After David Gower's successful expedition – a 2-1 series victory, the last match a bore draw – England won the Ashes the following summer, thumping Allan Border's side 3-1. Optimism ran high, with Ian Botham returning after his rotation – though it was called something else then – and Graham Gooch and John Emburey back after their ill-advised South African capers. But then Gower ran into West Indies again in the Caribbean and everything started to fall apart. Gower was soon sacked and replaced by Mike Gatting, who won two Tests on the triumphant 1986-87 Ashes tour but no others after that.
The legacy should be rosier this time. Currently there are no equivalents to the West Indies of the 1980s in world cricket, which must be a relief to Alastair Cook and Andy Flower. Instead England take on Antipodean cricketers home and away in their next 15 Tests – five against New Zealand, 10 against the Australians. This should not be too daunting a prospect. The New Zealanders are nowhere near as good as they were in the 1980s; the Australians may be a bit better, though one could have a pre-Christmas argument about that.
Now England seem in good shape again. Just five months after the exit of Andrew Strauss the words "England captain, Alastair Cook" trip off the tongue as easily as "National treasure, David Attenborough". Kevin Pietersen is as integrated as a dishwasher in a 21st-century kitchen, just as indispensable and – who knows? – squeaky clean.
Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar outbowled their Indian counterparts during the Test series; Matt Prior outkept and outscored MS Dhoni, who singled out James Anderson as the difference between the two sides. Moreover Andy Flower's brow is not so furrowed now that he can spy some recuperating/reacquainting-with-his-family time, something that his fellow coaches will also be craving. The Antipodeans had better watch out.
Not every Test place in the England side is set in stone but this is also a bonus. A little competition is usually a damn good thing. There is currently room for manoeuvre at Nos 2, 6 and 8 in the Test side and there is probably bad news for Panesar on the horizon.
England's next Test is in Dunedin on 6 March and the chances of two spinners being selected are slight. This means that Panesar is likely to be looking on from the sidelines notwithstanding his excellent performances in India. Swann still trumps Panesar.
Nick Compton, despite a solitary half-century in the Test series, deserves to start the New Zealand tour at No2 as Cook's partner. He was not flattered by his aggregate of runs in India but his partnerships with Cook were always reassuring. However, there is an alternative gaining ground in Joe Root, such a success at No6 in the Nagpur Test. Indeed that bold selection of Root has intensified the competition for batting places quite wonderfully.
Geoffrey Boycott, who should know about these things, has said he would prefer Root not to be thrust up the order too soon because he is still learning. In fact Root has always batted at the top of the order throughout his professional career – either opening or at No3 – so his ability to prosper at six put into sharper focus a serene temperament. For an opener all that waiting can be torture but Root seemed to cope with it happily.
Until Ian Bell made his century in Nagpur the pressure was mounting on him. He can infuriate and delight in equal measure. Now he will surely remain England's No5 in Dunedin. But at six? Well, it could be Root or it may be Jonny Bairstow, one of two Yorkshiremen to have had a frustrating tour in India (Tim Bresnan is the other).
Bairstow played one Test in Mumbai, where his chief contribution was some sharp catching at forward short-leg. But he has raw talent and seems to be getting a raw deal. It was a surprise (but also a fine decision) when Root leapfrogged him. It was even more of a shock that Bairstow should be omitted from the first Twenty20 fixture in Pune before "personal reasons" prompted an early flight home on Friday.
Bairstow will surely be in New Zealand for the Test series but the same cannot be said with any certainty of Samit Patel or Eoin Morgan. It has become apparent that Patel's stock as an auxiliary bowler has slipped and he is not regarded as the sixth best batsman in England. Meanwhile Morgan gets to see a red ball in the nets only.
There is less debate about the No8 position. It will probably be Stuart Broad, Cook's vice-captain in India, but that is no longer a certainty. Broad struggled in India partly because of his own virtue. He insisted he was fit to play in Mumbai – he is the sort of cricketer who hates to shirk a challenge – but the suspicion remains that he wasn't and his bowling suffered as a consequence. Moreover over the past six months he appears to have lost some venom – unless he has the odd ex-player in his sights.
The expectation must be that Broad will be back in New Zealand. In which case he gets in the team — unlike Bresnan. For there is little doubt that Anderson's ideal partner is now Steven Finn, with Broad as the support act. The only problem is that Finn keeps getting injured, which may be a consequence of his straining for that extra pace which marks him out from his peers.
With Finn fit the English attack looks more potent than anything in the Antipodes. So far this winter England's fast bowlers have had the decency to get injured in between matches; the Australians, rather more inconveniently, have contrived to go lame during matches, which prompts a merry Christmas thought: maybe those Ashes can be secured as emphatically in 2013 as they were in 1985.
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