Almost exactly 3 years ago I stayed up late to listen to the live commentary from Sydney as England won the Ashes in dominant fashion. This morning every England cricket fan was finally put out of their misery, in that we will no longer have to dread the moment when we wake up and learn what calamities have happened overnight.
Australia have completed perhaps the most one-sided 5-0 thrashing I can remember. 5-0 doesn’t even come close to describing the debacle of England’s performances and the sheer exuberance and confidence of Australia. If it had been boxing, this would have been stopped after the 2nd test.
3 years ago I wrote a piece in response to Will Swanton, an Australian journalist who, before that series started in November 2010, wrote a great article headed 10 Reasons the Poms won’t Win. I took him to task (with hindsight and stats) as to why he was proved wrong. Well, in deference to Mr Swanton, I Reckon he wasn’t wrong, just 3 years early.
1. Overrated (or perhaps Australia underrated?)
England won 3-1 at home last summer, with largely the same teams on both sides. But that scorecard didn’t begin to tell the story. 3-1 in Australia in 2010/11 was a rout, offset only by a freakish Mitchell Johnson performance in Perth. 3-1 last summer was a hugely flattering scoreline. Australia won more sessions than England across the series, but crumbled at key moments. Most pundits thought it would be closer Down Under, but Michael Clarke’s team have worked wonders.
Last time KP was fantastic, averaging 60 with a top score of 227. This time he has been England’s 2nd best batsman, but that only goes to show how poor the whole team has been. Averaging under 30 with a top score of 72. Frequently he got in and got out. It’s not his fault that his wicket seemed to precipitate a collapse, but…
3 years ago the English supporters in Australia mocked Mitchell Johnson’s wayward performances:
He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right, that Mitchell Johnson – his bowling is shite
For the whole of this series he has been virtually unplayable, at least to the English batsmen. 37 wickets at under 14 runs each, 4 of the top 9 innings bowling stats on either side, conceding under 3 runs an over for the whole series. He’s been amazing, and England’s bowlers, with only occasional exceptions, have looked pretty ordinary in comparison. Everything that I said three years ago about England’s attack can be reversed and applied to Johnson, Harris & Siddle, who took 75 wickets at under 18 runs apiece.
4. Passive Captain
Alistair Cook has had his first major failure on this tour, but it’s been a truly humiliating experience. His batting has failed, averaging just 25 compared to Michael Clarke’s 45. He’s made 50 3 times but failed to pass 72. 6 out of England’s 10 opening partnerships have been under 10 runs. England have seemed devoid of answers, inspiration, leadership. They’ve failed to convert whatever strong positions they’ve managed to create, and their longest innings was just 103 overs.
5. No Superstars
This is a trickier one to simply switch last time’s performances around. In 2010/11 England played pretty supremely. But this time they lost two of their world-leading players of recent times during the tour, as both Jonathan Trott and Graham Swann left the scene. But Cook, Pietersen and Bell also all failed. Matt Prior was dismal and dropped. Anderson and Bresnan, so powerful last time, took just 19 wickets at over 40 runs each.
I can’t even begin to understand what was going on in the England camp, but it clearly didn’t work. The Australians had a plan and they executed it brilliantly. Even when things went awry, players like Haddin and Smith stepped up and simply took the game away. Haddin has been outstanding – the best batsman of the series, scoring nearly 500 runs with over half of them in boundaries.
7. No Depth
Ben Stokes has been the glorious exception to the dismal rule of this tour. He’s topped the batting averages with England’s only century of the entire series, and (while being a bit expensive) took more wickets than Jimmy Anderson. This year’s bowlers who came off the branch – Panesar and Bresnan – took just 8 wickets in 8 innings.
This has perhaps been the biggest sadness of the tour for me as a fan. In 4 of the 5 tests, England had Australia in some kind of trouble in the 1st innings. The Australian top 5 wickets averaged just 143 – hardly the bedrock for a 5-0 series whitewash, especially after batting first four times. But this early strong performance was fleeting, and never established any kind of control. The Australian middle order of Clarke, Smith and Haddin rescued the team, scoring nearly 1,200 runs at over 44.
While the top 5 wickets stats bear reasonable comparison; 142 runs for Australia vs 124 for England, the bottom 5 are in different planets; 214 for Australia vs just 70 for England. On average across the 5 tests, England conceded a first-innings lead of 162. How did we expect to win anything?
Australia’s bowlers were terrific as a unit, and England’s batsmen were powerless. Let’s not forget that despite the loss of Trott, we started this series with a lineup including Cook, Pietersen, Bell and Prior; not too shabby. But the repeated collapses have been almost too extreme to seem real.
Frankly, this is irrelevant. Maybe the problem has been coming over the last 2 years, since England briefly ascended to be the Top Test Team in the World in August 2011. That seems a long time ago.
If the England team don’t bear some scars after this tour, they can’t care enough. This has been humiliating for the fans, let alone the players. They haven’t become a bad team overnight, nor are Australia world-beaters. But this has been a hell of a beating.