NOTWITHSTANDING the outcome of the Boxing Day Test, which was unknown prior to the writing of these ramblings, the England cricket team come into 2016 looking for greater consistency.
Indeed, the only consistent feature of their play last year was their inconsistency, with the side routinely taking one step forward and two steps back, or vice-versa.
A quick recap of results highlights the point.
England flopped at the World Cup, drew their Test series against a “mediocre” West Indies, and opened the English summer with a creditable 1-1 draw in the Tests against New Zealand, who they beat 3-2 in the subsequent one-day series – Yorkshire’s Jonny Bairstow sealing the spoils with a brilliant innings at Chester-le-Street.
Under new coach Trevor Bayliss, who replaced Peter Moores after the West Indies tour, England carried their new-found positive style of cricket into the Ashes, beating Australia 3-2 before losing the one-day series by the same score.
England then lost 2-0 in the Tests against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates before bouncing back to win the one-day series 3-1 and the Twenty20 series 3-0.
In short, there were plenty of highs (notably the Ashes) and plenty of lows.
At the same time, it feels as though England are in a much better place than they were this time last year, when Alastair Cook had just lost his job as one-day captain and when the anti-Moores movement was gathering pace. They are at least trying to play the right way, even if they have yet to prove consistently successful.
Perhaps the biggest concern is the batting collapses, which have been commonplace recently.
Cook and Yorkshire’s Joe Root have shouldered the batting burden, much like James Anderson and Stuart Broad have with the bowling, and England have been overly-reliant on those four genuinely world-class players.
England need to find a settled opening batsman and, I believe, were too quick to dispense with Yorkshire’s Adam Lyth. The spin cupboard is practically bare, but is Moeen Ali really a better bet than Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid, a man with the ability to bowl match-winning spells?
Selection decisions have at times been strange, not least when Jonathan Trott was brought back to open in the West Indies. Almost every pundit said it was a mistake and, surprise surprise, they were soon proved right.
We will have a much better idea of England’s progress under Bayliss after the current series in South Africa, which is followed by the world Twenty20 and the home Tests against Sri Lanka and Pakistan before England end the year in Bangladesh and India.