage on debut: his 78 took only 44 balls, and England won by 16 runs.

Then the nemesis of the West Indies struck them. At one stage England needed 59 from 36 balls with 6 wickets in hand and Jos Buttler and Bairstow at the crease. They ended up losing by 21 runs.

This was the first time the sides met since the World T20 final of 2016. England have now lost 3 matches in a row against West Indies. England’s win-loss against West Indies reads 0.36 (4 wins, 11 defeats); against other countries it is 1.24.

Head-to-head, 2017

  M W L W/L
Tests 11 5 5 1
ODIs 20 15 4 3.8
T20Is 7 3 4 0.8

Most runs

Tests ODIs T20Is
M R Ave 100s M R Ave SR M R SR
Root 11 966 50.84 2 Root 19 983 70.21 92 Roy 7 164 145
Cook 11 899 47.31 2 Morgan 20 781 45.94 99 Root 4 143 102
Bairstow 11 652 34.31 1 Stokes 15 616 61.6 107 Bairstow 3 134 144
Stokes 7 527 43.91 2 Hales 15 535 38.21 102 Hales 3 126 152
Malan 9 505 33.67 1 Bairstow 10 534 106.8 100 Morgan 6 116 125

Most wickets

Tests ODIs T20Is
M W Ave 5s M W Ave Econ M W Econ
Anderson 11 55 17.58 4 Plunkett 18 36 22.47 5.62 Jordan 7 10 8.96
Moeen 11 33 31.63 2 Rashid 17 26 25.84 5.44 Plunkett 5 8 7.72
Broad 11 30 36.06 Woakes 12 22 20.63 5.15 Curran 3 6 8.41
Toby 4 17 19.64 1 Ball 13 14 53.85 6.44 Rashid 4 4 8
Stokes 7 16 31.31 1 Stokes 15 14 39.3 6.48 Moeen 3 3 5.91

Most wicketkeeping dismissals

Tests ODIs T20Is
M C S M C S M C S
Bairstow 11 35 2 Buttler 18 26 4 Buttler 7 5
Billings 7 2

Footnote

It has been yet another poor Ashes for England, but there is some solace. For years they have been in the hunt for three top-order batsmen including a partner for Cook. Malan is probably one of those three men. Mark Stoneman and James Vince have not taken the world by storm, but this was baptism by fire for them. Bairstow has actually done better in The Ashes (37.67) than in the home summer (32.41). The top order is still not there, but perhaps the first steps have been taken.

Unfortunately, the bowling is still too dependent on Anderson, who has also been the fittest of the fast bowlers. Broad had an ordinary year, which meant that Anderson had to shoulder the burden more than usual. The support cast has never really been fit long enough to help form a trinity.

Building the Test side will take time. Meanwhile, keep an eye on Morgan’s men…