For an English cricket fan, the final crushing defeat came as something of a relief. No longer will I have to get up at an unearthly hour to watch our team systematically dismantled by this excellent Australian side.
The manner of the fifth test defeat was as pathetic as the four preceding it, and as the dust settles on what has been one of the most one-sided Ashes series in history – with perhaps only the Andrew Flintoff-led debacle in 2006/2007 coming close to the mismatch of this years series – it’s difficult not to feel a dark sense of foreboding for the days ahead.
So what now for both sides? For Australia there will be much self-congratulation, and rightly so; for in Michael Clarke they have found a tremendously astute tactician and astounding motivator. The rest of the team aren’t too bad either. For England, the inquest begins.
Alarm bells rang last summer
It can be argued that the signs that England were a team in decline have been present since the Ashes series last summer.
For a start, England didn’t reach a 400+ total at any point during their home series, and for a side that has previously prided themselves on their immense batting, this rather tells its own story.
Perhaps more disturbing from an English perspective was the way in which England seemed to look to gain an advantage via the pitch last summer. Following Australia’s disastrous tour of India at the start of the year, there was a perception that Michael Clarke’s side struggled against spin, and it just so turned out that the pitches prepared for England’s Ashes hosting appeared to be designed specifically with spin in mind.
Not only that, but the pitches seemed to also have been designed in order to take pace out of the wicket; perhaps an area that England coach Andy Flower felt his team would struggle to match the Australians in.
It was a desperate move, and one can only feel that it was one borne out of a dawning realisation that this highly celebrated team had reached its peak and was on its way back down.
Australia pace bowling key to whitewash
This was the first time that England have ever lost all 100 wickets in a five-match Ashes series, and this really tells us two clear things about this tour. Firstly, as we’ve alluded to, England simply couldn’t cope with the pace bowling trio of Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle. The three men accounted for three-quarters of English wickets, and as the series went on, their ability to make a mess of the English stumps only increased.
The second thing that the 100-wicket loss tells us is that England’s batting has been utterly woeful. It may be an obvious point, but this really is an unprecedented fall from grace; even accounting for some of English cricket’s darkest history. Big name players such as Cook, Pietersen and even Ian Bell have failed to stand up when their team has needed them; and the complete inability of the English batsmen to learn how to play the short ball has cost them dearly.
England have failed to match the Aussie pace trio
It is a rather obvious point, but when talking about the Australian pace attack, the comparison with that of the English attack is a rather unsatisfying one. Only Stuart Broad and Ben Stokes came close to consistently causing the Aussies problems, and one has to say that the selection of the English bowlers has been poor.
The reliance on Graeme Swann, despite his obviously waning capabilities was thoroughly disappointing, and one has to question why Flower failed to realise that pace was the name of the game on this tour.
Following the first test in which Mitchell Johnson made hay while the sun shone, a reasonable response from Flower would be a realisation that they were playing an Ashes series in an Australian summer on hard pitches. All of these ingredients indicated quite clearly that pace was going to be of the utmost importance to determining where the little urn would end up. Despite this, Flower dropped pace bowler Chris Tremlett for the next test in Adelaide and brought in off-spinner Monty Panesar.
Panesar didn’t work in Adelaide, and yet, in the next test at the WACA, Flower opted for medium-pacer Tim Bresnan to replace the spinner; rather than one of the three tall pacemen that he’d brought on tour with him. In the following test in Melbourne, with Swann having retired, Flower still hadn’t learnt his lesson; fielding both Panesar and Bresnan.
With the series gone, Flower finally decided to play another fast bowler in the fifth test in Sydney, with Boyd Rankin getting the nod; and the Irishman showed enough pace and bounce to indicate that he would have been preferable to both Bresnan and Panesar for the entirety of the test series.
The point is that Flower’s selections were by default cautious in nature, and whilst that may have been enough in the past with the English batsmen in the form of their lives, it wasn’t good enough against this Australian side.
‘End of an era’ says Flower
Naturally, question marks are now being asked of the leadership team in coach Andy Flower and captain Alastair Cook. Flower is adamant that he is staying, and has spoken candidly about the fact that he believes Alastair Cook should stay as captain too. Nevertheless, the Kiwi has conceded that this marks something of the end of an era; and attention will now turn to building a team capable of winning the urn back when Australia visit England in the summer 2015.
Having already seen Graeme Swann retire, we are also likely to see the departure of Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior; stalwarts of this Flower-built team, but now, it seems, no longer able to cut the mustard against the best sides. Despite his indifferent form, Cook will keep his place, and the selectors must now decide whether or not Michael Carberry is a suitable opening partner for the skipper.
Down at the lower end of the order, England have some serious decisions to make regarding their bowling attack. James Anderson has been England’s most successful bowler since Ian Botham, and on his day he can still bowl beautifully; but he has been short of form on this tour; and it remains to be seen whether the 31-year old will have enough fight to take to the field in 2015. If he decides that he does not, England have a big reverse-swing shaped hole in the side that will be very difficult to fill.
What is clear is that the English bowling attack should now be built around Broad and Stokes, with England also needing to bring in another bowler of real pace. Essex quickie Tymal Mills has shown promise, and if the selectors see enough in him, he should be brought into the side to give him some exposure ahead of 2015. In terms of spin, with Swann gone and Panesar not trusted, Scott Borthwick stepped into the breach in Sydney, but the jury is still out on the leg-spinner.
Cook admits England let down the fans
At the end of an article like this, it is quite common to see the writer put a positive spin on things, suggesting that the future is bright; or some other clichéd rhetoric. I’m afraid that right now, the future doesn’t look especially bright for England. Alastair Cook cut a dejected figure as he admitted that he and his side had let down their fans, and going by their performances over the last year, we’ve seen the best of this side. It’s now time to build a new one; but with relatively slim pickings coming through, whether or not a new and developed side will be able to rise up to the level this one was at remains to be seen.