England have been thrashed yet again in Australia, but this is not a time for England to panic and overreact by making changes or creating scapegoats.
Another tour down under for England resulted in another battering at the hand of Australia. England lost 4-0 in the Ashes, narrowly avoiding the much expected 5-0 whitewash. This leaves them without win in 11 consecutive away tests, nine of which have been defeats.
This tour of Australia has clearly amplified England’s problem overseas. However, what struck me as surprising this time is the massive overreaction now that England have surrendered the urn. Let’s highlight the fact that it’s not actually the England Cricket Board (ECB) who have said anything drastic yet, but pundits who seem to think cricketers like Alistair Cook and Stuart Broad are ‘finished’ in test cricket. I can’t think of anything more ridiculous and whilst I do understand the extra importance of winning the Ashes, I can’t see a justification to get rid of our leading run scorer and second highest wicket taker.
The problem with this Ashes series is the potential England showed, only to then slip up and lose the test matches. England fought hard numerous times throughout the series, but Australia won the key moments because they had better form– it is simple as that.
|Brisbane||·Australia were 209-7 while England led by 93 runs at the time, but Australia managed to score 328 which gave them a 26 runs lead|
|Adelaide||·England had Australia 209-5, but Australia scored 442-8d in the first innings
·England needed 101 runs to win with six wickets in hand, but lost 6-57 and fell 120 runs short of the target
|Perth||·England were 368-4, but were bowled out for 403 in the first innings|
|Melbourne||·Having gained a first innings lead of 164, England were unable to dent Australia and drew the match|
|Sydney||·England were 233-3 in the first innings, but were bowled out for 346|
Some of these starts have been more valuable than others, but it was encouraging to see some sort of fight from England. I felt that there were molecular sized signs of progress on this trip compared to the last tour. In 2013/14 we saw all the batsmen capitulate inning by inning, but in this series we saw some proper application from the middle order, notably with Dawid Malan. Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow scored consistent runs and Mark Stoneman showed us glimpses of fight and determination in some of his performances at the top of the order. Cook has had a series that has characterised his 2017. He scored a big double hundred and then not a lot else. Meanwhile, James Vince has been frustrating. He has had a few starts where he looks set and all of the sudden he is caught behind going after a wide ball. I appreciate Vince’s positive intentions, but his mode of dismissal is far too frequent for England’s number three. Perhaps he would be better suited batting at number five. There might still be a test player within him, but I now feel as though the New Zealand series (if he plays) will certainly be his last chance to prove himself. The difference between England and Australia is that the English batsmen did not go on to get the big hundred runs enough throughout the tour, which is a factor as to why they lost. Nearly all of Australia’s top six scored a hundred, but for England only three people were able to do so. Out of Australia’s eight hundreds, five of them were 140+ scores.
However, despite the marginally better batting, the bowling was really exploited in Australia. Not only did England not take 20 wickets in any of the test matches, they took ten wickets or less on three occasions. Australia racked up eight hundreds allowing them to score 600+ runs on two occasions. The issue England have is that the attack is similar- it’s one-dimensional and does not really offer anything when playing in conditions that don’t swing. James Anderson and Broad are capable of remaining economical, but that will not win you test matches. There is also the lack of the express pace bowler or economical and holding spinner meaning England struggle to contain teams, which has been a real issue in their form away from home. Australia have three 90mph bowlers and an economical spinner and all four bowlers took more than twenty wickets in the series.
Given that there was fight from England perhaps means there was increased hope and with this comes increased expectation. Maybe some people have overreacted because they simply had higher expectations of this England team. I think the majority of cricket spectators thought England would be slightly more competitive, but is it actually that much of surprise that England lost 4-0?
In their last 20 test matches in Australia, England have lost 15 with nine of these defeats being in the last ten matches. In their last five tours of Australia, England have found themselves 3-0 down on four occasions. England have not won an away test match since beating Bangladesh in October 2016 and they have not won an away series since their South Africa tour in January 2016. This is a constant repetitive cycle, particularly in Australia, where England just can’t seem to compete. Australia have not won a series in England since 2001, but at least they tend to win some test matches early on and do not go 3-0 down tour after tour. There is a deeper problem within English cricket when it comes to playing abroad and it does not seem as though anybody looks like they might take any responsibility for it. However, it would be unfair to just criticise England for their troubles on the road because in reality, cricket has an issue in that very few teams win away from home.
Cricket is a very different sport to others in that it is a bunch of talented individuals playing for a team. In addition, the conditions tend to dictate how the team play. For example, on hard and bouncy pitches, a team is likely to play faster bowlers while on hard and dusty tracks, a team is likely to play more spinners. Countries in the sub-continent like India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan are more likely to produce spinners than a countries like Australia and England because the conditions in the sub-continent constantly demand quality spinners. An attack of fast bowlers are unlikely to win you test match out there whereas having two or three spinners will. This is problem that all countries are faced with – they produce players to meet the demands of their climate which makes it very difficult to have bowlers who can compete at their best in all countries. Various people have been suggesting that England should produce harder pitches or play with the kookaburra cricket ball in an attempt to compete in Australia, but is it really wise to negate your own home conditions (and maybe lose at home), just so you can have a chance of competing in Australia? The only feasible solution I could see is that our players go and play domestic four-day cricket in Australia prior to the Ashes or they go and play regional four-day cricket in South Africa prior to a tour there. This might prove to be quite impractical, but this is the best way for players to adapt their game to meet the demands of playing in those conditions.
Just to reiterate how difficult it is to win abroad, England have won in Australia only once since 1987 and they have won just five times in the sub-continent (excluding Bangladesh tours) since 1962.Clearly this is not just an issue for the current England team as it has been happening across generations of English teams. In the modern era, South Africa have been successful away from home as they are the only team this century to win back to back series against two of the top six ranked teams. Since 2011, they have won seven away series. The next best is Australia with five.
England do have a problem when playing Australia because they have a problem when playing abroad, but so does almost every other cricket team. It would be foolish to say this is England’s problem, when in reality the entire world struggles. England tour New Zealand next and the conditions there will be much better suited for England so I predict them to win the test series. As the squad as been released, I’ll predict England to win 1-0 with the following line-up:
Cook, Stoneman, Malan, Root (c), Bairstow (wk), Stokes, Ali, Woakes, Broad, Wood, Anderson