Following the drawn Ashes in Australia, we headed to the Caribbean for our first T20s since World Cup semi-final heartbreak.
Despite Ed Pollock (75 off 51) announcing his arrival in an opening stand of 127 with Jason Roy (55), we lost by the opener by five wickets. Mark Wood claimed 2-… 65! In the second match of five, Roy struck 81 off only 40 balls before new captain Moeen Ali (4-28) did the damage with the white orb to level the series.
Chasing 179 for victory in the third match, after Mark Wood (3-35) dusted off cobwebs and put World Cup/Ashes omission behind him, we found ourselves in peril at 123-5. No problem… Sam Curran (32* off 16) and skipper Moeen (29* off 18) took us home with two balls to spare. Wood (3-26) was at it again in the fourth, as we restricted the hosts to just 123-8. Despite reaching 83-2 with Dawid Malan (63 off 45), another player putting World Cup omission in the past, and Liam Livingstone (43 off 26) striking cleanly, we nearly threw it away! Back in form with the ball Wood (5*) was there at the end but it would be last man Arron Nijjar who would put the trauma of the World Cup semi-final final over behind him. The Essex man struck a four off the first ball that he faced to seal a one-wicket win and series victory. There were emotional scenes as his teammates mobbed him. Dawid Malan (43 off 21 and 219 runs @ 43.80) led the way again in the fifth but at 90-6 chasing 129 it looked like a disappointing end was nigh. Ollie Pope (22*) and Jamie Overton (27*) got us home however with three overs to spare. Having moved on from a few senior players following the World Cup and rested the likes of Buttler and Stokes, this was an excellent series victory for new permanent ODI and T20I captain Moeen Ali. Oh, and it may have been this series that Moeen took a hat-trick… but I forgot to note it down!
In the Test series, things didn’t go to plan however. It was one of the great series but it would be the hosts who pulled through in crucial moments.
In the first Test, we reduced West Indies to 58-6 then made 508-6 declared (Root 196, Burns 101) but the match fizzled out into a draw. The second Test would go down as one of the best in living memory. Jofra Archer (4-52) and Mark Wood (4-81) helped dismiss the homeside for 327. We replied with a total of 412 (Root 85, Woakes 61) including a last wicket stand of 59 between Archer (35* and Wood 31). West Indies then struck 394 before Burns (57) and Dom Sibley (59) compiled an opening partnership of 118 in pursuit of 309. Joe Root was left 94 not out as wickets fell all around him. Ten runs shy of victory, Kemar Roach trapped Wood (2) LBW to seal victory off the last ball of the match and the headlines were written. Once again we’d gotten into pole position, only for West Indies to boss us when it came to the crunch!
Seeking parity in the third and final Test, opposition wicketkeeper Josh da Silva struck 159 and would follow it up with 98 but our spinners, Jack Leach (5-112) and Bess (4-131) stuck to task. Liam Livingstone, called into the side at the expense of the rather hard done by Chris Woakes, struck an incredible 205 on Test debut. This included a last wicket partnership of 106 with Wood (32). We reduced the hosts to 53-6 in their second innings but Gudakesh Motie (53) and Jason Holder (52) resisted superbly. We required 204 to square the series but Rory Burns laboured over 92 balls for just 29. We collapsed and ended up hanging on for a pointless draw with only one wicket left. We put ourselves in great positions time and time again but West Indies never gave up… then showed us up! We didn’t deserve to win. They did!
We responded by defeating New Zealand 2-0 at home. Despite what might appear a comfortable scoreline, it was another thrilling series.
Chris Woakes (4-50) put his Carribean 3rd Test omission to one side to help bowl the visitors out in the first innings of the first Test but despite Joe Root’s 93, we surrendered a 67-run first innings lead. Woakes (4-52) was at it again to help dismiss New Zealand a second time before Sibley (103) and Root (73) gave us hope of achieving an incredible run chase. That man Woakes (29*) and Bess (19*) took us to a sensational victory as we finished on 320-6!
In the second match, Burns (131) and Archer (74*) as well as in form pair Buttler (70) and Woakes (42) helped us post 496 first up. Mark Wood (4-58) and David Payne (4-99) helped us gain a 126-run first innings lead. We declared our second innings but New Zealand’s last wicket pair held on to rescue a draw to keep the series alive for the tourists.
Burns (79), Bess (78) and Buttler (77) set us up for a series clinching third Test victory. David Payne (4-25) did the second innings damage and despite losing some cheap wickets, we got home with eight wickets in hand. We weren’t perfect… but were better than New Zealand.
Continuing our habit of participating in great series, we then played India in what turned out to be the greatest ODI series of all time!
Jos Buttler struck an undefeated 83-ball 112 in the opening match but we failed to defend 333! In the second match, we recovered from 146-7 to post 301-9 (S. Curran 58, Woakes 46*, Root 46) then held on to win by… 2 runs! Woakes (3-37) and Moeen (3-57) led the way with wickets but it’s worth mentioning 34-year-old slow-left-armer Tom Smith. He finished with figures of 10-1-45-0 in only his second ODI. In the circumstances, his was a crucial performance.
Things then got even more absurd… and nail-biting! Jason Roy (146), Liam Livingstone (103) and Ben Stokes (82* off 43) propelled us to 398-4 in the third encounter. Job done right?Nope! India would go onto take it all the way to the wire for a second consecutive match, falling only 8 runs short of pulling off an incredible heist. Moeen conceded 71 runs from five overs! Mark Wood (4-70), Sam Curran (3-74) and Jofra Archer (2-70) took the wickets. Huge respect to India for their part in an incredible series that can only have increased the appeal of our sport.
Errr, yeah… onto another ridonculous series! In the first T20I we were dismissed for 66. India achieved their target in 5.1 overs without losing a wicket! In the second match, we totalled 182 (Livingstone 56, Pollock 44) then bowled India out for 150. Tom Smith claimed 4-21. Smith was benefitting from Aron Nijjar’s lack of game time at Essex. Sam Curran claimed 3-21. In the third match, three run outs left us 93-6 but cometh the hour. cometh the man… step forward captain Moeen Ali, who blitzed a whirlwind 64 not out from just 33 deliveries. India raced to 104-1 before speed merchant Jamie Overton decimated the touring side. He struck four times in four deliveries in the same over to account for Iyer (67 off 31) then Pant, R Sharma and Shaw for golden ducks. He took two in two in the following over and finished with record breaking figures of 7-30… in a T20! That made it come from behind series victories against India in both the ODIs and T20Is as epic series after epic series played out!
Unbelievably, the great series didn’t stop there! Stokes (96), Moeen (70) and Livingstone (67) led the way in the opening ODI against South Africa. Mark Wood claimed 3-51. Despite messrs Stokes (85) and Moeen (64) being in the runs again, we lost the second match. Chasing 258, South Africa were 187-7 but Mulder (41*) and Pretorious (29*) saw them home to level the series. Sam Curran’s 3-29 wasn’t enough. In the deciding encounter, we bravely opted to field first. Ed Barnard, who got useful runs but was expensive with the ball in the second game, picked up 4-54. A seemingly struggling Dawid Malan found his groove to compile 95, Moeen made 46 and Stokes 41. We were 266-8 needing 303 but Barnard (21*) and Archer (17*) sealed yet another enthralling series success!
The T20I series that followed resulted in a rare series defeat… but we’ll blame rain for costing us the first match! Despite Jason Roy’s 22-ball 50, we fell 6 six runs short of an adjusted target of 125 in 12 overs! In the second match, Ollie Pope (52*) struck a maiden T20I but 131 was never going to be enough… even though Ben Stokes took 5-20! Quentin de Kock’s 59-ball 100 put us to the sword in the final match and though Pope (44* off 28) performed well once again, South Africa thoroughly deserved their series win. It was a reality check but there was no panic on our part. That said, the likes of opening batsman Ed Pollock and all-rounder Benny Howell were walking a tightrope after underwhelming series.
Following a rare series defeat, we got back on the horse with yet another enthralling Test battle!
In the first Test, we achieved a stunning fourth innings run chase of 372-8 to stun South Africa. Joe Root (103) led the way with his thirtieth Test ton but it was an eighth-wicket partnership of 86 between Chris Woakes (64*) and Jofra Archer (48) that took the game away from the visitors. Rory Burns (182) and Sibley (104) produced an opening stand of 246 in the second innings of the second Test but the match was drawn. South Africa failed to show up for the first Test, going down by ten wickets. Crawley (161) continued his progress at Test level whilst debutante pace bowler Ollie Sale (3-47) ripped through the tourists top order in their first innings. South Africa kept the series alive with victory in the fourth match. Poor Jack Leach returned match figures of 12-180 only to end up on the losing side! We went batting heavy (And received much criticism) in the fifth Test and secured the draw that we required to record a series win. Sale (7-168) continued his emergence at the highest level whilst Ollie Pope (147*), like Crawley, was finally showing that he belonged in Test cricket. Crawley (93), Buttler (92) and Root (90) as well as Woakes (56) dragged out our first innings. Come the second dig, Burns (80*) and Crawley (90*) resisted and thrived to fend of any fret of South Africa pulling off a comeback. Our batsmen really kicked on and a plethora of bowling talent displayed their worth to fightback after losing the T20s.
We then travelled to Pakistan where, sadly, our recent white-ball woes continued. We were comprehensively beaten 3-0 despite a thrilling 79-ball century by Ed Barnard in the final match.
We turned on the style again to stun Australia with a 2-1 ODI series victory. We won both of the first two matches by just two wickets in stunning run chases! Ben Stokes (3-39) claimed a hat-trick to mop up the lower order in the first game and need us requiring 288 to win. Jos Buttler made 77 before a crucial stand between Sam Curran (28*) and Ed Barnard (35) all but saw us home. In the second match, we performed even better to chase down 325. Liam Livingstone (98 off 94) and Ben Stokes (97 off 78) combined for 165 before Curran (20*) saw us home once more to seal the series. Australia claimed a consolation win in the third and final match. We then somehow contrived to lose the T20I leg…
In the series opener, we were 173-5 (Pollock 70 off 46/Pope 51 off 35) in pursuit of 179 but a Mitchell Starc ha-trick left us 178-9. Moeen was left stranded undefeated on 29 from 14 balls and the game went into a super over. Ed Pollock, having batted so well, suffered the ignominy of registering a five-ball duck at the hands of Starc in the super over. Needles to say that Australia chased down a target of 1! We fought back to chase down 171 in the second match. In-form duo Pope (69 off 39) and Moeen (42 off 26) led the way whilst gloveman Ben Cox (23*) finally got a score of note in his international career. In the deciding encounter, we raced to 121-1 only to capitulate to 180 all out. Pollock (47) displayed great character to bounce back after super over humiliation, Stevie Eskinazi followed scores of 0 and 2 with a 22-ball 50 (He holds the record with a 20-ball fifty) and Ben Cox (26 off 15) contributed once more. Australia easily knocked off what we knew was only a par score to seal a series that we had so many chances to win! Frustrating as the result was, we learned a lot about a number of players.