Richard Mann asks 'Where next for Joe Root and England ahead of winter tours in New Zealand and South Africa?'

Joe Root
Joe Root

Richard Mann asks where next for English cricket as Ashley Giles steps up his search for a new head coach and Joe Root's side prepare for a busy winter abroad.

New coach, new direction

As quickly as the dust has settled on a remarkable summer of cricket, one which saw England become Cricket World Cup champions for the first time and draw the subsequent Ashes series with Australia 2-2, attention has quickly turned to a hectic winter ahead, one which sees Joe Root's Test team tour New Zealand and South Africa.

Furthermore, England director of cricket Ashley Giles is said to be close to appointing a new head coach to fill the big shoes left by the outgoing Trevor Bayliss with a renewed focus on Test cricket following an inconsistent period in which the red-ball side has failed to match the heady heights reached by the white-ball outfit.

It appears that South African Gary Kirsten is Giles' favoured choice having overseen India's World Cup triumph in 2011 before taking charge of South Africa and helping them become the number one Test side in the world.

Gary Kirsten
Gary Kirsten

Kirsten comes with a fantastic reputation and his appointment would be further indication that England are seeking a new direction, one which will give priority to the longest form of the game as they seek to rebuild their side ahead of the next Ashes series in Australia in 2021/22.

Should England fail to agree terms with Kirsten, fellow South African Mickey Arthur would appear another natural fit as Giles seeks a different approach to that offered by Bayliss, the emphasis on creating a more disciplined team that can leave behind the frailties that have held England back in Test cricket for some time now.

Barring a stint coaching Australia that ended on a sour note, Arthur comes with a terrific CV that includes success stories in charge of South Africa and Pakistan, and the fact he took both to the top of the Test rankings, as well masterminding Pakistan's 2017 Champions Trophy success, suggests Giles would do well to look at Arthur closely should Kirsten's apparent reluctance to commit to such an all-encompassing role prove too tough a hurdle to navigate.

Both would make excellent appointments and look just the type of coach England need right now, though Giles is said to want to see more English coaches pushing for international honours and the likes of Richard Dawson and Anthony McGrath might be more long-term options once gaining further experience.

Root stays, but old approach doesn't

The Trevor Bayliss era will forever be remembered for his outstanding achievements in one one-day cricket; England's white-ball sides were nothing short of a shambles when he took over as head coach but he left his role in September having transformed the team and its exploits.

Along with Eoin Morgan, Bayliss revolutionised the way limited-overs cricket is played in England, perhaps even in the world, and Joe Root's appointment as Test captain in 2017 saw him attempt to make that style of cricket the blueprint in the longer form of the game.

The vision of a batting line-up featuring free-scoring players such as Ben Stokes, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Moeen Ali driving England back towards the top of the Test rankings was always fanciful, but one that took a while for Root to abandon.

Root's insistence on England's batsmen taking the aggressive approach was again brought under the microscope when his side were thumped in Bridgetown and Antigua earlier in the year having already relinquished the Ashes the previous winter.

That's not to say Root hasn't had his moments as captain. Victory over a fine India side at home in 2018 was a notable achievement, one which was arguably surpassed only a few months later when England travelled to Sri Lanka and triumphed 3-0 in conditions that have so often proved a mountain to overcome for many visiting sides.

Root's second innings 124 at close to a run a ball in the second Test in Kandy was a brilliant century, a masterclass in how to play spin on a turning pitch, and seemingly offered a snapshot of how England would play going forward.

Joe Root is jumping for joy at Kandy
Joe Root is jumping for joy at Kandy

However, they were brought crashing down to earth against a strong West Indies pace attack on their next Test series assignment, though despite suffering a real fright against Ireland, it took until the third Test of this summer's Ashes for Root's side to realise there was another way.

In fact, it needed England to take a leaf out the visitors' book, Tim Paine announcing upon his arrival in England that his side would require a different approach to that of past Australian teams in order to be successful, patience and consistency with both bat and ball the order of the day.

A relentless bowling attack, concentrating on discipline and accuracy, meant Australia weren't able to find room for Mitchell Starc for four of the five Tests while the likes of Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne prospered with the bat by occupying the crease, leaving well and grinding down England's own bowling attack.

Still, the likes of Bairstow, Buttler and Jason Roy continued on the same, ill-fated path until Stokes showed the way at Headingley, battling his way to two not out from 50 balls at the close of play on day three before slowly but surely inching his way towards the winning line the following afternoon.

His Headingley heroics will be forever remembered for his Sunday afternoon fireworks, but the foundations were laid early in his innings with patience and solid defence, a perfect example of how he and England needed to approach their Test cricket going forward, and they were rewarded with a series-levelling victory in the fifth Test at the Oval.

As Root said at the end of The Oval Test, England had finally found a 'template' of how to bat in Test cricket and the fact that the obdurate Rory Burns, Stokes, and Joe Denly finished the series as three of England's most productive batsmen is a clear indication of what needs to be done in order for England to consistently prosper against the best bowling attacks in the world.

Young blood breathes new life into old England

Bairstow's axing for the forthcoming tour of New Zealand follows a torrid couple of years for the Yorkshireman which has seen his batting stall and then take a steady decline while he has continued to come under pressure from fellow wicketkeepers Jos Buttler and Ben Foakes.

Buttler's strong finish to the Ashes series and his apparently superior glovework has seen him restored as England's first choice keeper for the New Zealand trip with Bairstow's meagre returns in the last two years finally catching up with him.

Roy and Ali also find themselves out of the Test frame for now with Dominic Sibley rewarded for a fruitful County Championship season that yielded 1324 runs at an average of 69.68.

Dom Sibley
Dom Sibley

An old-fashioned opening batsman, similar in style to Burns, he likes to occupy the crease for long periods and his presence in the side, with the prospect of Denly moving down to number three and Root back to four, gives England's batting line-up a much more solid, if not flashy, look to it.

The message from the likes of Giles and Ed Smith is clear, put a high price on your wicket, bat long and bat big.

With Stokes and Ollie Pope to follow, England are clearly moving in a different direction and for the likes of Bairstow and Roy to force their way back into the reckoning, they will need to change with the times, for all these times are almost a throwback to the type of old-style Test match batting we saw before the arrival of T20 cricket transformed batting as we knew it.

Sibley will need to prove that he can take the next step up, his bottom-hand dominant style will certainly be scrutinised by opposition think tanks, while Denly's admirable efforts against Australia have earned him some credit but a big hundred is needed sometime soon to cement his long-term place in the side ahead of the visit to South Africa.

Despite not boasting numbers as impressive as Sibley, Kent opener Zac Crawley also finds himself on the first tour of the winter as England seek to identify a long-term top-order batsman to build the side around and while he might initially find himself carrying the drinks, he has attracted plenty of admirers in his short career thus far and is clearly a player of considerable potential.

With Jofra Archer's arrival on the scene and the remarkable first year in international cricket he has enjoyed breathing new life into a bowling attack that has relied on James Anderson and Stuart Broad for far too long, the shoots of a bright new future for England's Test team can finally be seen.

It might not be the way Root had planned but, as his captaincy enters its next stage, that happy ending might yet be possible.

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