Sport

Pomnishambles: England’s Ashes embarrassment

By Antoinette Muller 5 January 2014

It is not very often that a team who rated their chances heading into a series end that same series beaten, distorted and limping. Yet, that’s exactly what happened when England ended their Ashes summer beaten 5-0. Australia wrapped up the fifth and final Test inside three-days, sealing a 281 run victory with not an ounce of English backbone anywhere in sight. By ANTOINETTE MULLER

Australia have been better in every department for the entire tour and while they deserve much praise in every aspect, England’s loss should not come as too much of a surprise. The absolute hammering they endured may have been surprising, but should not have been entirely unexpected.

The signs of England’s mediocrity have been lingering for some time. Since they swept themselves to oblivion in the UAE in 2012 with a 3-0 series loss against Pakistan and their tails between their legs, England haven’t been as good as they think they are. The lack of hundreds from their batsmen and their over-reliance on three bowlers, one who retired midway through the Ashes tour, has been one of the many architects in their downfall.

In the UAE, Sri Lanka and a home series against the West Indies in 2012, England’s batsmen managed just four 100s between them, with two of those coming from the now-retired Andrew Strauss against a very average Windies attack. Against South Africa, in the series which toppled them from the number-one ranking, there were just two 100s. It’s the kind of thing that should at least give those in charge an inkling of concern that something isn’t right.

Things got better for England following their loss to South Africa, as they completed a very successful tour of India where the batsmen flourished, with six 100s from four different players and a fair share of wickets plus a series win. Yet, in greater context, the win was against an Indian side still learning to cope with a number of big-name retirements, with inexperienced players fighting for an identity. More of lack of conviction in England’s application followed with a tour of New Zealand, a home series to New Zealand and then, the Ashes in England.

Although they won the home Ashes series, England didn’t exactly set the world alight. The team does possess some great players, but they are not a great as a team and the signs have been there for a long time. Wholesale changes are unnecessary and will do the balance of a team no good, but introspection was needed way before England failed to score 400 even once during the 2013 home soil Ashes.

Things didn’t just suddenly come apart on the tour to Australia when a fired-up Mitchell Johnson, a swaggering Brad Haddin and an irksome tabloid got under England’s skin. The seam had started to unravel many months ago and all Australia did was pluck at it with relentless aggression. A heavily loaded calendar, with many players playing across formats, has almost certainly impacted some of England’s players.

The 5-0 loss against Australia is the pinnacle of shambolic for England. They passed the 200-run mark just four times in ten innings, with two of those scores going beyond 300. England managed to bat for more than 100 overs just thrice. One player, a debutant, scored a hundred and just two bowlers, Stuart Borthwick and Stuart Broad, had bowling averages of below 30.00. Statistics should never be the begin all and end all of assessments, but they are pretty damning.

England have used 18 different players on this tour to try to amend those statistics to something slightly more respectable, but it’s only gone from bad to worse. Backed up into a corner and desperate for something, anything, to save them from their woes, England instead made things worse.

With the mistreatment of young players, shoving them around the batting order, showing no faith in their selected spin bowlers, England have sowed and ploughed uncertainty into a rigid and regimented camp. With all the support staff in the world and diet plans to make fun of, England have come across like the overprotected trust fund kids who suddenly have been thrown out into the real world and have no idea how to cope. Alastair Cook’s captaincy, when subjected to such overwhelming pressures, has looked clueless at times and he’s been a phantom in his team presence.

In the other corner, Australia have scored 10 hundreds through six different players. Two bowlers averaged under 20 and a further two between 20 and 30. They have stuck with the same personnel, even those who struggled in England, and Michael Clarke has been the usual, peculiar captain the cricketing world has come to both admire and raise eyebrows at.

Australia have, at times, been bombastic and often bordered on arrogance, but all their puffing of their feathers have been backed up by their on-field performances. It is almost unimaginable that this is the same team who were caught in the thick of the laughable “homework gate” fiasco last year. Under Darren Lehman, Australia’s players, old and new, have found a way to comfortably express themselves and have seen their anxiety slip away. Australia have gone from the little train that could in England to the high-speed bullet train that now can’t stop.

Contrast has been the hallmark of this Ashes series Down Under and as Clarke became just the third ever Australian captain to complete a whitewash in an Ashes, he’ll be quietly confident that his troops will give South Africa a real challenge when they visit in February/March. DM

Fifth Ashes Test result summary:

Australia 326 (Smith 115, Haddin 75, Stokes 6-99) and 276 (Rogers 119, Borthwick 3-33) beat England 155 (Stokes 47, Siddle 3-23, Johnson 3-33, Harris 3-36) and 166 (Carberry 43, Harris 5-25, Johnson 3-40) by 281 runs

Photo: Australia’s Chris Rogers (L) and David Warner kiss the “Replica Ashes Urn” as they celebrate winning the fifth Ashes cricket test against England at the Sydney Cricket Ground January 5, 2014. A rampant Australia sealed a 5-0 Ashes series sweep by skittling England out for 166 to claim a 281-run victory with more than two days to spare in the fifth test at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Sunday. (REUTERS/David Gray)

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