England have endured a torrid seven weeks Down Under and have just one draw and four defeats to show for their toils. They surrendered the Ashes in pretty meek fashion and were thoroughly outplayed for the vast majority of the series.
There were several contributing factors to their demise, but a lack of spin, questionable leadership from senior players, indiscipline and an inability to deal with Australian pace and aggression were among the most glaring issues.
Take nothing away from the hosts, who were magnificent throughout. Steve Smith’s man of the series award was a hugely deserved as he scored 687 runs at an average of 137.40, hitting three centuries, two half-centuries and a high score of 239. Joe Root can learn a lot from his leadership through willow, words and presence. Smith cemented his status as the world’s greatest batsman and David Warner, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh and Ushman Khawaja, who all dazzled frequently with the bat, ably assisted him. Meanwhile, Australia’s attack was absolutely rampant: Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood ripped through England time after time, and Nathan Lyon showed the tourists how it’s done in the spin department.
The Australians came up against a team blessed with the talents of its all-time leading run scorer in Alastair Cook, and its all-time leading wicket takers, James Anderson and Stuart Broad. The Sydney Morning Herald likened the trio to an English version of Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne and Glen McGrath, but the hosts made short work of this team. They thrashed England by an innings and 123 runs in the fifth test to wrap up a series win in Sydney this week, another in a string of heavy victories. The tourists could have suffered another whitewash Down Under, as Australia could be accused of taking a foot off the pedal for the fourth test – which was drawn amid rain delays –after wrapping up a 3-0 win in the five test series before Christmas.
Anderson, one Englishman to emerge with a semblance of credit, said the scoreline does not reflect how close the series actually was. England hit 2,503 runs at an average of 31.68, while taking 55 wickets at 53.54. Meanwhile Australia hit 2,911 runs at 50.18 and took 87 wickets at 28.91. If anything, 4-0 flatters England.
So who are the leading culprits? Cook hit the most impressive knock of the series, an unbeaten 244 at the MCG to lead England to that draw and he would have been up there for top English team batsman in the cricket betting odds, but in the other four matches he was a colossal disappointment. He may have carried his bat in Melbourne, but he hit just 132 runs in eight further innings in Australia, an average of 16.4 runs. That is simply not good enough for a player of his calibre. England sent an extremely inexperienced side Down Under and the likes of Mark Stoneman, Dawid Malan and James Vince needed someone to look up to and take inspiration from. Cook was typically found wanting, and so was captain Joe Root, who underwhelmed throughout.
Of the newcomers, Malan performed admirably throughout and finished the series as England’s leading run scorer, so he should have a strong future ahead of him. But huge question marks remain over Vince and Stoneman, whose inconsistency cost the tourists. Craig Overton and Nathan Crane showed glimpses of potential, but they are a long way off the standards set by Lyon. Stuart Broad underperformed, Johnny Bairstow’s tour will be remembered for a silly headbutt rather than any achievements on the field, and Moeen Ali struggled badly during the entire series. England were crying out for a strong all-rounder as their elongated tail was frequently decimated and too great a burden was placed on the shoulders of Anderson. Ali failed to hit the heights required of him and was ineffective over the seven weeks.
Stokes was accused of letting his team down by missing the series due to a suspension while police investigate an alleged assault outside a nightclub in Bristol. The presence of arguably the world’s best all-rounder would have improved England’s chances, but Stokes alone would not have been enough to rescue the tourists. Australia were simply better in virtually every department and displayed greater mental fortitude throughout. It was an attritional series and the likes of Smith, the Marshes and Khawaja showed great concentration, patience and determination to stay at the crease for extended periods of time. England’s batsmen came nowhere close to matching the hosts in this area, and their bowlers simply failed to contain the Australians.
England cannot blame the weather conditions, as it was typically mild and temperate, and they cannot blame the coin as Root won the toss 80% of the time. The players and coaching staff simply have themselves to blame due to a lack of pace, a lack of spin, a lack of discipline and a lack of tenacity, which all combined to let England down in this series. You could also accuse the team of a lack of ambition, as nobody ever seemed to believe they could actually claim victory Down Under.
England have now lost 18 out of 33 tests under Trevor Bayliss and a soul-searching post-mortem will begin in the wake of the latest humiliation. There are some positives to take as the team tries to improve its record going forwards: Anderson is still at the peak of his abilities, Malan and Crane showed promise, and they are not as terrible as they were four years ago. But that is clutching at straws.
You cannot paper over the gaping cracks in the England set-up and there needs to be an overhauling of preparation methods, analysis, coaching strategies and playing staff in order to drive the requisite improvement that would see England gain Ashes revenge in 2019.
Photo by RaeAllen