After spending the best part of 135 hours watching the Ashes, the most remarkable thing that stood out was the distinct lack of care and fight shown by this England team. There were – as per usual – the emotionless words of captain Alastair Cook to accompany each sorry defeat that screamed out exactly why this team needs change.
After being fleetingly on top of the world, this England team looked unstoppable with the disciplined bowling attack of James Anderson and Stuart Broad in harmony with the belligerent batting of Cook and Ian Bell. There didn’t appear to be a lot wrong. But during this Ashes series Down Under, many hidden problems became apparent at the worst time possible – notably England’s inability to cope when being attacked.
Unlike on previous occasions when the England team failed with its batting, this series highlighted fragility on all fronts, with the ever dependable bowlers coming under siege and simple catches meeting the grass. Once again, the batsmen provided the bowlers no platform to work upon. With none of England’s big guns scoring over 300 runs in the series, this statistic highlights England’s well-documented batting problems. Every batsman in Australia’s top five scored 300+.
In mitigation, England happened upon a formidable Australian bowling attack, spearheaded by the fastest bowler in the world right now, Mitchell Johnson. The only fast bowling trio that could compare to Johnson, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle is the South African grouping of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander. Nevertheless, this is no excuse for poor shots that even amateur cricketers would not be proud of.
Another frustration during the series was the introduction of new players into the starting XI, the three debutants Boyd Rankin, Scott Borthwick and Gary Balance seemingly randomly tossed into Sydney Test and the wicketkeeping replacement of Jonny Bairstow for Matt Prior. These poorly thought out changes only exacerbated an already dire situation. Bairstow is a part time keeper at best. Assuming that he was picked for his batting, Bairstow’s flawed technique is highlighted in his below par average.
Rankin, thrown in for the final Test in Sydney, struggled from little match practice and it’s understandable that the 6ft 8 fast bowler suffered with cramp. Furthermore, playing against an Australian team trained well in the art of hooking, he was largely ineffective and shouldn’t expect to be wearing the England Test shirt again any time soon.
Borthwick, the young Durham leg spinner not part of the original touring party, was called up in place of the retired Graeme Swann and like Rankin had a debut to forget, even though he took a three-fer in the final innings. To go at seven runs an over in Test match cricket is unacceptable. Finally, Ballance showed promise in both of his innings with some neat cover drives he did himself no harm in amongst the wreckage of England’s batting.
England needs fresh young talent from the county cricket scene to get back to its best; using the likes of Steven Finn and Tymal Mills, properly, could hand England an equivalent to Mitchell Johnson in a few years time. Replacing Bairstow with Lancashire’s Jos Butler, the current ODI & T20 keeper, could be just what England need with his array of innovative stroke play. In the batting department, Sam Robson of Middlesex should be rewarded with a maiden Test cap this coming English summer.
The one bright spot was the encouraging start to Test cricket made by Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes. He was England’s only centurion during the series and didn’t disgrace himself with the ball, either. It is difficult at this stage, however, to estimate just how good he is, given how poor those around him were.
The county cricket circuit is often much derided and overlooked by the England selectors. What Andy Flower should focus on now is readying the array of young talents within English cricket’s proving grounds to be the next generation of England cricketers.
By Adam Harwood