The good thing about losing 5-0 is that it’s comprehensive. There’s no arguing when you’ve been stuffed. A simple answer to a simple question, then: is this England side good enough? No. The harder question: how does it improve?
It is far simpler to build from the ground up. India struggled over the past couple of years in replacing its much vaunted batting stars. When do you give them the shove? When does sense prevail over sentiment? It’s far easier when the player makes the decision himself, as was the case with Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar. Virender Sehwag waited to be pushed.
This is one reason why England should be grateful to Graeme Swann. You can question the timing, but his recent ineffectiveness is no longer a headache for the selectors. Was he good enough at the top level anymore? No. Would sentiment have kept in the XI? Almost certainly.
England is dangerously flirting with sentiment in its words now. Paul Downton, in one of his first acts as MD of the ECB, assured England team director Andy Flower of his job until 2015. Now, Flower is a remarkable man and undoubtedly one of the best coaches England has had. But are his methods working anymore? No.
Does he deserve the comfortable reassurances that he has received in the wake of overseeing the worst England tour of all time? No. Throw into that mix his backroom staff. Extensive in number and expensive in ensemble, is the set up producing the best cricketers and the best results that it can? No.
Graham Gooch and his rigid methods – which saw the jettisoning of Nick Compton – have turned world class players into timid bunnies. David Saker, the rotund bowling coach, has turned a world class bowling unit into one that is incapable of pushing over fragile batting units. Is it time for those two to move on? Yes.
The fear for England is that sentiment will prevail and the components of this failing team that need changing will be left in place, resting on the laurels of former glories. And boy, the former glories were glorious. But those days are gone.
If England refuses to make big changes now, to take advantage of the very clear evidence that this Ashes series has provided, then it will be akin to refusing treatment for a serious illness. It would be like a Formula 1 driver refusing to change his tyres on the basis that his current set have served him so well over the first half of the race. It would be like a captain refusing to take a new ball on the basis that the old one has served him and his side so well for the previous 80 overs.
The England hierarchy is clearly very keen not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Alastair Cook did so well in India and had a good summer, Kevin Pietersen is the same as he ever was and Ian Bell, clearly not a number three, has a big role to play. Likewise in the bowling department, Stuart Broad and James Anderson deserve to continue. But too many talented players have been messed around. If Michael Carberry was good enough for this tour, why wasn’t he good enough to tour India a year ago?
Where is Joe Root’s best batting position? He’s been thrown around like a rag-doll. Is Jonny Bairstow in the best XI or not? Is Tim Bresnan or Boyd Rankin the answer as the third seamer? Does anyone trust Monty Panesar? Should you use 18 players in a five match series?
It’s clear from this series of muddled questions what the answer is – changes need to be made at the top. Fresh thinking needs to be introduced to unwind this mess.
In all walks of life, the time for change becomes very apparent. The overriding answer for England on the back of this car crash of a series is that change is necessary. And it’s necessary now.
By Miles Reucroft