Written by James Price
It was a humiliating series for England. The Linc takes a look at why everything went so badly.
1) Australia have been very good
Much of the talk trying to comprehend this defeat for England has been of how bad they are: should Cook be sacked; should Gooch or Flower go; which senior players need to retire. Australia’s excellent cricket has, for the most part, been overlooked.
Mitchell Johnson has consistently bowled very quick bouncers and whilst he hasn’t had quite the impact against the good batsmen at the top of the order, his unwavering radar has caused England to take risks at the other end, and thrown away their wickets. Meanwhile, Brad Haddin has slogged away merrily, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris have been accurate and nagging and all the batsmen but George Bailey and arguably Shane Watson have had really telling innings.
Most impressive has been Michael Clarke’s captaincy. He bowls the star man Johnson in three and four over bursts, sets the right fields, and knows when to bring on his containing bowlers.
2)England selected the wrong fast bowler in Brisbane
England arrived in Australia with four bowlers of 6ft 6in and over, which signalled their intentions. They took the safety first option, Chris Tremlett, for the Gabba, hoping he would do a job, just like he did three years previously. He did: he kept the Australians’ seventh-wicket pair of Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson in. If England had risked Steven Finn here, he might have taken wickets, regained confidence and not disappeared into the vortex of uncertainty he is in now.
3) Mitchell Johnson’s rejuvenation
Johnson began the Ashes series badly with a wayward first spell and was taken off after three overs. Michael Clarke called him back and he immediately went round the wicket and found an awkward bouncer for the steadfast Michael Carberry and then targeted Jonathan Trott with some very fast lifters into his ribs. Clarke’s management of Johnson – recognising when he was on song and when he wasn’t and using him short, destructive spells – defined his clever and inspired captaincy.
4) Losing Trott and not moving Bell to No. 3
The departure of Trott disturbed England. It was not just the absence of a top-order batsman, a vital buffer despite his drop in form, but the sight of a friend and colleague in obvious distress shocked the dressing room and disrupted the equilibrium of those left behind.
Technically Bell is the best player in the team. Once Trott went home, it was obvious that he should move to No 3. Instead, again England took the safety-first option, protecting Bell at five and promoting Joe Root, who had already looked vulnerable to Johnson’s pace, to three. Bell could only watch helplessly as his middle-order partners were obliterated in a blur, leaving him marooned and soon left him out of runs and any sort of form.
5) Doing a demolition job on Graeme Swann
Graeme Swann had been the crucial cog in England’s bowling machine, tying up an end in the first innings, allowing the fast bowlers to rotate from one end, snaring the odd left-hander lbw and picking up vital wickets as the pitch grew worn. This just didn’t materialise and really struggled in the first two tests of the series. George Bailey plundered a world record 28 runs off one of Swann’s overs and soon, he found the going so unrewarding that after the third Test he retired. It was a serious abjuration of his duty.
6) England’s fielding and Batting
Fielding is often the barometer of a team’s morale and England’s in this series has been poor. In Perth, by the time Australia declared it had sunk to the level of appalling. England’s inability to take their chances in the field reached its nadir in Adelaide when an opportunity to dismiss Australia for around 350 was punished ruthlessly and fatally.
The batsmen have failed to score 400 in an innings since March, 22 innings ago, with Stokes the only centurion in the series. Cook has had a hideous serious with the bat, meanwhile Michael Carberry made several starts but failed to push on. Kevin Pietersen, despite being England’s top run scorer played some terrible shots – further showing his selfishness and Ian Bell, England’s saviour in the previous Ashes didn’t contribute to the level that was needed. The failure in England’s top order simply exposed a soft middle to lower order before the tail were blown away.
Clearly there is a problem between Kevin Pietersen and Andy Flower, the team director and one is likely to go – if not both. There should not be widespread changes in the England set up. Many of the players that have been whitewashed by Australia this series will go down as English cricket legends. There are question marks over Matt Prior who had a poor year, subsequently after being named England’s player of the year but Jonny Bairstow looked uncomfortable with the gloves and failed to make an impact with the bat. The other main issue is the lack of a quality young spin bowler and the lack trust with Monty Panesar. Simon Kerrigan was dispatched at the Kia Oval and Scott Borthwick was very expensive for his wickets.
There will be change in this England team, just how much – time will tell.