Howard questions Australia hubris
Australia's team performance manager Pat Howard concedes it is a "fair question" to ask whether the Ashes tourists underestimated England ahead of and during a series Michael Clarke's side were widely expected to win. That they have not, despite dominating the Lord's and Oval Tests, will cause Howard to review events closely.
However Howard defended the selectors Rod Marsh and Darren Lehmann for a range of decisions including the omission of Brad Haddin after he withdrew from Lord's for personal reasons. He also backed up the choice to give Haddin and Shane Watson only one Test in England before being discarded while ignoring Peter Siddle's English expertise until the Ashes urn had gone.
Even so, Howard was unable to say that the players fully understood and accepted the various contentious selection decisions that had been made across the tour. The public utterances of Mitchell Johnson and Chris Rogers, among others, strongly suggested they have not, while on the third evening of the Oval Test Peter Siddle expanded on his own dismay at being left out in conditions he has always thrived in.
Overall, the major question confronting Howard is whether Australia's players, coaches, selectors and planners underestimated the difficulty of winning in England and the degree of adaptation required. The shot selection of the batsmen and the composition of the bowling attack seemed to suggest an attitude that the Australian way would prosper, something utterly repudiated by the scores in Birmingham and Nottingham.
"That's a really fair question," Howard said when asked if Australia became complacent about England due to recent success. "Last time we won here was 2001. There's some pretty good teams that have come here that haven't won. We've won the World Cup many times since we've actually been here and won."
"You have to play your best against the big teams away. In South Africa we've had some success, because I think it's similar conditions, but particularly in the subcontinent and in England we have to adapt and adjust. When we haven't done it... we haven't got the results.
"Ultimately, in the first Test, third Test and fourth Test when we had opportunities to put some good runs on or fight harder or score even a reasonable total we didn't. When you get down to the core of that, that becomes our capability issue - and we didn't turn up.
"We definitely have capability. That is why we run Australia A - and we saw some good success from those guys in there - to try and build capability to adapt, and rewarding that 'adaptability' for want of a better term. We don't want to underestimate anyone in foreign conditions, because we've obviously got to be able to turn up and adapt to playing in Chittagong and Dhaka, because we've seen other countries go there and Bangladesh are improving."
Australia have been trying to work on adapting to foreign climes ever since the changes wrought by the Argus review in 2011, and as part of that the Australia A team's touring schedule has been ramped up. They were in England in 2012 and the following year, and this year have been in India. Howard said Australia's Ashes pratfalls had to be addressed quickly, given the likelihood of similar conditions in New Zealand next year.
"We know we're going to get these same wickets in New Zealand come the end of the summer, so they're going to come again," he said. "We're going to have to play better against them, and we're going to have to continue to improve. It's about getting opportunities to improve, because in between those two Tests we've got eight in between, and getting yourself prepared during that whole time to be able to focus on different formats and different conditions.
"Our adaptability is something we genuinely acknowledge that no matter where we are in the world we've got to get better at, and that's something that all countries need to deal with. The teams that adapt best away are highest in the rankings. We're second in the world, but that's not acceptable and we accept the criticisms that go with it."
Howard denied that Australian cricket now needed a repeat review on the scale of that conducted by Don Argus four years ago, but acknowledged that coaching, support staff and selection all needed to be reviewed, as they were following a heavy defeat against Pakistan in the UAE late last year.
"I don't think a wholesale review, but we do need to critically analyse because we need to have done some things better, we didn't adapt well enough," he said. "I will have to review and report on this series and work with the team to do that. Considering where we are ranked in the world in all formats , we've won a World Cup, I think you'd have to say that the overall system is in good shape, we play well at home but we do not play well enough away and that is where we have to adapt and improve.
"Ultimately if the board decides to go for a big review that's fine but the first bit is we review internally we have got some external guys we use to add to that and then we make decisions. Ultimately the next time we come back here is 2019 and that's off the back of a World Cup and we will have to put things in place for that."
Howard, Lehmann, his support staff and the selection panel are all under contracts of various lengths, most concluding in either 2016 or 2017. Most were awarded extensions in the wake of Australia's 5-0 home Ashes sweep two summers ago, but Howard must now consider whether different staff and approaches are needed to generate success on shores both familiar and foreign.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig