Rightly or wrongly, English Test cricket works in Ashes cycles.
Nothing builds legends like success against Australia. Departures are all the more speedy after a humbling at the hands of the oldest enemy.
England have been quite clear about their priority of planning for their next trip down under and a raid on the urn in 2021-22. It has raised the question of who will form their pace bowling attack in the cauldron of the Gabba when the first Test begins next November.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad have been playing Test cricket together since Ollie Pope was in primary school.
At the time of the next Ashes series, England’s all-time leading wicket-takers will be 39 and 35 respectively.
Even if you think their ages would not prevent them from making the trip, does their historic effectiveness (or lack of it) in Australia necessitate fresh thinking?
Anderson’s career average down under is worse than against every other country bar Sri Lanka. Broad has played in 12 Tests in Australia and only won one.
After seeing England armed only with knives in Australian gunfights on their past two tours, wouldn’t it be thrilling to return fire with the likes of Jofra Archer, Mark Wood and Olly Stone?
Forward planning, however, is only one plate England are spinning at the moment.
In the bio-secure summer, playing six Tests in seven weeks requires rest and rotation. They are trying to select bowlers for conditions, never mind actually attempting to win a series.
Would defeat by West Indies be remembered if Joe Root is holding the urn in Sydney in January 2022? Perhaps not, but you try telling that to him in July 2020.
|England’s leading wicket-takers against each nation|
|New Zealand||Stuart Broad||66||27.2|
|South Africa||James Anderson||93||31.5|
|Sri Lanka||James Anderson||52||23.9|
|West Indies||James Anderson||87||22.3|
Looking to the future is sound logic, as is the idea that England might have to risk being worse at home, where Anderson and Broad have been so dominant, in order to become a more rounded team.
But it could be argued it is ill advised to gaze too far ahead. We are still 18 months from the Ashes, and the landscape can change quickly.
Eighteen months before England last won down under, their pace attack included Graham Onions, Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff, none of whom made the trip to Australia.
And, even when England do look at other options under the excuse of “resting” the old firm, Anderson and Broad first tell us that they should be in the team, then prove it.
Broad’s passionate interview after he was left out of the first Test against West Indies was followed by two crucial bursts in the second and a fine all-round display on the second day of the third.
When England stated they would pick their “best attack” for the final Test, Anderson asserted he and Broad are in it. He backed it up by bowling beautifully from the end at Emirates Old Trafford that bears his name.
After England’s last thumping in Australia, the feeling was that neither Anderson or Broad would make the trip again.
Yet, here they are, both claiming that is their aim.
Time and again, Anderson says he wants to play for as long as he can. If anyone doubts him, consider what he has done to return from two lengthy injury lay-offs in the past year alone.
Just last week, Broad said he could play for as long as his new-ball partner.
They fend off questions about their futures. Broad has reminded us that he is four years younger, so we should not assume they will ride off into the sunset together.
However, when they are seen sharing the same jumper on a chilly Saturday in Manchester, it’s hard not to see them as a partnership rather than two individuals.
Perhaps the fascination over how long they can continue stems from the fact English cricket has never seen their likes before and very feasibly won’t again. Nearly 300 Tests between them, approaching 1,100 wickets, countless glorious moments.
Maybe, then, rather than wondering when they will depart, it is better to appreciate them while they are still here.
That is not to say England should not consider the future, both short-term and long, but it is also not definite that Anderson and Broad will not have a part to play.
“On today’s performance, do you think we’re in the best bowling attack?” said Broad of their display in Saturday, when they picked up a combined 4-34.
“I don’t ever walk on the field with him and wonder if this is the last time we’ll play together because both of us have a burning desire to keep going.
“I certainly get the feeling when one of us goes, each other will be one of the first people to know. But there’s been no talk of that. Jimmy’s record is getting better and better, as is mine.”
England are right to consider their options, both now and for the trip to Australia.
But, if the Adelaide Test is played under floodlights and with a pink ball, would Anderson not be the man they want in their attack?
Admittedly it was in English conditions, but Broad had David Warner on toast last summer. Would the fuller length he has discovered in old age give him more success on the bouncy Australian pitches than he has enjoyed before?
Those, though, are questions that will not have answers for another 18 months.
For now, Anderson and Broad are to be cherished.