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Published on January 28th, 2014 | by George Preece

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Where now for England?

England and Australia captains during the Perth test in the Winter Ashes series

Alistair Cook’s position is uncertain. [Flickr:danheap77]

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, England have been well and truly buried this winter. A side ranked as the number one test team in 2011 and beat their conquerors 3-0 in the reverse series last Summer, crumbled to an embarrassing 5-0 whitewash.

Alastair Cook summed up the test series by saying: “If it was a boxing match, it would have been stopped.” For many England fans, I think they would have been happy if it was stopped halfway through the series.

For many it came as a huge shock. Sir Ian Botham had not been alone in predicting a 5-0 win for England, but were the cracks not starting to appear before the series had even started?

The last time England scored over 400 runs in an innings was in March 2013 at Bassin Reserve, Wellington, in the second test match between New Zealand and England, an astonishing 22 innings ago. It is very difficult for a team to get into a winning position without scoring 400 runs or more, and although England managed to do it three times in the summer, they were far from convincing wins.

Ian Bell, the man of the series for the home Ashes series in 2013, papered over the cracks of England’s constant batting troubles. His 562 runs came at an average of 62.44, including three centuries, which made England’s scorecards look half credible. However, when he failed in Australia, England had no one to call on. You could argue that Ben Stokes made a valiant effort in his short test career, but senior players should be leading by example.

Rejuvenated

In contrast Australia who, although did not score as many runs as England, had four different centurions who knew they would be playing on pitches which would suit their style of play. And the England bowlers may not have had as much assistance from the ball as they are used to in England.

The lack of ability to score big runs, coupled with the return of a rejuvenated Mitchell Johnson, was perhaps the main reason England crumbled so easily. England knew what Johnson was capable of, and although he is a main target for the Barmy Army for his sometimes wayward bowling, he had already shown signs of his form and rhythm when playing in England.

Jonathan Trott during the fifth ODI, winter 2013-14

Jonathan Trott during the fifth ODI, winter 2013-14 [Flickr:RaeAllen]

Johnson had not taken part in the test series, but was recalled to the squad for the one-day internationals after a lengthy spell away from the Australian team, and was bowling well in excess of 90mph. The England team should have highlighted him as a serious threat, and when he came in and blew away England’s lower-middle order in the second innings of the first test, it set the tone for the rest of the series.

The hostility of the Australians, in particular Johnson’s bowling, mentally affected the England side, and although there was some apologising following Jonathon Trott’s departure for personal reasons, Australia always seemed to have the upper hand. England’s batsmen took a barrage of blows off the short ball, and not once did the Australians show any sign of remorse. Compare that to perhaps the one good short ball bowled all tour by an Englishman, which crashed into the side of Chris Rodgers helmet, the England players rushed to his aid.

A significant factor in the changing fortunes of both sides was the management. Australia bought in Darren Lehman as head coach only two weeks before the first test of the summer and although they went on to lose the series, you could tell he was a breath of fresh air in the Australian camp and someone whom the players respected. Lehman’s outspoken comments only increased his popularity in Australia after claiming Stuart Broad was a “cheat” for not walking after edging a ball.

Conditions

This seemed to encourage the Australian press to make Broad a public hate figure and make his Australian tour as uncomfortable as possible.

In contrast England’s management seemed to have difficulty selecting a team suited to the conditions. Steven Finn, Boyd Rankin and Chris Tremlett were all in the squad as their bowling style should be suited for Australian pitches; England picked Tremlett for the first test match, his first in a well over a year. He was then dropped after the match and the only one of the trio who would play in the test series again would be Boyd Rankin in the final test, making an embarrassing debut which saw the majority of his match injured with cramp. It was a bizarre decision not to play any of these bowlers more often, especially Finn, who is a natural wicket taker.

The Barmy Army didn’t have much to cheer about over the winter.[Flickr:piesgardiner]

The decision to drop Joe Root for the final test also raised eyebrows, with Michael Carberry, who at 32, hadn’t had a bad tour, but looked destined to spend the final test carrying around the drinks. However the management decided it was to be Root, who at 23, is seen to be one of the brightest prospects in world cricket, would be the man to be axed. Both men hadn’t been in the best of form but to drop someone who is arguably the better player with a much higher prospect of an England career after the tour seemed bizarre.

The balance of the two sides was also at opposite ends of the spectrum; Australia remained unchanged for all five tests whilst England’s team was changed for every match, and although two of the changes had to be made through Trott’s personal problems and Graeme Swann’s retirement, England used 18 different players including four players making their test debuts (three in one test).

The departure of Graeme Swann after the third test seemed to come as a surprise to both the public and the England squad. However with a troublesome elbow injury and being used sparingly in ODIs over the last couple of years, the ECB must have known that the end was nigh for Swann.

Unsure

Simon Kerrigan was used in the last test of the summer at the Oval, but he failed to impress. Monty Panesar was back in the frame and played in the second and fourth tests and Scott Borthwick was drafted in to play the fifth and final test. To use four different spin bowlers in six test matches is an extraordinary statistic and clearly shows that England are unsure as who to replace Swann with.

Graeme Swann during third Ashes test, England, Summer 2013

Graeme Swann announced his retirement from International Cricket during the series.[Flickr:Sum_of_Marc]

A recurring theme in the series was England’s inability to bowl out Australia’s tail end batsmen, with Brad Haddin a constant thorn in the side, he and the tail added valuable runs on numerous occasions. Haddin himself made 493 runs at an average of 61 and there was evidence of his ability to bat well with the lower order in the 2013 Summer series.

England’s lack of killer instinct combined with Alastair Cook’s rather negative and unimaginative captaincy meant Australia were allowed to wriggle off the hook. It was almost becoming predictable when Haddin strolled to the crease, England would freeze, allowing the momentum to become Australia’s and for England to be run ragged. You would have thought lessons would have been learnt.

So what now for England? The only glimmer of light in a very dark tour has been the emergence of Ben Stokes, whose all-round performances have given fans some small hope that perhaps a team could be built around him in the future, and finished the series as the only Englishman to score a century.

If England are to turn their fortunes around, changes will have to be made, but when warning signs were there in the past, they were ignored. Fans and players a like will have to be patient in this time of transition. We were beaten into submission, embarrassed and humiliated by the oldest of enemies, it was the worst England tour of all time.

 

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