The summer of 2022 promises to be a special one when it comes to cricket. With games against New Zealand, India and South Africa to look forward to, we just can't wait!
- The showdown against New Zealand
- Unfinished business with India
- What to watch out for against South Africa
Buckle up and get ready for the ride: The English Test summer is one you won't want to miss
By Ben Gardner, Wisden
The winds of change are breezing through England’s men’s Test side. A captain, head coach and a few others besides have departed the scene since the start of the year, and the nearing start of the Test summer carries with it an extra frisson of excitement. This is a fresh start, a chance for those in charge to plant a flag and show how they want the game to be played, and for those in the ranks to prove they should be part of the new regime. The summer’s two LV= Insurance Test Series offer the perfect setting for something special, with England set to resume two keenly contested, underrated rivalries. The prospect is mouth-watering.
First, New Zealand, who England will be looking to defeat in a Test series for the first time since 2013. There are echoes of 2015, and English men’s cricket’s last seismic reset, when Eoin Morgan et al. watched on in envy as Brendon McCullum’s brave Blackcaps swashbuckled their way to the 2015 Men’s Cricket World Cup final and thought to themselves, ‘I wouldn’t mind a piece of that’. The ODI series, in which England breached 400, chased 350 at a canter, and ultimately downed the Cricket World Cup finalists, sparked the revolution that would culminate in unforgettable fashion at Lord’s in 2019. But the two-Test rubber was a minor classic in its own right, with Ben Stokes smashing the fastest Lord’s Test hundred in history to overturn a sizeable deficit in the first, before New Zealand cantered to 350 at nearly five an over to give themselves just enough time to level up in a rain-affected second Test.
Now, McCullum and Stokes will join forces, with the noises from the camp - and the latter’s own pyrotechnic form in the LV= Insurance County Championship – suggesting that we should expect fireworks. As Rob Key, the ECB’s managing director of England men’s cricket, put it when McCullum’s appointment was announced: “Buckle up and get ready for the ride.”
It’s an important series for Kane Williamson’s side too. On their visit to these shores last summer, his team reached their apex, consigning England to their first home Test series defeat since 2014 before beating India in a dramatic, sixth-day finish to seal the inaugural World Test Championship crown. But since then, their fortunes have quietly ebbed and they are without a Test series win in three attempts. Their defeat to Bangladesh at home was as worrying for the hosts as it was historic for the tourists. Their hopes of a World Test Championship defence are hanging by a thread, but a statement win in England would reassert their place as one of the era’s foremost Test sides.
South Africa will be the combatants in the summer’s other LV= Insurance Test Series, and theirs, in many ways, is the inverse story of New Zealand’s. Whereas England and New Zealand have taken turns to dominate their rivalry, England-South Africa has been a back-and-forth affair with neither side achieving supremacy in recent times. England’s 2017 3-1 win stands as the only time the home side has won an England-South Africa Test series since 2000, while in all but one of the two teams’ last 10 encounters, both sides have won at least one Test.
Another contrast to New Zealand is that, while the Proteas had endured a lull in the longest format leading up to this year, 2022 has witnessed a resurgence, with a come-from-behind series win against India and an impressive draw against the Blackcaps the headline results. Captain Dean Elgar has crafted a gritty, rugged team in his own image, and they won’t go away easy.
And then there are the summer’s two one-off LV= Insurance Test Matches: England’s men against India, and England’s women against South Africa. The former is a curio, the conclusion to last year’s LV= Insurance Test Series, standalone and yet deciding what has come before. The scoreline is poised at 2-1 to India, with the tourists aiming for a first series win in England since 2008, a triumph to illustrate their new-found potency in fast bowler-friendly conditions, and the hosts hoping to avoid two Test series defeats in the ‘same’ summer for the first time since 1986.
This will also be an encounter to illustrate how quickly things can change. Ahead of the postponed Old Trafford denouement, India’s captain was on the verge of securing his side their second statement result of the year, after their remarkable backs-to-the-wall series win in Australia and a trip to South Africa offering an opportunity to complete a triumvirate of overseas victories. His status as Indian cricket’s most powerful figure was secure. His counterpart, meanwhile, was in the midst of his finest personal year as a batter, with six hundreds in 12 Tests in the year to that point. But neither Joe Root nor Virat Kohli will be in charge of their respective sides come July, with Stokes and Rohit Sharma left the task of settling the score.
The visit of Dane van Niekerk and her troops will provide a centrepiece to treasure. The Women’s Cricket World Cup, earlier this year, saw a time-honoured South African campaign, imperious in the group stage before knockout heartbreak. But it also underlined their new status as one of the world’s premier sides, below Australia but capable of challenging anyone else. This will mark their first Test match since 2014, a delay far too long for a team possessing some of the era’s foremost classicists, not least Laura Wolvaardt and her cover drives to die for. Van Niekerk’s return from injury will see one of the game’s fiercest captains finally lead in the game’s premier format, and Lizelle Lee, Wisden’s Leading Woman Cricketer in the World in 2021, will have a chance to prove her big-hitting, boisterous strokeplay can translate to the red-ball challenge.
England’s recent Test-match experience, meanwhile, barely needs retelling, with this game following on from perhaps the greatest women’s Test ever played. Heather Knight’s first-innings 168* in that game stands as one of the all-time great Ashes hundreds, accounting for 56.6 percent of England’s total, with the next highest score of 34 coming from England’s No.10, Sophie Ecclestone. But even that masterclass was only a prelude to the final-day drama, with England at one point 218-3 chasing 257 and Sophia Dunkley rattling along at a T20-esque strike-rate to confirm her status as the most exciting women’s batting talent to emerge from England’s shores in years. Then back came the Aussies, engineering a collapse as the time pressure mounted, before Kate Cross came in and conveyed the simple instruction to Ecclestone: “We absolutely do not get out.” A stalemate was achieved, and while the urn was all but gone admiration was achieved.
These two evenly matched sides will have the chance to build on that momentum and deliver a spectacle to be savoured.
The longest format is alive and kicking, and the English Test summer is one you won’t want to miss.