HAVE Team England faced a more mouthwatering year than 2015?
They have certainly not faced a busier one, with more matches than you’d find in the average box of Swan Vestas.
It all starts next month when England, Australia and India compete in a one-day tri-series ahead of the World Cup.
Then, after the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, they go straight to the Caribbean for a three-Test series against West Indies.
A one-day international in Ireland is followed by two Tests, five one-day internationals and a T20 at home to New Zealand, then a home Ashes series and five one-day internationals and a T20 against Australia.
October and November is provisionally booked for three Tests, five ODIs and a T20 against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi, followed by a tour of South Africa that will take in next Christmas and New Year with four Tests and a further round of ODI and T20 games.
If my calculations are correct, England will play 17 Tests in a little over nine months.
Or, to put it another way, roughly one-third of Don Bradman’s career – a career which spanned two decades minus the Second World War.
If the schedule is back-breaking, the cricket – as previously stated – is mouthwatering, with the World Cup and Ashes taking top billing.
England could just as easily perform strongly as poorly in both events, which merely adds to the intrigue of it all.
England, essentially, are still in transition – a state they have been in since last winter.
A home Test series defeat to Sri Lanka was followed by victory over notoriously poor travellers India, which enhanced the impression of a work in progress.
A semi-final place at the World Cup is not beyond question (albeit more due to the structure of the tournament than any compelling case England have made on the field). It will be 40 years since England first tried to win the World Cup. They have failed 10 times, by varying degrees, since then – and it is hard to recommend at this stage that new man Eoin Morgan will have the players at his disposal to buck the established trend.
The recent 5-2 thrashing in Sri Lanka, will now be followed by the tri-series in Australia against the hosts and India in the new year, amounting to a major test of England’s 50-over capabilities under the new captain.
They should not therefore arrive in Sydney in early February, and on to Melbourne shortly afterwards to face Australia in a showpiece opening match, with any false illusions about where they stand in the pecking order.
England did have to get by too without their two injured front-line bowlers James Anderson and Stuart Broad in Sri Lanka, and with them back in the swing together with Gary Ballance getting the nod, there may just be some hope for improvement.
A tour of the West Indies should not pose too many problems at Test level. New Zealand are on the march in Test cricket but struggled here last time, while the Ashes could just be too close to call. Ten years after arguably the most famous Ashes series of all, we could well be in for another humdinger.
Pakistan appear to have the wood on most visitors to the UAE, where England’s ability to play spin will be sorely tested.
That frailty is unlikely to be exploited in South Africa, however, where skill and courage against pace will be the order of the day. The world No 1 Test nation will take some beating. England have time to prepare.
It promises to be a big year on the Test scene for Alastair Cook and Peter Moores, and one in which the Yorkshire duo of Joe Root and Ballance could make great strides. Further Yorkshire representation is likely with the club having supplied seven of the 14 players for the forthcoming Lions tour of South Africa, a magnificent achievement.
A fascinating year is surely in prospect. If nothing else, it will be brimful and breathless.