• Bertie Moores

OPINION | It's time to stop talking about The Ashes

The Ashes is not everything. Fantastic though it is, English cricket needs to acknowledge that there are other pastures to look forward to, or at the very least stop talking about it every waking minute.

Failure to beat Steve Smith this summer has dominated the cricket columns, and Ashes-oriented discussion continues unabated. 2019 has been a litany of disappointments for the Test team. Series defeats to both West Indies and New Zealand? Check. Failure to win the Ashes on English soil for the first time in eighteen years? Check. Bowled out for 85 by Ireland at Lord’s? Check. English Test cricket has certainly been in ruder health. But one statement in there rankles more than any other. The Ashes and England’s sub par performance in it is the strongest barometer of the side's frailties and in the media constitutes the most lasting dent to its pride. Battered at Edgbaston. Battered at Old Trafford. A cardboard top order, fragile mentality and lack of top quality spin options were all exposed on Test cricket’s biggest stage. In the series prized above all others they came up short.

The disappointment about shortcomings in English cricket's tentpole event is understandable. After all as foolish as it may sound, The Ashes is The Ashes. There’s more history and drama contained in ten-and-a-half centimetres of terracotta than most other rivalries in world sport. It contains the most crucial of ingredients - narrative. Botham’s Ashes, 2005, David Warner; it stirs the cricketing fluids like no other contest. Great players are inextricably tied up in these moments. The late Bob Willis’ name is cast in history for his 8-43 at Headingley more than any other spell or quip. Flintoff is defined by his game changing spells and innings in 2005, and this year Ben Stokes happened. This is all noticeably lacking with regards to England’s other matchups. Achievements against India, South Africa and Pakistan fade with the passage of time, but those in the Ashes do not.

But there is more to cricket than this single series. The English sporting penchant for crisis, combined with the crux of Ashes underperformance, has cast regaining the urn as the only priority for the next two years. It is perhaps the biggest goal but it should not hold overriding importance above all else. Disappointment in a post-summer, recovery tour to New Zealand has already been greeted with, broadly speaking, statements which boil down to ‘well England aren’t going to win the Ashes Down Under playing like this.' From Sky Sports - 'Athers: England must have eye on Ashes'. 'Thorpe challenges England players to find Ashes-worthy resilience' from Sporting News, whilst according to Fox Sports 'England are building towards the Ashes in 2021. Michael Vaughan says they don't stand a chance'.

Obviously England won't win on Aussie soil but why is that the only thing that matters in the conversation right now? New Zealand are a fine side who are very difficult to beat at home, and framing discussion about the admittedly short series around one which is twenty-four months away detracts from a golden generation of Black Caps. But it also detracts from how we hold Test cricket in our consciousness.

Test cricket is not akin to football and many other sports in terms of its scheduling. Its calendar does not peak for major tournaments per se. It’s simply a succession of rotating series against eight or nine other sides which rotate home and away over the course of about four years. The Ashes is the biggest fixture in that calendar, but it is not the only one. Each series holds its own value. It’s two years until England head to Australia and yet there is so much interesting and important cricket to be played before then. Almost every single other Test playing side will likely be played before then; heck, England have the prospect of a tour of India next winter. If they don’t have a chance of victory Down Under in two years, they sure as hell won’t manage to draw a game on the subcontinent in one. The goal should be to become the best in the world and beat everyone in their path. If the conversation is to be dominated by The Ashes for two seasons, then this obsession with one series does a disservice to other sides and negates the many tests they will play before winter 2021. In turn it distracts from the fact that this side should and will have other goals to achieve.

The new ICC Test Championship will give some other longer term coherence within the five-day format. Yet, to further help them feed public interest in these relevant series, each one needs to be treated as the most important issue to hand when they approach it. The team will likely treat them all equally, but whether the pundits and columnists will is another question.

In fact, in a pluralist cricket world consisting of a variety of formats, it seems as though the extraordinary achievements of the ODI side this summer have seemingly been partially whitewashed. England won the World Cup on home soil, achieving what no other side had managed to do. This was their biggest goal and they achieved it in front of millions of viewers in the most dramatic fashion, arguably in sporting history. A glorious moment capping the most exciting cricket summer in a generation. However, a thrilling series drawn against a side containing the greatest Test batsman since Bradman in the greatest series of his career has somehow overshadowed that. Different formats yes, but the same England cricket team.

There are advantages to not being confined to the the major tournament peaks and troughs of international football and Olympic sports. Instead, seize the next two years as challenges and obstacles to be celebrated rather than friendlies for a major tournament which is primarily of interest for the hardcore audience. Growing the game is less of an immediate concern than results for this side, and in turn the ECB, but on that front, the key series of interest is now another four years away. This is one of the few countries where interest in Test cricket remains strong and one way for it to weather encroaching limited-overs storms is to treat the next seven series as what they are: a test.

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