By David de Winter – Sports Editor
Rewind just six months and English cricket was in a very different state to the victorious euphoria it currently finds itself in. England had just suffered a disastrous World Cup, topped off by a humiliating defeat to Bangladesh in their final group match and they were being led by an uber-intense coach, in his second spell, with a ropey record at international level. All sounds a far cry from jubilant scenes at Trent Bridge on Saturday.
But remember just three months ago, when a certain Kevin Pietersen was flaying the Leicestershire attack to all parts on his way to 355 not out? I was there for some of his innings and it was possibly one of the most remarkable I have ever witnessed. (For those of you who missed it, here are some of his highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PcQuwK1vhs). The very next day Andrew Strauss drew a line under the situation and categorically stated that Pietersen would never play for England again. I was one of the many clamouring for his inclusion the national team. So was Strauss vindicated in his decision? In a word, yes.
Whilst I might not agree with the way Strauss and the ECB went about excluding KP, Strauss exuded a stern decisiveness that has seemingly set the tone for the successful summer the team is currently having. Whilst I don’t think a recall for Pietersen would have adversely affected the team, it certainly would have generated many more column inches and been a significant distraction from matters on the field of play. As it was, Strauss made the decision early and consequently there was no off-field debate or drama to speak of so the team could concentrate solely on winning cricket matches.
Also, Pietersen’s exclusion has paved the way for some bright talents to shine through. Had the veteran Surrey batsman been recalled, would Joe Root have played such a pivotal role in England’s batting? I doubt it. The new generation of England internationals have very few links to the past regimes which can only be a positive thing. The likes of Root, Moeen Ali, Mark Wood, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler are all relative newcomers to the international stage and crucially are not affected by the alleged cliques and egos that inhabited the dressing room two or three years ago.
Additionally, the newcomers seem to have given captain Alastair Cook a fresh burst of energy. He genuinely seems inspired by the new guard’s positive and attacking approach to Test cricket and, to give Cook credit, he has wholeheartedly bought into this philosophy which doesn’t come naturally to him at all.
So on that dark day in March when England were getting soundly beaten by Bangladesh down under I could not have imagined in my wildest dreams that less than six months later they would be celebrating a resounding Ashes victory. The future is genuinely looking bright for English cricket. They still need to find an opening partner for Cook and a top drawer spinner would not go amiss, as wouldn’t a replacement for Ian Bell. I know false dawns are two-a-penny for the national side, but I am quietly confident that the likes of Root, Stokes, Buttler, Wood and Steven Finn will form the basis of a successful side for years to come. And not a KP in sight.