There was a time, not too long ago, when you expected an England team playing an Ashes series in Australia to be thrashed. You knew that as much hope had that this time it would be different, there was always going to be bad news when you awoke the following morning.
Series in 1990-91, 1994-95, 1998-99, 2002-03 and 2006-07 followed that pattern. 25 test matches between the sides, England won three of them, all of them, after the series had been lost.
But then we all became optimists. We started to believe that we could beat the Australians.
It started with the epic series in 2005 when we not only won the series, but won against a side that were near the top of their game and in an Ashes series that for the first team since Ian Botham’s Ashes crossed over into the public consciousness.
And although 2006-07 went badly, with mitigating circumstances attached to it, three successive series wins had got back that belief in English cricket that not only could we win, but that we would win. As they went down under, people expected that the Ashes would be retained, and that the English would give the Australians another beating to go with the 3-0 win at home in the summer.
That didn’t last long.
The 5-0 nil loss in 2006-07 was bad enough, but that was against an Australian side containing greats of the game such as Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Ricky Ponting, with a high quality supporting cast.
That side contained six or seven players who would walk into a World XI. This Australian side? Other than Michael Clarke and Mitchell Johnson (based on this series only), no-one else would.
The worry for England is not just that they lost 5-0, but that it wasn’t even close. Defeats were by 381 runs, 218 runs, 150 runs, eight wickets and finally 281 runs. Not one close battle. Not one match that could have gone either way. Not one respectable team performance. Just five thrashings that got steadily more predictable as the series went on, culminating in the fifth test in which in England managed to lose to all twenty wickets in 90.3 overs – in one, just three balls more than a day’s play.
The averages from the series make sorry reading for England with only Ben Stokes averaging more than 30 with the bat, and Kevin Pietersen, England’s leading run scorer only seventh in the cumulative list of both teams. And with the ball, only Stuart Broad and Scott Borthwick managed to average under 30, with Borthwick topping the bowling averages despite going for one than one run a ball and only manages to take one of his four wickets in the series with a ball that actually pitched. It just about summed up England’s series.
Australia were unchanged throughout. England managed to use 18 players over the course of five tests. And of those eighteen, it is hard to see several of them playing test cricket again.
Michael Carberry fought hard, but looked well short of test match quality. Jonny Bairstow didn’t convince with either bat or gloves, and will have to go away and work hard for Yorkshire to have a chance of returning. Jonathan Trott may have played his last game for England. Graeme Swann has retired. Tim Bresnan seems to have lost a yard of pace following his back surgery in the summer and unless he refinds that looks to be finished as a test match bowler. Chris Tremlett was selected for the tour based on what he did four years ago, as yet turned out to be the man who rarely threatened to take wickets for Surrey this season in the Country Championship, and news of his contract extension was greeted by disappointment from the Surrey members. Monty Panesar never had the faith of Alastair Cook and never looked like taking wickets, and surely is finished as an international cricketer. Boyd Rankin may come again, but didn’t look threatening at Sydney. Scott Borthwick has time on his side but looks a long way short of being a test match bowler at the moment. The fact he was 14th in the bowling averages for Durham shows this.
Of the rest, Pietersen averages 33 in the last 12 months. Joe Root averages 36 and was dropped for the last test. Ian Bell only averaged just 26 in Australia. Cook only averages 30 in the last 12 test matches. Matt Prior, England’s current player of the year, averages just 31 this year and has only made double figures seven times in 19 innings and was dropped for the last two tests. Even James Anderson, the leader of the bowling attack, has taken just 26 wickets in the last nine matches at 42.
Whatever way you look at it, the tour for England has been a complete disaster and before the next test series against Sri Lanka, England will have to do some series thinking and soul searching as to how to move on from here.
They will be spots in the team for an opening batsman, maybe someone at number five, a wicketkeeper, a spin bowler, and another pace bowler up for grabs for senior players who can either rediscover their form in the first few matches in the County Championship, or for fringe players to push for their inclusion.
Unfortunately, the players most in line to take those spots seem to be persona non-grata with the England management:
Nick Compton was dropped for not scoring enough runs, but went away and averaged over 50 for Somerset. Incidentally, since Compton was dropped, England have not passed 400 runs in an innings.
James Taylor has been the best middle order batsman outside of the test ranks for a while and averaged a shade under 50 last season, but was long been ignored.
Graeme Onions took 73 wickets last season as he helped Durham win the County Championship, but was unfathomably overlooked for this tour.
The best spinner in England is Simon Kerrigan, but following on from his performance at the Oval in the summer and subsequent non-selection for the Ashes tour, he is unlikely to be turned to.
Something will have to change for England, although quite what that will be is yet to be determined. Coach Andy Flower has already stated that he is keen to stay on. And although Cook’s captaincy has been questioned, there is a lack of quality alternative options to take the job off him.
There is time to fix the mess that this tour has been ahead of the next test series, starting on June 12th against Sri Lanka at home , but it does need to be fixed.
Nostalgia can be a good thing – There are certain things from your past that you want to remember…
Waking up in the morning to find that yet again, England are being soundly beaten by Australia, is not one of them.
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