England Highlights: The 2014 XI

English cricket lives in interesting times. Many bloggers, commentators, and journalists have documented the many ills encircling the English game, and the many lows of 2014 have provided much material for mastication. To close the year, therefore, as a sort of metaphorical cricket-pudding, here, are eleven sweet moments of the year for the English men’s team.

  1. 28 February: Lumb hits the first England ODI debut ton for 41 years

    The last time England had a century from a debutant, Edward Heath was Prime Minister, and ODIs numbered 2. Lumb joins only eight other players on this surprisingly short list, which now includes two English players but only one Australian. At 34, it was an undoubtedly late-career debut for Michael Lumb, but he wasn’t about to squander his long-awaited chance in the spotlight.  His 106 on a tricky Antiguan pitch deserved a team win, which did not transpire, although at least the series was later secured. With Hales and Ali England’s probable openers in the future, it’s unlikely Lumb will play another ODI, but with the healthy average of 55, he can leave with head held high.

  2. February–March: Root warms England up in the Caribbean

    After an Australian winter of discontent, this son of York basked in the glorious Caribbean summer. After losing the first ODI from a winning position, England bounced back, thanks in no small part to Root’s top-order wickets. It was the third ODI, though, when Root’s batting came to the fore. Struck on the hand while on 7, he rejected the dressing-room advice to retire. In true plucky-youngster style, he dosed up, dug in, and drove on to 107. England had finally started to win again.

  3. 27 March: Alex Hales stuns Sri Lanka in the World T20

    ‘Hi, I’m Alex Hales. No IPL bid? Seriously?’ There’s no evidence that Hales feels any animosity for being overlooked in the IPL auction, but this innings—possibly the standout innings of the tournament—will have caught the attention of franchise owners from Bengaluru to Brisbane. Malinga and Mendis meant nothing to Hales, as his 116* powered England to an unexpected victory, and kept them alive in the competition.

  4. 31 May: Jos Buttler sends the England record for fastest ODI 100 over deep mid-off

    Signs of Buttler’s talent had been apparent for a while—most notably when he took 32 off a Wayne Parnell over—but for many, he was a promising young keeper-batsman who could inject some needed fire into the lower-order. Then came Lord’s. England were dead in the water. Buttler promptly exploded with 121 off 74. It wasn’t enough to see England home, but it showed Buttler to be much more than a closing-over cameo chancer.

  5. May–August: Moeen Ali out-spins subcontinental teams

    Even amongst his staunchest supporters at New Road, few would have predicted that Moeen Ali would have met with such success against the two international teams that play spin best. India’s attempt to go after him comically backfired, as they gifted wicket after wicket. Sri Lanka fared better but Moeen still nabbed Sangakkara with a beauty. Twenty-two wickets—two teams’ worth—against India and Sri Lanka combined: an excellent return for the insultingly dubbed “part-time” spinner.

  6. 6 July: Andrew Flintoff returns to the Red

    Rarely these days does domestic cricket catch the attention of the general English public. Precisely because of this rarity, however, the return of Fred has to be seen as a positive development for English cricket as a whole. Doubts over his fitness and ability were dispelled as he came close to seeing Lancashire to the T20 Blast title. Regardless of one’s county allegiance, a successful celebrity cricketing comeback has to be cheered.

  7. July–August: Cook starts Test resurgence

    If there is one player England want in form for the 2015 Ashes, it is Alastair Cook. In a line-up that is brimming with youthful enthusiasm, they nonetheless need a figure of his resilience. It was therefore heartening to see signs that he was recovering his touch after a torrid 2013. Scores of 95 and 70* at Southampton, plus 79 at The Oval suggest that he may be finding his way back. A head cleared from all the one-day frippery may work wonders.

  8. July–August: James Anderson averages more than Virat Kohli

    It would have been hard to say which would have been the more risible pre-series prediction: that Kohli wouldn’t reach 40, or that Anderson would hit 81. Not only were both statements true, Anderson at 22.40 outstripped Kohli’s meagre return of 13.40. It was the icing on the cake after his run-in with Jadeja at Trent Bridge, and ample compensation for his last-day tears at Headingley.

  9. 7 September: Eoin Morgan out-stares MS Dhoni in Battle of the Icemen

    Having reignited his form with a 36-ball 71, to close out the match Captain Morgan had another difficulty, in the shape of Dhoni. Morgan held his nerve, set his field, and Dhoni, who normally wins this sort of game in his sleep, couldn’t take India all the way. It was a feel-good end to the summer, and meant that England edged India 5-4 across all formats.

  10. 10 December: Woakes becomes the first England bowler with two ODI 6-fers

    In a squad with several fast bowlers all vying for World Cup places, all started unremarkably and then most lifted their game, meaning that Jordan, Woakes, and Finn all ought to travel to Australia and New Zealand. It was Woakes, however, who provided the standout performance, dismissing both the Sri Lankan legends Sangakkara and Jayawardene, along with four other batsmen, to yield six for 47. Strangely he missed out on the Man of the Match award, losing it to Joe Root: yet another example of bowling achievements being undervalued in relation to batting achievements, perhaps?

  11. December: James Taylor seizes his chance

    With senior players Bell and Cook sitting out the game in Columbo, Taylor swiftly caused sparks to fly. For too long the nearly man of English cricket, 2014 was the year when he forced the selectors to pick him through sheer weight of runs. Back to December: his 90 was followed by 68 in England’s victory in Pallekele. His approach to running between the wickets demonstrated his belief that two is better than one.

  12. [Carrying the drinks] 20 December: England get the ODI captain they need

    An off-field decision provides the twelfth man for this XI. There’s late cheer mixed with sorrow as the right man gets the job at the expense of a good man. The sense is that, however, England now have a fighting chance in 2015. New Year? No fear.

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