Lord's and Bristol were both resplendent at the weekend. Lord's has a natural advantage of being the home of cricket but the four day finish and an easy England win has to give way to the nail-bitter that was Australia's ultimately unsuccessful run chase in the West Country.
Joe Root's century was the key. Whilst Moeen Ali was quite rightly awarded Man of the Match, Root's 190 stands out on a pitch that provided far too much in the way of uneven bounce. To make runs in the more challenging conditions is the mark of a great player. The hope will be that the strain of captaincy does not affect his own game as we have seen with some of his predecessors. There can be no doubt that Root represents the current jewel in the crown for the England cricket machine.
This is actually a really good period for English cricket in terms of players. After the debacle of the last 50 over world cup where the England team seemed to be about ten years behind the others, we have seen a real resurgence under Eoin Morgan and it should not be forgotten that England got to the final of the last T20 world cup and are the current Ashes holders. Clouds may however be gathering on the horizon.
One of the first issues arises with the current opponents. Since South Africa's return from the wilderness, they have had an outstanding side; Donald, Kallis, Ntini, Pollock, Boucher, Smith are just some of the names who have gone down in history. The current side, already without Steyn, De Villiers and du Plessis are about to lose Rabada thanks to his indiscretion in the last test. Imran Tahir, the leg spinner who has had so much success in the shorter form of the games seems to struggle in the Test arena. Du Plessis will return and one is not daft enough to guarantee this South African side will capitulate but the concern will be that if that were to happen, the public may lose interest in the test series. There is undoubted talent there but the application thus far, seems to be lacking. Rather like Root, de Villiers has been the golden boy for South Africa but he cannot go on forever, particularly with him being in so much demand across the globe.
Next to arrive will be the West Indies. The all conquering test side of the past is now a dim and distant memory of outstanding fast bowling and aggressive batting that made the opposition quake in their boots. Spectators really wanted to see the likes of Richards and Lara with the bat and Holding or Ambrose with the ball. They are the T20 World Champions but have not won a test series since beating Bangladesh in 2014. The appetite for test cricket in the Caribbean seems to be waning, not helped by disputes with the administrators. As with other countries, the better West Indies players are choosing to play the shorter formats which risks compromising the quality of the test side. Looking from the outside in, the attendances at West Indies test grounds seem to have diminished dramatically. Rather like South Africa, an easy England win will not ignite interest in the masses. The T20 however, will be a very different matter!
This worry must surely dissipate with the news that the Ashes are up for grabs again in the Winter. Except of course that the best Australian players are not currently guaranteed to play. There are shades of the late 1970s with a dispute between the players and the Australian board that threatens the participation in this most revered of cricketing contests. The Ashes are such that healthy interest will exist no matter what but it would represent a real shame if the quality of cricket was compromised. Discussion around the ashes reminds us of a further point of discussion, home advantage and is it too much of an advantage? There will be some statistician somewhere who will prove me wrong but it seems the benefit of playing at home and the luxury of preparing pitches that suit the home attack seems to be creating such an advantage that victories for the away side are getting rarer. Pitches have long been created to favor the home side but in the past, the distractions of one day and T20 cricket did not exist.
The 2005 Ashes saw crowds queuing up out of the stadium to watch test cricket. The best players were available and the contest ebbed and flowed for the full five days. The series may have been exceptional but shows what the test arena can provide and the interest that it can generate. The onus has to be on the administrators and the players to ensure this can occur again. The concern is that players and spectators alike will turn their attention to other formats and test cricket will suffer irreparably which will be to the game's great cost. Or maybe, there is no future for test cricket?Suggest a correction