I’m hoping that writing a blog post about the Ashes tour might provide some kind of catharsis, so here goes.
England lost the fifth and final Ashes test today by 281 runs and so have lost all five tests. It’s not that long ago that they suffered a similar fate on tour in Australia (2007, in fact) but I think this series has been a lot worse. None of the matches have been close-fought, as the following summary proves:
21-25 Nov: First Test, Brisbane: Australia won by 381 runs
5-9 Dec: 2nd Test, Adelaide: Australia won by 218 runs
13-17 Dec: 3rd Test, Perth: Australia won by 150 runs
26-30 Dec: 4th Test, Melbourne: Australia won by eight wickets
3-7 Jan 2014: 5th Test, Sydney: Australia won by 281 runs
The final Test summed up the series. England briefly promised with the ball, having Australia in trouble at 97-5, but were unable to push home their advantage as the hosts recovered to 326. England’s batsmen then capitulated for a paltry 155 having been in danger (at 23-5) of being all out for their lowest-ever Ashes total of 45. The Australians amassed another 276 in only 61 overs and then watched England crumble again in pitiful fashion, for 166 in only 32 overs. Hopeless by England, but well played Australia.
So what has gone wrong? The obvious answer is England’s batting; they’ve scored under 200 in six innings in the series, and only one England batsman (Stokes) managed a century. Credit to the Australian bowlers, of course – Mitchell Johnson’s total of 37 wickets at an average of under 14 was truly outstanding – but good bowling can’t be the only factor. Experienced batsmen like Cook, Bell and Pietersen have all been found wanting. I know they had to hostile and determined fast bowling, but this is Test cricket. Top players have to stand up and be counted. The failures of less experienced players such as Carberry and Root are more forgivable, given the poor example set by senior batsmen, but I think they’re also symptomatic of something drastically wrong with the coaching system employed by the England team management. Good batsmen don’t spontaneously turn into bad ones.
The England bowling hasn’t been much to write home about either, with only Stuart Broad turning in a respectable statistic of 21 wickets at 27.52. Jimmy Anderson is a dangerous bowler when the ball swings, but that hasn’t happened for him on this tour and he only managed 14 wickets at an average of 43.92. Swann’s bowling average was a woeful 80 before he threw in the towel.
England coach Andy Flower has stated that this is the End of An Era for English cricket. I hope the powers that be have the courage and vision to take the steps needed to pull English cricket out of its calamitous downward spiral. That means rethinking the entire coaching set-up rather than just tinkering with the team selection.
It will, however, be interesting to see which survivors of this debacle will play Test cricket this summer. Trott and Swann are already out of contention. I’d be surprised if Cook remains as skipper, though he might keep his place as an opener if he shows form in county matches. Carberry does not look like a top class opener to me, and Root is no world class number 3 either. Let’s hope Bell can recover some form and provide some stability while the selectors look to blood new players. I think Pietersen should stay too, exasperating though he is.
The only ray of sunshine I can find is in the performance of young Ben Stokes, who topped the England batting averages with 34.87 and took 15 wickets at 32.80. It’s early days for him, as he is only 22, but has England at last found the genuine all-rounder that it has missed for so long?Follow @telescoper