England have a lot of soul-searching to do following the 4-0 Test series defeat against Australia Down Under.
Here, we look at five reasons why the tourists failed to perform yet again away from home.
SENIOR PLAYERS DIDN’T TURN UP
The onus was on Alastair Cook to score big at the top of the order but he endured a woeful five Tests, his epic Melbourne innings aside when the urn was already lost, and there are serious questions marks surrounding his future now. Meanwhile, all-rounder Moeen Ali averaged well over 100 with the ball and less than 20 with the bat in a nightmarish return which only heightened England’s need for a specialist spinner. Stuart Broad also struggled on slow Australian decks as did injury-prone Chris Woakes.
THE BATTING DEPARTMENT FAILED TO DELIVER
Apart from Dawid Malan – England’s highest run-scorer in the series – not many English batsmen will come away from the latest drubbing Down Under without black marks against their names. Skipper Joe Root played well, scoring five fifties, but his inability again to convert half-centuries to tons is an issue weighing down an England batting line-up which is all too reliant on the captain. The likes of James Vince, who continues to look like a walking wicket outside off-stump, and Mark Stoneman’s inability to change his technique against the Australian quicks only compounded the misery. Three English hundreds compared to Australia’s nine, tells much of the story.
ONE-PACED ATTACK LOOKED PRETTY ORDINARY
Even at the age of 35, James Anderson claimed 17 wickets and proved he is England’s best bowler, still – but he along with the rest of the attack suffered a tough series. Alongside Broad and Woakes, the tourists didn’t have that much-needed express pace in Aussie conditions and a bowler who could hit the deck above 90mph or more. Fast bowlers of that ilk don’t grow on trees and while youngsters Craig Overton and Tom Curran showed some promise, England’s lack of pace and variety has haunted them away from home for years now when the ball isn’t swinging and seaming.
PLANNING AND PREPARATION NOT UP TO SCRATCH
England’s pre-Ashes Tour matches against substandard opposition didn’t replicate the class they would face come the first Test in Brisbane. Tight schedules in modern-day cricket make it difficult to organise competitive practice matches of old but England looked under-cooked – and failure to win the key moments in each Test – cost them dearly. Since the 5-0 debacle of 2013-14, little seems to have been done to buck the trend and questions need to be asked as to why England entered this series with the same problems. Seven Test series defeats on the bounce away from home makes for dire reading.
COACHING MINDSET TOO ONE-DAY FOCUSED
Coach Trevor Bayliss has without doubt been one of the key men behind England’s revival in limited-overs cricket but that attack-minded and expansive philosophy has proved to been their undoing in Tests. While other nations may see T20s and ODIs as the most important formats, for England, it will forever be five-day contests. A return of 15 victories and 18 defeats from 38 matches under his stewardship is not a record to be proud of. England’s batters, frequently, got themselves out with unnecessary shots more akin to short-form cricket. For a while now, batting big and for long has been a problem.
The countdown is already on until the next Ashes series, which will take place in England in 2019.
Until then, Australia will hold the famous urn after thumping the Three Lions Down Under.
In the aftermath of the 4-0 series drubbing, England hierarchy have been accused of a lack of planning and preparation.
As such, there is plenty of work to do for Joe Root’s side ahead of five Test matches on home soil against the old enemy in 18 months’ time.
Here, we predict which XI England might go with when they try and win back the 11 cm high urn. As the saying goes, you’re always a better player when you’re out of the team and at this stage it’s easy to speculate – but there’s no doubt changes need to be considered.
Alastair Cook: England’s all-time leading Test run-scorer had a nightmare series, his epic Melbourne innings aside, but the left-hander is a stubborn character and won’t want to bow out on an Ashes loss. He is still the best player available to open the batting and England shouldn’t wish away a modern-day great. A victory against the old enemy in 2019 would be a perfect way to end it all.
Haseeb Hameed: Touted as ‘Baby Boycott’, Hameed’s form has deteriorated massively since making his debut in India and he endured a torrid second season with Lancashire. However, he is highly thought of among England management and will still be only 22 when the series starts. He is likely to be given another go this year at the top, potentially ahead of Mark Stoneman, and really needs to grab the opportunity with both hands.
TO BAT AT THREE
Joe Root: The captain make have to be bumped up the batting order to three, but as the best player in the side, it’s where he should bat. Root will work out a way to solve his 50s to 100 conversion problem and will only grow into the captaincy role. Showed plenty Down Under to suggest he is the right man, still, to lead England forward for years to come.
Dawid Malan: One of the few Englishman whose stock rose in Australia. An epic hundred at the WACA, combined with lots of grit, determination and the ability to change his game up and get his feet moving to counteract the pace attack he faced all underlined his talent. If he continues this kind of form then he should get parachuted up the order and enjoy a long run in the side despite coming late to the international party.
Jonny Bairstow: Averaged 34 in the series and showed his quality with a beautiful ton in Perth – and will be a key man – possibly the next vice-captain – for England. Bairstow was impressive behind the stumps but England might well be tempted to use him as just a specialist batter and promote Ben Foakes to keeping duties, in a move which could really help JB to develop further as a batsman and score big.
Ben Stokes: He simply has to be in this eleven. Despite all what has gone on over the past few months, providing he is able to get back to what he does best – playing cricket – then Stokes should still hold the mantle as the world’s premier all-rounder. Plays a huge role with bat and bowl, being England’s fourth seamer, and is an outstanding fielder, too. Who wouldn’t want him in their side?
Ben Foakes: Heralded as the best gloveman in the world by no less an authority than Alec Stewart, his director of cricket at Surrey, Foakes will be 26 by the time the Ashes rolls around again and may well have a few England appearances to his name by then. More than handy with the bat and has already shown his credentials on Lions duty. By standing behind the stumps, he would be a safe pair of hands and ease the pressure on Bairstow.
Craig Overton: While express pace is an issue throughout the whole bowling attack (and probably will be for years to come), Overton still has time on his side to develop and he impressed with his gutsiness in the heat of Ashes battle, despite a cracked rib ending his series prematurely. Definitely has a big future for England.
Tom Curran: Showed enough signs Down Under that he can develop into a fine quick, with his pace and power through the crease. Curran will only benefit from the experience and should get more opportunities. He’s young but has an excellent temperament and maturity already.
Jack Leach: England are crying out for a specialist spinner and urgently need to address that problem. The Somerset man is very much the next in line after shining in the County Championship for the past couple of seasons and re-correcting his illegal bowling action in-between the two summers. Needs to be given a chance, and if he grasps it, has a very good chance of cementing his place with doubts over Moeen Ali and Mason Crane still learning his trade.
James Anderson: The leader of the attack claimed 17 wickets at a shade under 28 from five Tests, proving he is still the best England have – even at the age of 35. Injury-permitting, I have no doubts that Anderson can carry on until the next Ashes and sign off on a high. He didn’t perform as well as he would liked throughout the five Tests but is still a fine exponent of home conditions. Again, England need to appreciate having an all-time great around while he is still at the top of his game.
KEY MEN TO MISS OUT:
Mark Stoneman: The Surrey opener averaged just over 25 from nine Ashes innings – simply not good enough at Test level. He didn’t seem to figure out a way of counteracting his short-ball woes and never really looked like going on to get a big score. Once again, England will need to make a change at the top.
James Vince: Comfortably one of the most pleasing batsmen on the eye, in fact, there are few better around in the elegance stakes. But, at 26 and having been given a few chances now, the Hampshire man’s time is likely to be up by 2019. His knocks in Brisbane and Perth were great to watch however he has failed to address his vulnerability outside off-stump and nicking behind. It’s a mental problem for Vince rather than technique.
Moeen Ali: One of the most likeable cricketers around, and a fine servant for England at that, but the batting all-rounder’s days as a Test star could be coming to an end. Moeen endured a shocker of a series with both ball and bat and England’s need for a spin specialist is urgent. Should still play an integral part in limited-overs cricket, though.
Chris Woakes: The man nicknamed the ‘wizard’ is a top-class cricketer and will be in and around limited-overs for sometime but his poor injury record means he can no longer be relied on fully as a Test bowler. His body seems to break down at the wrong time, went for plenty of runs in Australia and didn’t bowl as quickly as many would have hoped.
Stuart Broad: Another modern-day England hero, but the experienced paceman has had a difficult past 18 months or so. We haven’t seen his streaky bursts with the ball for a while and even though he is just one wicket away from 400, arguably his best days are behind him. I’d like to be proved wrong and how he performs in New Zealand as well as at home next summer will be key to how long he can keep running in hard for.
Mason Crane: Perhaps harsh to include him in this category as he still has a very bright future for England, but at just 20, has years on his side to develop and craft his art in first-class and limited-overs cricket, instead of the international arena.
OTHERS WHO MISS THE CUT:
Gary Ballance and Jake Ball
Australia put England to the sword during their Ashes tour – gaining an unassailable 3-0 lead in Perth and punishing them in Sydney to wind up 4-0 winners.
Here, Press Association Sport takes a look back at a timeline of England’s forgettable campaign.
September 22: England suffer an injury blow before even announcing the Ashes squad when Middlesex paceman Toby Roland-Jones is ruled out with a stress fracture to his back.
September 26: It emerges all-rounder Ben Stokes had been arrested on suspicion of causing actual bodily harm and released under investigation without charge after an incident in Bristol following celebrations from the one-day international against West Indies. Batsman Alex Hales is also helping assist police with their enquiries.
September 27: Vice-captain Stokes is included in the Ashes squad, before news later emerges he suffered a minor fracture of a finger on his right hand during the incident in Bristol. Footage published on The Sun newspaper’s website appears to show Stokes throwing punches in a street fight.
September 28: The England and Wales cricket Board announces Stokes and Hales will not be considered for selection for England matches until further notice as investigations by Avon and Somerset Police continue.
September 29: Former glamour model Katie Price speaks out over a video which appears to show England all-rounder Stokes mocking her disabled son Harvey, while England captain Joe Root and bowler Stuart Broad decide not to join Jos Buttler on his weekend stag party in Amsterdam.
October 6: The ECB confirms Stokes will not travel to Australia with the rest of the Ashes squad, while Jonny Bairstow, Liam Plunkett and Jake Ball are given formal written warnings and fined for “unprofessional conduct” following an internal investigation into behaviour within the one-day squad. Seamer Steven Finn, meanwhile, is added to the Ashes touring squad.
October 29: Soon after England arrive Down Under, it emerges Bairstow greeted Australian opener Cameron Bancroft with a ‘bump headbutt’ when they met in a Perth bar.
November 3: The ECB confirms Moeen Ali and Finn will miss the first two warm-up matches because of injury.
November 7: Finn is subsequently ruled out of the Ashes after scans revealed a torn cartilage in his left knee. Uncapped Surrey seamer Tom Curran is called up.
November 10: England draft in uncapped Lions seamer George Garton as cover for Ball, who has an ankle ligament strain.
November 27: Australia record an emphatic 10-wicket victory to claim the opening Ashes test in Brisbane. The ECB subsequently confirms Bairstow has been talked to over his late-night altercation with Bancroft, who described the introductory gesture as “‘really weird”, but without malice.
November 28: Pictures emerge on social media of Stokes at Heathrow Airport, as the all-rounder prepares to travel to New Zealand to play for Canterbury Kings.
November 29: An Avon & Somerset Police statement reveals a decision has yet to be made over whether Stokes will face charges in a criminal investigation – a file is passed to the Crown Prosecution Service for a decision on charging over the Bristol incident, with a 27-year-old man suffering a fractured eye socket.
December 4: The ECB announces Hales is available for England selection again after he was no longer being treated as a suspect in relation to the incident in Bristol.
December 6: England lose the inaugural pink-ball Ashes Test in Adelaide by 120 runs, while Stokes and Hales are later provisionally included in the 16-man one-day squad.
December 9: England Lions opener Ben Duckett is provisionally suspended and faces a disciplinary hearing over an incident in a Perth bar, during which the 23-year-old poured a drink over James Anderson’s head. Coach Trevor Bayliss brands the latest saga “boys being boys… but totally unacceptable.”
December 10: Duckett, suspended from playing for the remainder of the England Lions training camp, is given a final written warning, but will not return home early.
December 18: England’s Ashes hopes are ended following defeat by an innings and 41 runs at the WACA.
December 19: Seamer Craig Overton admits he may not make the Boxing Day Test after suffering a hairline rib fracture.
December 24: Overton’s absence from the England team in Melbourne is confirmed as Tom Curran comes into the side.
December 30: England and Australia draw the Melbourne Test, as Alastair Cook scored an unbeaten 244 in the first innings – the first player to carry his bat in a Test match for 20 years.
January 4: Mason Crane makes his Test debut in Sydney – replacing the injured Chris Woakes.
January 8: Australia record emphatic victory by an innings and 123 runs to finish the Ashes series with a 4-0 margin.