Following a long break from Test match cricket, England and their captain Joe Root couldn’t have hoped for a better start to a huge 2021 in the longest format of the game.
With almost no preparation and missing a number of key players, England secured a victory over opponents Sri Lanka at Galle. While it was a fine team performance, admittedly helped by a shocking first innings collapse by the Sri Lankans, the most encouraging aspect of the match was the return to form of Joe Root.
The England captain scored a magnificent double century in England’s first innings.
8️⃣0️⃣0️⃣0️⃣ runs in Test cricket for Joe Root!
— ICC (@ICC) January 16, 2021
England will need their best batsman to have the year of his life with 2021 seeing them play India home and away and conclude with The Ashes in Australia.
While England were completing their victory in Sri Lanka, India and Australia were playing out the conclusion of one of the greatest Test series in the history of modern day cricket.
India, missing their captain Virat Kohli on paternity leave, and shorn off the talents of a number of other players through injury, produced a quite magnificent performance at the Gabba to win the series 2-1.
WHAT A WIN!!! Yessssss. To everyone who doubted us after Adelaide, stand up and take notice. Exemplary performance but the grit and determination was the standout for us the whole way. Well done to all the boys and the management. Enjoy this historic feat lads. Cheers 👏🏼🇮🇳 @BCCI pic.twitter.com/CgWElgOOO1
— Virat Kohli (@imVkohli) January 19, 2021
After this victory I was somewhat surprised to see comments from England coach Chris Silverwood. When asked about India’s victory Silverwood said:
“Always nice to see the opposition under pressure. It shows that if we do the basics well and get stuck in we can beat them.”
Australia’s defeat on home soil does give England reason to believe they can be successful at the end of 2021 when they try and regain the famous urn. But there is also the small matter of nine Tests to play against India before then.
So while there should be optimism in the England camp there should also be caution, because the challenge of beating India, particularly away from home, could potentially be a far bigger one than trying to beat Australia.
The key to winning an Ashes series in Australia will be confidence. When England won in 2010-11 under the leadership of Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower, they had a settled team, who were arguably the best in the world.
They went into that series knowing they could win and proved it with a dominant performance over the course of the five-Test series.
Every player in that team was performing at the top of their game having gone unbeaten in five consecutive series building up to the 2010-11 Ashes.
Joe Root’s first Ashes series in Australia was a disaster for the team. Shorn off the talents of Ben Stokes, who was missing following an off-field incident also involving Alex Hales, England never looked like they had the confidence to win the series and were promptly thrashed 4-0.
It was a chastening experience for Root and his team and one that took them some time to recover from.
Which is why the upcoming series against India are so important. England may well lose, especially in India, but how they lose will be key.
A closely fought series on Indian soil will set them up nicely for the matches that follow in England when conditions will be more in their favour.
However, if they were to lose comfortably in India and then struggle at home, which could well happen given what India have just shown they are capable of, then they could go into the Ashes with morale in the squad low.
So while I can understand Chris Silverwood’s optimistic approach, and with the growing list of talent at his disposal he has every right to be, they shouldn’t get carried away.
If England continue to focus on one match at a time they will give themselves the best chance to build some momentum to carry them throughout this hectic year. And ultimately give themselves the best chance of being successful.