Action: fourth Test December 28, 2006

Were England spineless?

There's an adjective we'll be seeing a lot of in the next day or two: spineless
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There’s an adjective we’ll be seeing a lot of in the next day or two: spineless. It’s the one the media traditionally bring out for England collapses. But is it justified?

Yes and no. The word has two distinct senses, and the one that strikes us first is synonymous with gutless. Were England lacking courage today as they slumped towards 4-0? I don’t think so. The batsmen weren’t backing away to square leg, or trying to get out. Most of them got stuck in: five of the top seven faced 30 balls or more, just as all of the top six had in the first innings. Most of their opponents didn’t do that.

To be a Test cricketer for any country takes courage: not many of us would fancy facing 90mph bouncers. It also takes commitment. You have to put in years of practice, and do more hanging around than in any line of work outside film-making and war. So accusations of spinelessness, like accusations of racism, should be made very sparingly. Most of these England players have shown grit at other times – the Ashes 2005, Mumbai 2006, Old Trafford 2006. Lily-livered they are not.

The team, however, has been spineless in the other sense of lacking a spine. Test teams need their vertebrae – a solid opening pair, at least one other top batsman, a counter-attacking six and seven, a strong captain, a settled wicketkeeper, and an exacting new-ball pair. Others may join this core according to their gifts and personality – Australia’s backbone obviously incorporates a rather portly legspinner – but these six components are just about essential in most conditions. And one way or another, England have mislaid them.

As openers, Cook and Strauss have been less than the sum of their parts. They keep getting through the first 10 overs, then succumbing, through a mixture of a technical flaws (Cook pushes across the line of standard slanting deliveries), a run of rough umpiring decisions (and yes, Damien Martyn certainly suffered something similar in 2005), plus both men’s inability to find a higher gear. If it was bad luck that England lost Vaughan and Trescothick, it was bad judgment that they didn’t ship in some experience to replace them. The cameo Justin Langer played in Melbourne, kick-starting Australia’s reply, would have been inconceivable from England’s openers.

At least they have the other top batsman, even if he seems at odds with the present regime. It was uncompromising individualism that took Kevin Pietersen to England, so they can hardly be surprised if he shows a bit too much of it now. And the management have done plenty of things that might leave a good player feeling exasperated.

Several of the components come down to Andrew Flintoff’s role. He hasn’t been a strong captain: he relies too much on gut instinct, as he calls it, and not enough on his considerable brain. Not only has he lost his scriptwriter, he doesn’t seem to be directing the movie.

He has barely been up to counter-attacking at six, and Geraint Jones had hardly anything to offer at seven. Bad management in both cases: Flintoff’s batting often takes a lot of de-rusting, and Jones should never have been recalled without finding his form first. Once Steve Harmison went doolally, Flintoff became Matthew Hoggard’s new-ball partner, which was manful of him, but put further strain on his ankle. The case for resting him grows.

So England’s spine is creaking badly. But today’s sad procession was more about good bowling than bad batting. The ball Stuart Clark bowled to Pietersen, a killer nip-backer, was so well timed, it was like a job application for leader of the pack.

England’s failing, as on the last day at Adelaide, was meekness. They hit only 17 fours in the match, in 140 overs. That was partly down to the slow pitch and outfield, and partly to the bowlers’ formidable accuracy, which offered no respite. But the batsmen did little to bother them. Matthew Hayden advanced out of his crease; several England players retreated into theirs. They helped dig their own graves.

But we do need to bear in mind how Australia’s middle order did in this game. I’ll have to Ask Steven if they have ever won a game before with only 18 runs from numbers three, four and five. This was a match won not just by some fiercely disciplined bowling, but by one outstanding partnership, outside of which Australia made 140 for nine. Shane Warne was the man of the moment, but naming him man of the match, when he took only two top-order wickets, was an insult to two musclebound Queenslanders.

Tim de Lisle is the editor of Intelligent Life magazine and a former editor of Wisden

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Odie on January 1, 2007, 2:51 GMT

    "Like most sportswriters, I don't set out to be either positive or negative. I try to find a line or a theme that is distinctive, accurate and entertaining."

    Tim, Tim, Tim!

    I also remember your classic Hubris v Nemesis article and can quite confidently assure you that you are entirely entertaining...but "distinctive" and "accurate"?

    Perhaps you should put BOTH of your hands back onto your keyboard immediately as one of them appears to have wandered and is now doing something it should not be doing...

  • Ghalib Imtiyaz Ahmad on December 30, 2006, 4:44 GMT

    England's Ashes plans were dealt a huge blow with Trescothik being out of the batting order. Cook is not an ideal opener and he is suited to no.3 and he and Bell has been exposed to the new ball far too early and Flintoff, Jones, Mahmood also failed to make an impression with the bat. Ultimately it was their batting failure coupled with few bad umpiring decisions that did cost them few test matches.

  • buffalos on December 30, 2006, 3:48 GMT

    Thanks for the explaination Tim! I had never seen a score explained in this manner before I appear to have jumped the gun.

  • Saleh Hakeem on December 30, 2006, 1:53 GMT

    I feel that the team looked underprepared and disorganised. We missed tres and vaughan being able to bully the aussie bowlers something bell,cook and colly cant really do consisitently.

    Cook will get better as will Bell. Colly doesnt have the talent to improve his game and in my opinion lose his place first.

    Strauss is a good player who should be skipperof the side. Flintoff does not know how to handle his spinner and I agree let the aussies of the hook with easy singles.

    Players need to be identified according to talent as opposed to temperemant and then moulded thereon.

  • Rext on December 30, 2006, 0:42 GMT

    Form should always be analysed with the head, not the heart! England were a promising young team in 2005 playing with their ball in the murky autumn English light against an underprepared, complacent and overconfident Australian side that then lost the First Test MOM effectively for the series and even in disarray ultimately lost that series by two runs. A promising young boxer meets an overweight, underprepared and complacent Mohammed Ali and defeats him for the title by a point. In his self deceptive jubilation he overlooks one vital fact. Ali is entitled to a rematch!! Not for anything would I wish to be that boxer!! First round knockout would be most experts prediction! Any clear minded assessment of the world rankings and achievements of players on both sides clearly shows the Australians to be Ali and demonstrates the gap in class between the two sides. Team management and Flintoff's positivity as a batsman and bowler and his negativity as a captain are excuses not reasons. And if English supporters so comprehensively misread the result in 2005, most Australian supporters along with management and the team did not!! Don't blame your team now that you have egg on your faces!!

  • JasonK on December 29, 2006, 23:19 GMT

    You're alright Tim, you keep it entertaining. You make some salient points and you stick up for your homeland.

  • Usman on December 29, 2006, 20:28 GMT

    It is difficult to accept that Flintof and his yomen of England have been hammered so badly. But lets not forget that it is Australia they are trying to compete against. The media made 2005 ashes into something it just wasn't. England 'just' won the ashes last time round. They are not half the side australia is. 4-0 is not that bad, after all they were there to deliver the ashes back.

  • Matt Burrows on December 29, 2006, 18:46 GMT

    And now John Buchanan is dancing on English graves by asking for some good ol' fair dinkum "Compete" in Sydney. Any hard-earned Pommie respect from 2005 is unequivocally down the drain as Oz plays spin to perfection once again.

  • Tim de Lisle on December 29, 2006, 17:03 GMT

    Thanks for the comments everyone - some excellent points. I'm just popping up to respond to Buffalos, who queried my maths.

    I said that outside the Hayden-Symonds partnership, Australia made 140 for nine. Well, the partnership was 279, and the total was 419, so correct me again if I'm wrong, but I make the difference 140. And it's for nine because that's how many wickets fell outside that partnership. The first five wickets raised 84 and the last four 56. I wasn't calling this a failure – it proved to be more than enough. I was just using it to put England's low scores in context: some batsmen who are mostly better players than them, in mostly better form, facing mainly worse bowling, made equally few runs.

    The pattern of the match was strikingly uniform, apart from that one epic stand. This doesn't mean we can ignore it, as you rightly say, but it does offer some mitigation for the batsmen who flopped.

    Nor was I 'just trying to pull some positives out for England'. If so, I wouldn't have said they batted meekly, had the wrong captain, showed bad judgment on a string of selection issues, and ended up without much of a backbone. Like most sportswriters, I don't set out to be either positive or negative. I try to find a line or a theme that is distinctive, accurate and entertaining. Whether I succeed is, of course, for you to decide.

  • Tom Flowers on December 29, 2006, 16:06 GMT

    England have the makings of a fine team, however Flintoff can't be captain. It takes away from his batting and alf the reason he is in the team is because he is supposedly a test number 6 (is he the next Botham - definately not). Strauss should be captain. If you have a side at 5-84 and you bring your spinner on, you should attack. Yopu cant give easy singles down the ground, it lets the battsmen get off the mark and get settles. Also look how often Symonds played the hook shot (not once) yet there were still 2 men back for it every ball he faced and this let him tuck balls around the corner for 1s and 2s and get his score sheet moving. If you have a team on the ropes you need to go in for the kill, attacking fields and attacking bowling, England lacked both. As players they have potential and talent (cook is a very good player and bell would be if he could get past his ego) hwoever as a team they are spineless, they don't play for each other (peitersen giving the tail the strike when he should have taken it) and they don't have leadership. An Australian team will never accept defeat and say "oh well we were beaten y the best in the world" When they lost last ashes series they went back to training and fixed what was wrong. Australia choses to win and England choses to try their best (which still isnt better thatn 200 in an innings). Cricket is attitude, if you think you will win and you are any goo more oftent than not you will win, if you are any good and are just trying to compete you will never get anywhere (especially against Austalia). England need a belief in themselves that the can win and more than that, that they will win. Strauss can give them this, take the captaincy away from Freddy and just let him play cricket and stop worrying about hjow porrly the rest of the team is doing. He is a wonderfully talented cricketer but he isn't a thinker, he just needs to play, Strauss to captain and then Flintoff will win games for England. (Tim please post this article - 7th time lucky....)

  • Odie on January 1, 2007, 2:51 GMT

    "Like most sportswriters, I don't set out to be either positive or negative. I try to find a line or a theme that is distinctive, accurate and entertaining."

    Tim, Tim, Tim!

    I also remember your classic Hubris v Nemesis article and can quite confidently assure you that you are entirely entertaining...but "distinctive" and "accurate"?

    Perhaps you should put BOTH of your hands back onto your keyboard immediately as one of them appears to have wandered and is now doing something it should not be doing...

  • Ghalib Imtiyaz Ahmad on December 30, 2006, 4:44 GMT

    England's Ashes plans were dealt a huge blow with Trescothik being out of the batting order. Cook is not an ideal opener and he is suited to no.3 and he and Bell has been exposed to the new ball far too early and Flintoff, Jones, Mahmood also failed to make an impression with the bat. Ultimately it was their batting failure coupled with few bad umpiring decisions that did cost them few test matches.

  • buffalos on December 30, 2006, 3:48 GMT

    Thanks for the explaination Tim! I had never seen a score explained in this manner before I appear to have jumped the gun.

  • Saleh Hakeem on December 30, 2006, 1:53 GMT

    I feel that the team looked underprepared and disorganised. We missed tres and vaughan being able to bully the aussie bowlers something bell,cook and colly cant really do consisitently.

    Cook will get better as will Bell. Colly doesnt have the talent to improve his game and in my opinion lose his place first.

    Strauss is a good player who should be skipperof the side. Flintoff does not know how to handle his spinner and I agree let the aussies of the hook with easy singles.

    Players need to be identified according to talent as opposed to temperemant and then moulded thereon.

  • Rext on December 30, 2006, 0:42 GMT

    Form should always be analysed with the head, not the heart! England were a promising young team in 2005 playing with their ball in the murky autumn English light against an underprepared, complacent and overconfident Australian side that then lost the First Test MOM effectively for the series and even in disarray ultimately lost that series by two runs. A promising young boxer meets an overweight, underprepared and complacent Mohammed Ali and defeats him for the title by a point. In his self deceptive jubilation he overlooks one vital fact. Ali is entitled to a rematch!! Not for anything would I wish to be that boxer!! First round knockout would be most experts prediction! Any clear minded assessment of the world rankings and achievements of players on both sides clearly shows the Australians to be Ali and demonstrates the gap in class between the two sides. Team management and Flintoff's positivity as a batsman and bowler and his negativity as a captain are excuses not reasons. And if English supporters so comprehensively misread the result in 2005, most Australian supporters along with management and the team did not!! Don't blame your team now that you have egg on your faces!!

  • JasonK on December 29, 2006, 23:19 GMT

    You're alright Tim, you keep it entertaining. You make some salient points and you stick up for your homeland.

  • Usman on December 29, 2006, 20:28 GMT

    It is difficult to accept that Flintof and his yomen of England have been hammered so badly. But lets not forget that it is Australia they are trying to compete against. The media made 2005 ashes into something it just wasn't. England 'just' won the ashes last time round. They are not half the side australia is. 4-0 is not that bad, after all they were there to deliver the ashes back.

  • Matt Burrows on December 29, 2006, 18:46 GMT

    And now John Buchanan is dancing on English graves by asking for some good ol' fair dinkum "Compete" in Sydney. Any hard-earned Pommie respect from 2005 is unequivocally down the drain as Oz plays spin to perfection once again.

  • Tim de Lisle on December 29, 2006, 17:03 GMT

    Thanks for the comments everyone - some excellent points. I'm just popping up to respond to Buffalos, who queried my maths.

    I said that outside the Hayden-Symonds partnership, Australia made 140 for nine. Well, the partnership was 279, and the total was 419, so correct me again if I'm wrong, but I make the difference 140. And it's for nine because that's how many wickets fell outside that partnership. The first five wickets raised 84 and the last four 56. I wasn't calling this a failure – it proved to be more than enough. I was just using it to put England's low scores in context: some batsmen who are mostly better players than them, in mostly better form, facing mainly worse bowling, made equally few runs.

    The pattern of the match was strikingly uniform, apart from that one epic stand. This doesn't mean we can ignore it, as you rightly say, but it does offer some mitigation for the batsmen who flopped.

    Nor was I 'just trying to pull some positives out for England'. If so, I wouldn't have said they batted meekly, had the wrong captain, showed bad judgment on a string of selection issues, and ended up without much of a backbone. Like most sportswriters, I don't set out to be either positive or negative. I try to find a line or a theme that is distinctive, accurate and entertaining. Whether I succeed is, of course, for you to decide.

  • Tom Flowers on December 29, 2006, 16:06 GMT

    England have the makings of a fine team, however Flintoff can't be captain. It takes away from his batting and alf the reason he is in the team is because he is supposedly a test number 6 (is he the next Botham - definately not). Strauss should be captain. If you have a side at 5-84 and you bring your spinner on, you should attack. Yopu cant give easy singles down the ground, it lets the battsmen get off the mark and get settles. Also look how often Symonds played the hook shot (not once) yet there were still 2 men back for it every ball he faced and this let him tuck balls around the corner for 1s and 2s and get his score sheet moving. If you have a team on the ropes you need to go in for the kill, attacking fields and attacking bowling, England lacked both. As players they have potential and talent (cook is a very good player and bell would be if he could get past his ego) hwoever as a team they are spineless, they don't play for each other (peitersen giving the tail the strike when he should have taken it) and they don't have leadership. An Australian team will never accept defeat and say "oh well we were beaten y the best in the world" When they lost last ashes series they went back to training and fixed what was wrong. Australia choses to win and England choses to try their best (which still isnt better thatn 200 in an innings). Cricket is attitude, if you think you will win and you are any goo more oftent than not you will win, if you are any good and are just trying to compete you will never get anywhere (especially against Austalia). England need a belief in themselves that the can win and more than that, that they will win. Strauss can give them this, take the captaincy away from Freddy and just let him play cricket and stop worrying about hjow porrly the rest of the team is doing. He is a wonderfully talented cricketer but he isn't a thinker, he just needs to play, Strauss to captain and then Flintoff will win games for England. (Tim please post this article - 7th time lucky....)

  • Richard on December 29, 2006, 15:36 GMT

    The entire English mentality is slightly suspect through out all the sporting codes. The attitude of " WELL PLAYED , BETTER LUCK NEXT TIME, LOOSE GRACEFULLY AND LIKE GENTLEMEN" is so wrong , when England learn the attitude " WIN AT ALL COSTS" and they start playing with true courage, like Haydon, Marshall ( broken hand ) Jones( heat exhaustion ) even like Andre Joubert who played the word cup rugby final with a broken hand, maybe then England will truly challenge. They are still no 2 in the world, but to be no 1 the Killer instinct is needed, ask Muhammed Ali.

  • buffalos on December 29, 2006, 14:45 GMT

    I know you are just trying to pull some positives out for England Tim. However you have got it wrong yet again. Outside this partnership Australia made 140 runs for the loss of 8 wickets not, 140/9. ( Outside the actual contributions of Hayden and Symonds rather than their partnership Australia made 110/8) If you want to make it 9 wickets and eliminate the best contribution from a batter it becomes 263/9. To put this meaningless statistic in perspective England's 8 innings in this series outside their best partnership have yielded 110/8, (217/4 out of 551/6), 214/8, 98/8, 175/8, 180/8, 102/8 and 120/8 On the face of this the contribution from Australia's worst 8 batters 140/8 which (if I interpret your meaning correctly)you consider a failure is still better than average compared to England.

  • Jeremy on December 29, 2006, 13:32 GMT

    This one is for you mark, I'm english and live in melbourne but i'm proud to be english.We lost the Ashes so what !!Did anyone DIE?No Tall poppy syndrome rears its ugly head again.All i know is i'm english and proud of the team,i am man enough to cop the abuse because i have values and integrity.When the going gets tough the tough get going.Nothing gives me greater pleasure than watching the aussies crying in their beer like 15 months ago.That series is like gold.To freddy and the lads (who will never read this!)Just show them you're english and proud to be english.As i said before no one died !!!Mark

    No one died mark? I agree no one died except the fact that the poms willingness to fight! You like aussies crying huh? Well get used to losing mate, all you poms talked up the ashes, all talk and no action, bat to slow cant bowl to your misplaced fields, come 2009 nothing will change, look forward to another thrashing, you will be crying in your warm beer with all the other whinging poms.

  • jno on December 29, 2006, 13:17 GMT

    They didn't play spinelessly. They played badly. Batsmen got out to poor shots (and a bit of sloppy umpiring). Bowlers were all over the place. Fielding was more often sloppy than good (take a bow, Ashley), though Read's performance was actually rather good. Very little of what we've seen so far looked like the work of international cricketers. So they're playing the best team in the world? So what? That's what the number 2 team is *supposed* to do. But for all the experience and alleged commitment, for all the teams of management and backroom boys, they've played like a team who knew even before the first ball was bowled [involuntary shudder] that they were beaten. How did that happen? Weren't they the Ashes holders?

  • Rich on December 29, 2006, 12:54 GMT

    Some of the comments on here beggar belief! Harmison's "decline" (has been going on for 2-and-a-half years) is because of the lack of Cooley? You've missed the 2nd half of summer 2004, South Africa in 2004\05 and The Ashes 2005, all of which featured Cooley on board and Harmison bowling a heap of crap. Harmison simply isn't good enough, simple as, no amount of excuses will change that. Everyone who championed him after the exploits of early 2004 was wrong.

    What, exactly, was wrong with the squad selected? Yes, it might have been better to have Mahmood, Read and Panesar (certainly the final of those names) in the side for The 'Gabba, but seriously - who on Earth was so preferable in the original 16?

    Those expecting TdL to be gushing superlatives and revelling in the Aussie supremacy - he's English, FCOL! This was an excellent article, giving credit where it's due, but to expect someone to delight in their team's defeat is ludicrous!

    Criticising the attitudes (eg Flintoff went OTT in celebrating Lee's wicket, Pietersen is selfish, etc.) - get with the times. News-flash - ATTITUDES ARE NOT THE PROBLEM!!!!!!! It's just something to flail around to try and grasp at for those who can't take the blatant fact that this group of players, on this occasion, simply have not been good enough. Australia were better than in 2005 (which, if we're honest, was always overwhelmingly likely - Hussey and Clark are serious cricketers, Katich and Gillespie were woefully out of sorts last time), and with hindsight we now know England never really had a hope. Not something we could say beforehand - similar sentiments came to mind in 2005 - but facts which would be best faced nonetheless. Criticising the attitude will only make things worse, as will calling for massive wholesale changes in the selection committee. The best thing we can do is stick with the overwhelming majority of those players on this tour, and hope for the safe return of Vaughan and Jones - and maybe the advancement of the claims of one Steven Davies.

    One thing I do agree with is the lack of preparation being a hindrance - I think you're fooling yourself if you happen to think it'd have made a difference to the result (we've had similar situations in all tours since 2000\01 and we've won plenty in that time), but it's encouraging that there's a movement to un-synchronise Ashes tours and World Cups, meaning that hopefully we can get a winter where the sole focus is a tour of Australia, where we can have some decent warm-ups and decent gaps between the Tests. That way at least it removes those gripes.

  • Robert Harries on December 29, 2006, 12:51 GMT

    England are not a bad team. Management are to blame. Poor preparation. wrong captain and the coach seemed to be missing!!Strauss was doing a reasonable job so why change. Vaughan built a team, which suddenly doesn't appear to be a team!! Flintoff must share the blame for the selection mistakes. As skipper he has equal input. His handling of Harmison, has been misguided,to say the least. Regards Bob Harries

  • Viju Jacob on December 29, 2006, 12:17 GMT

    Hubris & nemesis?? I s'pose you remember these words clearly!!!

  • Allistair on December 29, 2006, 12:16 GMT

    Tim,

    Quite right too Tim, however my real congratulations go to Dan who posted on December 28, 2006 9:06 PM for his hitherto unique word of "assumably". It's a lovely conflation of assume and presumably, which I intend to start using immediately. Well done Dan.

  • andrew schulz on December 29, 2006, 11:48 GMT

    Mark, hang on to that memory of 15 months ago ( not that any aussies really cried into their beer having won the previous 8.) Tim de Lisle reckons England will be favourite for 2009. If anybody agrees with him, they need their head read. James w. I've stuck up for you a couple times, but if you think this is a one and only for Symonds, you need to have a look at yourself too. If he can do it on a difficult track at 5 for 84 under intense pressure to hold his place, he'll do it again.

  • David L on December 29, 2006, 10:49 GMT

    To Mark in Melbourne, well summed up, you’ve summed up the whole attitude of the English and their cricket team. However there are a few points Id like to add.

    1. Tall poppy syndrome rears its ugly head again - I would have thought the tall poppies were the Australian players. Surely you are not suggesting the English are poppy’s after one win and a visit the palace.

    2. All i know is i'm english and proud of the team,i am man enough to cop the abuse because i have values and integrity - Good for you, this explains the acceptance by the English of sub standard efforts on the sporting field.

    3. When the going gets tough the tough get going - Again, are you referring to the English cricketers?

    4. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than watching the aussies crying in their beer like 15 months ago - I though it was only a game and non one died.

    5. That series is like gold - If you add that result to this result what would the win loss ratio be?

    6. To freddy and the lads (who will never read this!)Just show them you're english and proud to be english. - Yep IM sure they are very proud.

    btw - I'M of English background who converted to Aussieism and are proud to support the Australian cricket team.

  • Richard Woolley on December 29, 2006, 10:29 GMT

    England were 'gutless' and that's not just a tired old cliche. it signifies a lack of forward planning, lack of preperation and generally a lack of care on the part of the players. Study their post-match interviews and they will rarely admit that they played badly, they just say things like 'we lost key sessions' or 'the Aussies are a fantastic side'. Much better to acknowledge your weaknesses and do something about it. The real difference between England and Australia is essentially one of mentality, attitude and mindset. The Aussies are more honest with themselves than the England players. There is simply too much tolerance of mediocrity in English cricket. Flintoff's captaincy by the way has been a joke and Fletcher should quit!

  • Stephen Clarke on December 29, 2006, 9:51 GMT

    Precisely, Tim - it's structure and direction England seem to lack. Most of the time they appear to be there just to see what wonderful thing the Australians are going to do next, watching from distant points on the boundary as four singles an over are taken, or bowling any old line and length to the most prolific top seven in history. I suggest an English coach, four day county cricket and a strict cap on overseas players in county teams - zero would be best. Perhaps there are too many counties: your best players have to be playing too many Mickey Mouse-length games against Mickey Mouse oppositions. In Pura Cup, only the best sixty-six players in the country meet each other week in, week out in four-day intensives. It's a genuine grounding for the next level, and what's more they're all eligible for it. You need two parallel competitions; the present zillion-team three day one being a feeder into a regional super league, six teams drawn from county groupings who play regular four- or even five-day matches against each other and comprise exclusively players eligible to represent England.

    Just a thought.

  • growltiger on December 29, 2006, 9:33 GMT

    There is a third meaning to the epithet "spineless" which seems to fit the case. There is no meaningful thread to the efforts that the individuals make. The sense of being a side with a strategy has evaporated. No doubt the pressure of good bowling and muscular Queensland batting was part of it. But the collapse in Adelaide, the failure to capitalise on a good first day in Perth, and the sinful waste after Australia were 84-5; these are things that come from lack of meaning and lack of leadership. Talk of divisions within the dressing room seems more convincing than the platitudes about how it is filled with fighting spirit. One fears that even after the present management has been replaced (which cannot be soon enough) the new captain and coach will find that fault-lines remain, frustrating the attempt to recreate meaning and purpose. It may be that a radically clean sweep is needed: the defeat culture that was supposed to have been swept away by Fletcher has been comprehensively restored, and made worse by the trappings of fleeting success.

  • Mike on December 29, 2006, 8:40 GMT

    What a massive, massive disappointment this series has been after the euphoria/hype of England. Im a Kiwi, and naturally was rooting for the English! But to have failed so misreably in pretty much all departments is a bitter let down. Yr analysis nicely lays it out. Selection mistakes(chiefly Jones and Giles) and some key personnel missing. But while, as you say, spinelessness is an unfair adjective for the English performances there WAS a distinct and inexplicable lack of fight at crucial times...The batting was frequently far too timid (compare the scoring rates of the two sides). Basically England gave me the impression of going into this series and taking the view 'we have the Ashes we'll sit back and let you try and take them off us' It was absolutely the WRONG STRATEGY. They should have been taking the fight to Australia from ball 1. So where do they go from here? This side has only two quality quick bowlers frankly (Freddie and Hoggard). I dont see Harmison ever dominating cricket teams again (unless he gets green tops to bowl on). Monty is obviously promising but England desperately need some more HIGH QUALITY match winning bowlers. Sorry but Mahmood and Anderson arent the answer. As to the batting. Lots of these guys batted well in patches but there was NO CONSISTENCY...that is such a crucial problem for the English side (and frankly pretty much most other cricket teams EXCEPT the Aussies). Somehow they have to learn to play like their lives depend on it every ball, every session and every day of a five day match...and when things turn against them, learn to fight their way out of a hole with BOLD CRICKET (in the manner of Hayden and Symonds). Their safety first approach to this series has basically cost them it

  • Mark on December 29, 2006, 8:32 GMT

    I'm english and live in melbourne but i'm proud to be english.We lost the Ashes so what !!Did anyone DIE?No Tall poppy syndrome rears its ugly head again.All i know is i'm english and proud of the team,i am man enough to cop the abuse because i have values and integrity.When the going gets tough the tough get going.Nothing gives me greater pleasure than watching the aussies crying in their beer like 15 months ago.That series is like gold.To freddy and the lads (who will never read this!)Just show them you're english and proud to be english.As i said before no one died !!!Mark

  • Justin B on December 29, 2006, 8:04 GMT

    Winning and losing test series is a subtle business and from the perspective of 0-4 down it does now seem that "meekness" has been at the heart of England's failure to sieze moments.

    What really worries me here is the contrast with the 2005 series. Australia were on the back foot with four high quality fast bowlers rotating at them with conventional and reverse swing and ferocious bounce and they never folded; they almost won at Edgbaston, they ground it out at Old Trafford and scared England at Trent Bridge. Had Shane Warne held that Pietersen chance at the Oval they might have drawn the series ...they were always in it.

    My guess is that Flintoff's team sensed its underpreparedness after Brisbane and this dictated caution, then the big flinch, at Adelaide. At 0-2 the demons really kick in. I thought it was very sad to hear Flintoff say "realistically" w weren't going to bat out the final day at Perth, so we thought we'd be positive and see what happens...this came very close to saying we'd attack and lose attractively. This from a numbers six batting with one of the foremost batsmen in world cricket.

    Another aspect of meekness has been that foremost batsman's selfishness in not farming the strike with the tail and not moving up the order to 4. Fletcher's comment that KP did not want to be left "with the tail we've got" spoke of this petulence. He gave up on Harmison at Perth, with the big lad making a nice 22 in the end, slogging horribly to Brett Lee when he could have moved along at between 1 and 5 an over whilst keeping most of the strike. His comment to Nasser later in the day was "I could have got out for 30-40 and I am happy with 70". So the one guy playing with self belief is sulking when left with the tail, which is itself a result of his wanting to come in against an older ball than he might at number 4. People used to do this in school cricket when I was playing, but not in the university or League teams when everyone had grown up a bit. It has to be a real problem that current batting great of the team is a loner...you just know that KP checks his average every innings, verifying that he has maintained standards and himself looks good.

    Another thing I have noticed is England's tendency to fall back on clichés when answering questions on a day's play. Notice how most of the Aussies seem to give some texture when they speak - Ponting on day 4 at Adelaide was a great example. You got the impression they were thinking on their feet and not just "doing the press" and this in itself speaks of a confidence and ownership of the game situation. I understand Freddie's short temperedness when asked about heart and soul one more time. But he should find a more interesting way of saying the same thing, for that is part of the job he wanted. The dimantling of the (very benign) Freddie personality cult has been another aspect of this tour that must be turned into a positive when Vaughan comes back. He is not doing well on unfamiliar ground, having told us at the start he was happy with "where I'm at" he now admits to the loss of form we can all see. His bowling has been heroic and his captaincy ok to defensive...sadly it's been too much and for the boss to be overstretched, and visibly so, must undermine the belief in the team to convert those chances. His innings of 51 at Perth said as much and he described it to Mike Atherton, a man who would have put his head down to bat out that day, as "hitting a few balls" - the leader was resigned to failure.

    Can we grab chances now, from this position? At what point does it become more attractive to lick your wounds? What point will they prove if they do win the fifth? It might just spoil Shane Warne's send off.

  • James W on December 29, 2006, 7:51 GMT

    Warne also contributed with the bat, infact i'm pretty sure he outscored every Englishman in the match bar Strauss in the first innings. So that along with 7 wickets i think he's MOM award is justified, but yes, Hayden and especially Symonds were unlucky to miss out. And let's face it, Symonds isn't going to play another test innings like that again. Missed opportunity to reward what will surely be the highlight of his career.

  • Firstdrop on December 29, 2006, 6:58 GMT

    Fair point re Oz middle order but two counterpoints; 1. Test cricket against elite opponents demands that initiative must be seized and advantage exploited. If a disciplined, consistent outfit concedes 9-140 that is a rare advantage and to go on to lose by an innings and 99 runs is an abomination. Flintoff speaks cliches of spirit and heart but not much has been in evidence when the going has been uphill. Not questioning him or others personally but you can see the shoulders go down - even the Barmy Army go silent. 2. hayden/Symonds partnership aside, does anyone really think that the Australian middle order would have capitulated in consecutive innings?

  • Don on December 29, 2006, 6:02 GMT

    I actually agree with you Tim that one of the two QLD boys should've of got MOTM. As for 3, 4 and 5 only making 18 runs that's no biggy considering they have been among Australia's best bats this entire series so they're allowed a failure, what's important is people stood up when required. Lets not forget Australia's 3,4 and 5 were denied a chance of a second dig. On your statement that outside of the big partnership Australia only scored 9/140, I can see how you came to that figure but if we do that with Englands first innings (take out their largest partnership of 57 between Strauss/Collingwood) England were 9/102.... My point is you cant go around saying "yeah but if you take out this this and this Australia only achieved this or England only achieved that".....well you can but it's a little lame.

  • Anjan on December 29, 2006, 4:23 GMT

    Tim, Insightful article, though I don't see why the English whinge about the absence of Vaughan and Trescothick. They've both been woefully out of form, averaging 34 and 35 over the last 10 tests. Their replacements - Collingwood, Bell and Cook average 44-46 over the same period. On form, neither Vaughan nor Tresco would be in the side. Of course, statistics are futile if the only reason their absence is brought up is to provide an excuse for the abyssmal performance. The only person England sorely miss right now is Simon Jones.

  • Slubberdegullion on December 29, 2006, 4:17 GMT

    For those who wish to join the bash England bandwagon, I offer these classics of invective:

    "Curse the blasted, jelly-boned swines, the slimy, the belly-wriggling invertebrates, the miserable soddingrotters, the flaming sods, the sniveling, dribbling, dithering, palsied,pulse-less lot that make up England today. They've got white of egg in their veins, and their spunk is that watery it's a marvel they can breed." - D. H. Lawrence

    "The bun-sellers or cake-makers were in nothing inclinable to their request; but, which was worse, did injure them most outrageously, called them prattling gabblers, lickorous gluttons, freckled bittors, mangy rascals, shite-a-bed scoundrels, drunken roysters, sly knaves, drowsy loiterers, slapsauce fellows, slabberdegullion druggels, lubberly louts, cozening foxes, ruffian rogues, paltry customers, sycophant-varlets, drawlatch hoydens, flouting milksops, jeering companions, staring clowns, forlorn snakes, ninny lobcocks, scurvy sneaksbies, fondling fops, base loons, saucy coxcombs, idle lusks, scoffing braggarts, noddy meacocks, blockish grutnols, doddipol-joltheads, jobbernol goosecaps, foolish loggerheads, flutch calf-lollies, grouthead gnat-snappers, lob-dotterels, gaping changelings, codshead loobies, woodcock slangams, ninny-hammer flycatchers, noddypeak simpletons, turdy gut, shitten shepherds, and other suchlike defamatory epithets; saying further, that it was not for them to eat of these dainty cakes, but might very well content themselves with the coarse unranged bread, or to eat of the great brown household loaf." - From Sir Thomas Urquhart’s translation of Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel (1653)

    Found outside the members bar at the M.C.G.

  • Takkun on December 29, 2006, 4:09 GMT

    Oh Tim, more excuses and apples / oranges comparisons. Implying in your second paragraph that the English middle order is more solid than the Australian middle order, and then re-using this faulty comparison in your last paragraph to deflect attention from the feebleness of England's efforts. In case you missed it, Australia only needed to bat once to win this match! If Australia had batted twice I very much doubt you'd be smugly calling for the statistics on low contributions from the middle order - more likely it would be more column inches begrudgingly bemoaning the indomitable Ponting, Hussey et al.

  • Wayne on December 29, 2006, 3:48 GMT

    Agree witht the man of the match comments but I think it harsh to summarise Australia's other batsman as only making 140. With no second innings it is hard to improve on the poor show provided in the first!

  • Matt on December 29, 2006, 3:26 GMT

    Interesting comments about Kevin Pietersen....is it just me or is "uncompromising individualism" just another way of saying "selfishness"? In those periods of the series so far when KP has been stranded with the tail, he has looked disinterested and hasn't played for the good of the team. What use is immense raw talent when KP plays for himself? Will England make KP tow the line or are they far too afraid of upsetting their golden boy? Give me Hussey any day.

  • bazza on December 29, 2006, 3:04 GMT

    I have to take issue with you Tim with regard to your comments re Warne and man of the match. I discussed the options available to those selecting this honour with several friends before it was announced. We all agreed that Hayden and Symonds batted superbly, but how could you select one over the other? We also thought of Read, 6 catches and 26 NO as the best performance from an Englishman. Clark's performance with the ball was also very meritorious. However, unlike you we did not overlook the fact that Englamd had to be bowled out twice and that Warne was by far the most impressive bowler in their first innings rout, 5 for 30 odd including Strauss and Pieterson (Englands best and most dangerous batter)whom you have seemingly overlooked. In addition Warne was able to quickly accumulate an unbeaten 40 NO on the same day and wicket that the best of England could only get 31. Yes his preformance was not head and shoulders above the Australian pack but sufficiently meritorious to place him on the shortlist for the honour. After that it would seem to be to have been a greater injustice to either Hayden or Symonds if one of them had been accorded the honour over the other. In short Warne seemed to be the logical choice.

  • Peter on December 29, 2006, 2:25 GMT

    The best thing for England (and all wicketkeepers in the world) was the performance of Read - not the fact he took 6 straightforward catches - but that he was lively, keen athletic and basically looked like a 'keeper of test standard.

    Add this to his fiercely determined 2nd innings and it is clear who is the best suited to test cricket....the best batsman is usually the one with the right things going on inside his head....I reckon this was obvious yesterday!

    It was a real pity that the rest of the team were not able to perform to Read's standards.

  • JMD on December 29, 2006, 1:16 GMT

    Perhaps spineless isn't the right word, incompetent perhaps?

    Completely agree with your comments regarding the English helping to dig their own graves, there are 2 players capable of really taking it up to the Australian team, KP & Freddie. I get the feeling that KP really couldn't care less about his team at the moment, and Fred seems lost.

    Apart from those 2, there are several decent batsman, but they have been unable/unwilling to hurt the Australians on the scoreboard. Perhaps too scared of getting out......

    Maybe Fragile England would be the correct term.

  • Bruce Wilson on December 29, 2006, 0:49 GMT

    It is not so much a lack of spine it is more probably a lack of ability to handle quality bowling and of course batting attacks. It's wrong to be labelled a champion player if a high percentage of your success has been against the lower rated sides. Two stand out in the England side - Bell and Flintoff. Bell is all style with minimal substance who had success against cricketing minnows. Flintoff has been highly over-rated by the English press as a Champion allrounder - yuk - he is not in the same class as one Ian Botham or a host of other Champion all-rounders whose batting/bowling averages stuck around the 40 mark for batting and under 30 for bowling. Flintoff's averages are the total opposite. Where has the British Bulldog spirit gone???? It is something that is unteachable - it comes from within and not just because you were born in UK or your parent/s was born there. Unfortunately England seems to have become captive to the mercenary sportspersons??

  • Pete on December 29, 2006, 0:48 GMT

    I remember before the squad was named trying to make a case for guys like Ramprakash and Butcher. They are experienced guys, have good records against Australia (compared to their careers), were in run making form (although it was county cricket), and none of the English batsmen had played a test in Australia. And it shows, with low scores and collapses a regular occurence. Even if these guys didnt play a game, their knowledge of the conditions and of the game in general would have been invaluble, especially to batsmen and a captain trying to find their feet. I remember everyone saying when I made suggestions like these that why open up new wounds when England have moved on and won the Ashes etc etc. The fact is since the Ashes and before this series, England played 12 tests, won 4, lost 4 and drew 4, and apparantly this side knew how to win tests and had no scars about losing that all other England sides had and were moving forward to being the best team in the world. How can you do this without real experienced capaigners in your team to help out the young guys, and how can you do this with a coach who then brings in players out of form or out of match practice to replace the young guys trying to build the team. Vaughan and Trescothick fit would have made a huge difference to this team, and if my memory serves me correctly I think they may have been involved in an Ashes humilation too (talk about old wounds hey!), so why not replace them in the squad with guys that have been there before with some personal success!!! As soon as the squad was named I knew that it would 4-0 of 5-0 to the Aussies, and as soon as Giles and Jones were picked, not once but TWICE, it was even clearer. England were doomed right back when they named a group of batsmen who have won a handful of games and have never played in Australia before. As long as England keep discarding the value of a couple of experienced players (look how well Hussey and Clark are doing at the moment!) and picking guys whose skills should still be worked out properly at first class level (why not pick Lewis over Mahmood!!) England will continue to suffer against the Aussies, and all around the world for that matter.

  • Shirsendu on December 29, 2006, 0:38 GMT

    Agree with you on your comments. I think England ought to have been a bit more flexible with their strategy. Flintoff was clearly not working at 6. They should have got a 6th batsman in (should have been Rob Key though Ed Joyce got selected). In all these games the 5th bowler has hardly bowled enough and has often lacked Freddie's confidence (Saj at Perth and Monty here). Things have been worse with Jones failing and the so-called number 8 batsman as well is not working (Giles and Saj have been worse than Monty). Obviously the selections itself is a different story!!

  • Bob on December 29, 2006, 0:32 GMT

    Cricket has long been a game of taking the good with the bad and riding your luck when it is in. History states that England won the Ashes in 2005 and it is a matter of opinion whether this was through luck / good fortune or that they played the better cricket for the series. In this series, the 'luck factor' has not been with England. Changing personnel during the tour, key players being out of form or having flaws exposed in foreign conditions. I believe true Test level players work on their flaws to improve their game. The good players succeed in doing this. It will be a test of England's character to see which players can respond in Sydney.

  • Jason K on December 29, 2006, 0:29 GMT

    It has become a favourite pastime of Australian bloggers to find an English cricket journo with a blog and take the piss out of England.

    That time has now passed. It's gone beyond a joke, there is absolutely no satisfaction in kicking a man whilst he's down and unconscious, no matter how obnoxious he is.

    I guess I'm trying to say, we feel soory for you poor buggers.

    The only upside I can see from your succession of losses is that it seems to bring out the best of the English personality - humility, irony and self deprecation. I'm afraid that winning just doesn't suit your nature.

    I still believe Tim that your the respect you show the Australian team is meely-mouthed and begrudging - if England were up 4-0, the superlatives would never cease. How about applying a bit of heart and perspective to your articles?

  • Pradip on December 29, 2006, 0:25 GMT

    Well - here we have it - normal service resumed. When you have players like Petersen in your side how can you win? KP has made it clear that he left his country of birth to play 'test cricket' - that is all he cares about. The Aussies play test cricket for their country - they have the pride and passion. England have for too long rejoiced in the odd win - handing out OBE's (or MBE's or whatever) for that one series win. Where to now?

  • AussieTonka on December 29, 2006, 0:24 GMT

    With all of the England team failings it is essential to realise that they can only play as well as the Aussies allow them. The Aussies have played irresistable cricket and they would probably beat Gods first eleven. And I agree that the man of the match award was given on emotional grounds.

  • Terry Lawson on December 29, 2006, 0:19 GMT

    I agree with everything Tim has said. When are the management going to resign? The results on this tour, not just this match can be laid squarely at Graveney and his cronies door. The squad selection, captain selection, preparation, and approach to the tour have been a disaster. it all started with allowing to let Troy Cooley go. this clearly has had such an effect on Steve Harmison that has been evident since Cooley's departure. The effect on reducing him to first change bowler is nothing short of incredible. How to demoralise what should be our principal weapon defies belief. The whole tour seems to have been run as if we were retreating to Dunkirk. Playing Pieterson at No.4 making our loose cannon Freddie captain. What did they think would happen especially as he has played no competetive cricket all summer. the pressuer on Kevin Pieterson coming when, as usual, we were in trouble has not helped him be his brilliant best. Read is obviously the better keeper but neither Jones nor Read can have any confidence when every time they play it seems as if they were playing to keep their place. Ultimately Australia have spent 14 months plotting their attack. England have plotting how keep their bunker protected, instead of how to attack Australia in their own back yard.

  • David Allen on December 29, 2006, 0:17 GMT

    I very much agree that England’s performance was not so much spineless as outperformed by an exponentially superior side. While their ‘tactical’ displays have been exhilaratingly non-creative, defensive and blinkered, it would be very difficult to adjudge any of the team as being spineless – 2005-looking however, yes. I am very much reminded of Walter Benjamin’s angel of history, flying into the future, yet looking towards the past.

    For the future however, several positives have emerged: the genuine, consistent pace and willingness of Mahmood - albeit chronically underbowled in Perth, and still requiring consistency; the wicket taking ability and courage of Panesar; Read’s immaculate glovemanship and grit with the bat yesterday – dispelling Fletcher or Flintoff’s disregard for his temperament; Cook’s determination and elegant promise – the loss of his wicket after his century displayed the price he both put on his wicket and his awareness of the state of the game – a future English captain surely; Collingwood’s emergence as a player good enough to play test cricket consistently. The English need to concentrate on 2007 before they can even contemplate 2009 – a little myopia might actually stand them in good stead.

    The more established components of the side however, have been targeted, and duly outplayed – batsman for batsman, bowler for bowler in every match up. The inclusion of Panesar, Read and Mahmood has not altered the results, only the expanding margin of deficits. The inclusion of these players has been a positive step, however, should this have occurred in Brisbane, the result – as the last two tests have suggested - would have been little different. Vengeance is a wonderful tonic. 5-0 in Sydney unless someone plays a Lara-like 270; someone finishes with a Laker-like 19. On present form, the Australians will not allow that to occur – therein lies the seismic difference, what the Australians allow.

  • David Lawrence on December 29, 2006, 0:15 GMT

    Spineless? - No. One just needs to look at the way the English cricketers act on the field to get any idea on why they failed so miserably. Gloves touching gloves after a single is scored, Flintoff standing, prophet like, in the middle of the pitch, no substantial banter for the bowlers, and of course selfish batting. To ensure we get the whole picture lets not forget the off the field problems, such as the great crowd favourite, the Barmy Army.

    What is the point of touching gloves after a single is scored unless it is of course to congratulate the batsmen on surviving another ball at the crease. Australians are spurred on by this as it smacks of arrogance. All you Aussies take note, the English are here and we're not afraid to show you we can score singles. Gloves at one pace.

    Flintoff, standing like a messiah in the middle of the pitch because he had the wicket of Lee. Come to me gents, as I have achieved the greatest dismissal in test history. Genuflect at my feet for we have certainly won this one. If the dismissal of Lee was treated with fanfare no wonder the game went were it did.

    When Australia is on the ground, you can sense the tension, the emotion and of course the utter dislike for the batsmen in the middle. Why? Because the fielders chirp away; a little bit of encouragement to the bowler, a little bit of sledging for the batsmen, so on and so on. What a great feeling for Stuart when running up from his mark, he knows the whole team is on his side, the whole team is cheering for him. What about England? You don’t get that sense as each team member seems to play for themselves not the team. What banter did come from the English was quickly negated. Warne knows how to play with the best of them, Jones, Bell etc were easy meat.

    Kevin, oh Kevin. Resting on your laurels from 2005? By far the best batsman for the English, but oh so selfish. At times a gritty 20 made not out in a day is better than a 100 scored in quick time. What a show pony! More interested in flamboyant shots to demonstrate your selection rather than helping the team. Very keen to expose the tail and yes, very keen to demonstrate that Kevin is answerable to no-one. It’s a bit like Ill take my cricket bat and go home! The English management better grab him and pull him in to line if they want the best out of him otherwise give him the Australians and they will knock him into shape.

    The Barmy Army - enough already as you are embarrassing. It’s a laugh really and quite in the mould of English sporting prowess. They love to openly display their pride in each and every loss. Pride, spirit, loss, that’s the English way. No wonder the cricket team is loosing, they think that’s what’s expected from them. You are the Barmy Army, Barmy for supporting such a hopeless bunch of individuals.

    So although not spineless, it would have been a lot easier to diagnose and fix the problem if it were as a result of this. To fix egos is another problem altogether.

  • Noelene on December 29, 2006, 0:13 GMT

    Shane Warne also scored 40 runs,so he deserved his MOTM award.You also fail to mention that Australia only batted once,hard to compare both side's batting on that basis.

  • Doug on December 29, 2006, 0:02 GMT

    Well well well, 4-0! Is anybody game to say that England will even have a sniff of victory in Sydney? Probably about as likely as Geraint Jones getting a century! But realistically, what team could hold Australia out with the form that they are in? The press here keeps saying, who's going to replace McGrath? The answer is obvious, the man who has taken more wickets than him this series, Stuart Clark! He has been awesome, clean bowled an in form Pieterson today and what a ball. But mention an Aussie player who isn't in form at the moment? I think if Australia bat first in Sydney victory in under 4-days will be the result. Go aussie!

  • timmy on December 28, 2006, 23:48 GMT

    Tim, I think it's a stretch to critisise the Australian middle order because look at the last 3 test matches between them Clarke, Hussey and Ponting scored 1312 runs. So I see no reason to critisise them. The Australians have shown if they face 30+ balls and get past 15-20 they go on to make big scores. How many of the England batsmen have scored hundreds and how many times? Three! And all were different batsmen. So far Australia have eight from six different batsmen. If you should critisise anyone it is Andrew Flintoff's strangely defensive fields when Monty Panesar was bowling. As he showed at the WACA the way to get hitters of the ball out is bring the field up and enticfe them to hit it over. For some reason this was not the case at boxing day. And England's bowlers complicate things so much by having a set plan to every Australian batsmen with no flexibility, means if the bowler carries out the plan and it does not work they have no other option but to go defensive. But the strange thing is England's bowlers have been doing nothing of the sort following there bowling plans. They should keep it simple. Aim at the top of off and let the pitch do the rest. This is the way Mr Clinical has worked for his whole career and look what he's done 556 wickets!

  • Ric on December 28, 2006, 23:38 GMT

    The main problem in two words: insufficient preparation. No team should be expected to play five Tests in such a short period and they must also have plenty of so-called warm-up matches, preferably over four days against state teams.

  • Jack Glover on December 28, 2006, 23:33 GMT

    I'm sure Hayden and Symonds wont mind Warnie getting man of the match.

    As for England being spineless, if your only criteria is that the batsman not back away from the crease, then I think you are being too kind in your judgement.

  • Tom on December 28, 2006, 23:22 GMT

    The courage shown by the English team is only the courage to face up to the English press when they get home. It shouldn't take alot of courage to face up to Brett Lee once you have reached this level. A few bruises is not a big sacrafice for the money and helmets remove any real life threatening danger.

  • Colin Capon on December 28, 2006, 23:04 GMT

    I think you are very wrong in you statement that it was an insult to the two Queenslanders for Warne to get man of the match. By your own posts in recent days the quality of Australian opening bnowlers is ensuring that most of the top order isnt in existence when warne comes in. However, he has consitently shown in these matches that the potentially dangerous middle order of England is left bereft of any idea oh how to press home any advantage. To then come out and make 40 which put him amongst the top scorers for the entire match for both teams says a lot about his performance

  • Peter on December 28, 2006, 22:57 GMT

    England are a good side. They are he number two side in the world. They had Australia at 5-84 on the second morning and failed to capitalise.

    In 2005 when it was mentioned that a 2-1 winning margin was close Duncan Fletcher spoke about the number of sessions that England had won in the series. In his opinion England had comprehensively outplayed Australia and yet the result was 2-1.

    In this series England for a number of reasons, (poor selection, poor preparation, questionable tactics, umpiring) have not played as well as they did in 2005. It shows that they have won very few sessions in the series and that the Australian team has comprehensively beaten them. The only difference being that Duncan Fletcher has been noticably absent in the media on this occaision.

  • David P on December 28, 2006, 22:31 GMT

    I don't think England were spineless but they were certainly clueless. They haven't become bad players overnight but they have become a poor side, lacking confidence and leadership. Flintoff never was the right choice as captain and its only his bowling form which currently warrants Test selection. His handling of Panesar at the MCG was very poor, setting completely the wrong field. What was the game plan - "scatter please lads and see what happens" ? Strauss or Vaughan needs to take over a.s.a.p. Like Botham, Flintoff leads by example but it no tactician and his all-round skills are too valuable to dilute with the captaincy. Strauss, Hoggard, Mahmood and possibly Read and Harmison were the only England players to emerge with any credit from this match on their performances. Maybe the others were overwhelmed by the occasion. To lose to a top side on top form is no disgrace, but to fail to compete for 90% of the game in inexcusable. Yes, some vital umpiring decisions went against us but that's life. Hopefully the England selectors will not over-react to the likely 5-0 whitewash. Better preparation, better selections and a decent captain should be enough to make this England side one of the best two Test sides in the world over the next 5 years and will certainly compete with a weaker Australian side over the next 2 Ashes series. Flintoff needs to bat at 7, the keeper (whether Read, Foster, Prior or Davies) needs to bat at 8, with Panesar, Hoggard and one of Harmison, Mahmood or Broad making up the rest of the attack. With Collingwood, Pieterson and Bell all able to bowl, England can go in with four front-line bowlers, provided that Flintoff is fully fit to bowl. On the batting front, Vaughan should come in at 5 after Strauss, Cook, Bell and Pietersen, with Collingwood at 6. If Vaughan is not fit then there's a gap for a young batter like Bopara (although I would have taken Ramprakash to Australia he is not the future). Hopefully young Rashid from Yorkshire will soon also come into the frame but with this side England can compete at the very top level of Test cricket for several years to come. I suspect that Fletcher's time is now up as his ODI record does not suggest that a good World Cup will save him. Woolmer, Moody or Moores will all be good candidates although Moody is likely to get the Australia job and Woolmer may wish to see his Pakistan side mature fully to realise their potential. A coach with some charisma would be welcome. Its hard to see Fletcher having the personality to pick up a team which is down, although he clearly knows how to handle a winning side. The partnership of coach and captain is vital and the formula just isn't blending at present.

  • Mark on December 28, 2006, 22:22 GMT

    Warne as man of the match was certainly partly to do with sentimentality, but he took 5 first innings wickets after England had won the toss and batted. 40 not-out in Australia's only innings, and 2 wickets in England's second. The strongest all-round performance of the test and while Hayden and Symonds cases might have been strong(er), how do you separate them to pick one? I think it was the right choice.

  • gordon on December 28, 2006, 22:14 GMT

    Tim I agree and do not think it at all fair to describe this English team as spineless.I generally agree with the thrust of your post mortem albeit its focus is all England..but hey ! It is now incredibly clear that when faced with the type of relentless team passion to regain the urn ( such as was displayed by England-at last, after 16 years,in 2005), this English team just has not had the needed skill levels. It is actually a statement that these 35 + aged Aussies clearly felt, after such a long period of holding the Ashes, that they "owned" them and that they were highly embarressed to have given them up. Such passion is behind the determination to make the big statement with this drubbing.

    Whether it is 5 nil or not that combination of passion and skill is the principal reason for the difference now.

    It will be hard for England in Sydney as they are not at the same level in skills..yet! But I think there is real hope. Just look at the payoff for Australia in persisting with the Symonds and Clarke talents. I think Cook, Bell maybe, certainly Panesar and Read ( now that they are being picked!) and maybe Mahmood are all quality players of the future who have the talent potential to develop the skills needed to provide the spine you are talking about. Surely Strauss will have better days (like Martyn in 2005 very unlucky with umpires). In Flintoff and Pietersen you have world class already-both overwhelmed this time by the task.

    Harmison? Well, his best was needed and next time if there is one, he should be asked to prepare properly.

    As for Collingwood-pure passion and spine-but maybe not enough skill at the end of the day and may have now seen his best days..time will tell with him.

    So as it happens the better team on skill has won this time. After all we are still in the the best Aussie era ever ( now 11 wins in a row..again) with the best players over a long period, we have ever had..and on a roll..15 out of 16 wins since we last played you and a 75% win rate since 1990.

    But the wheel is about to turn a bit. Time to get behind your talent make sure it is recognised and play aggressive confident cricket..starting next week.

  • gordon on December 28, 2006, 22:12 GMT

    Tim I agree and do not think it at all fair to describe this English team as spineless.I generally agree with the thrust of your post mortem albeit its focus is all England..but hey ! It is now incredibly clear that when faced with the type of relentless team passion to regain the urn ( such as was displayed by England-at last, after 16 years,in 2005), this English team just has not had the needed skill levels. It is actually a statement that these 35 + aged Aussies clearly felt, after such a long period of holding the Ashes, that they "owned" them and that they were highly embarressed to have given them up. Such passion is behind the determination to make the big statement with this drubbing.

    Whether it is 5 nil or not that combination of passion and skill is the principal reason for the difference now.

    It will be hard for England in Sydney as they are not at the same level in skills..yet! But I think there is real hope. Just look at the payoff for Australia in persisting with the Symonds and Clarke talents. I think Cook, Bell maybe, certainly Panesar and Read ( now that they are being picked!) and maybe Mahmood are all quality players of the future who have the talent potential to develop the skills needed to provide the spine you are talking about. Surely Strauss will have better days (like Martyn in 2005 very unlucky with umpires). In Flintoff and Pietersen you have world class already-both overwhelmed this time by the task.

    Harmison? Well, his best was needed and next time if there is one, he should be asked to prepare properly.

    As for Collingwood-pure passion and spine-but maybe not enough skill at the end of the day and may have now seen his best days..time will tell with him.

    So as it happens the better team on skill has won this time. After all we are still in the the best Aussie era ever ( now 11 wins in a row..again) with the best players over a long period, we have ever had..and on a roll..15 out of 16 wins since we last played you and a 75% win rate since 1990.

    But the wheel is about to turn a bit. Time to get behind your talent make sure it is recognised and play aggressive confident cricket..starting next week.

  • Bill Drodge on December 28, 2006, 21:47 GMT

    Tim states "This was a match won not just by some fiercely disciplined bowling, but by one outstanding partnership, outside of which Australia made 140 for nine."

    Geez lucky then they weren't required to bat a 2nd time.

  • K.D on December 28, 2006, 21:40 GMT

    Well a series that was suppose to promise so much has become an embaressing slaughter of the English cricket team. To my mind take the competitive series of 2005 which was heaped in Englands favour for reasons not worth bringing up now (yes I can make excuses too) but this series to me reminds me nothing more even less than the other Ashes series for the last decade and a half or so, very one sided. England submitted inside three days like many before them without a struggle. I hope the potential England showed in 2005 can be recaptured. There are sure to be scars from this thrashing the hype surrounding this series has resulted in a group of English cricketers who appear to be gutted. With the soon to be retired Australians & likelyhood of more to come I hope England can regroup. There doesn't seem to be other teams standing up in world cricket, with a new bowling lineup & innevitable batting line up too I hope England can re-group. To me they were never going to be equal to this champion side that we are seeing the closure of their era but they demonstrated in 2005 the next best thing Australia has encountered throughout its reign. With the three prong pace attack of Flintoff, Jones & Harmisson if he keeps his head right the batting lineup of Pieterson, Strauss, Cook, Vaughan , Trescothick if he can get back & Flintoff recapturing form this promises real competition for Australia which they've lacked for many years. Take Australias champions Mcgrath, Warne, Gilchrist, Hayden & Langer nearly half of the current side & we're not mentioning Martyn already retired this series & replace them with younger less experienced talent & hopefully we'll get closely fought edge of your seat competition & we won't have to endure all these excuses & reasons to justify the defeat currently experienced by the English side. Face facts England is being beaten by a much better side with better players guiding the ship. This side would have beaten convincingly the form England showed in 2005 despite what many English fans & press alike might try & claim.

  • Paul on December 28, 2006, 21:23 GMT

    It's true we spectators probably often have only a vague idea of how good the professional cricketers are, the dedication and sacrifice they have shown, and their extraordinary talent that has got them this far. And if they are less than victorious we quickly write them off as hopeless, spineless etc. Very few of us do our jobs in front of 90 000 screaming fans. So no, they are not spineless. However, difficult as it is to face fast bouncers, that is the nature of the sport they chose to play. There are stories of Hayden playing on with a broken hand because he didn't want to retire and risk being dropped, Dean Jones throwing up between overs in India on the way to a mammoth score, and outside cricket, Jimmy Connors finishing a tennis match on an intravenous drip. I don't suggest such extremes are needed, or even sensible, but even a fraction of this pig-headed, stubborn, refuse to die attitude would be welcome. Symonds came in with his team in trouble and his test career, such as it is, on the line, and he ground it out before he opened up. Hayden did the same thing in thez last Ashes to save his career. Who in England is doing this? This is why they leave themselves open to accusations that may be unfair, but do reflect something that is missing in the team.

  • pb on December 28, 2006, 21:22 GMT

    Nice one Tim. I agree that this English team is not a bad one by any means. After all they are number 2 in the world for a reason. But poor management and selections broke the momentum that this young team was carrying forward. Cricketers coming back from injuries and breaks rarely hit form straightaway. This reminds me of the third test between India and Australia in the previous Border Gavaskar trophy. A rehabilitating Tendulkar was brought in with absolutely no match practise; he failed and the trophy was gone. But atleast that was Tendulkar and well worth a risk; however, as fans with cricketing brains we deserve to know the discussions that brought giles and jones in to the team. The management would do well to answer these questions HOW ? WHY? WHAT THE HELL?

  • kerry on December 28, 2006, 21:12 GMT

    They definately lack direction at the moment on the field. Is it time for new management or some new ideas in the test side. I personally think that it was a mistake to give Flintoff the captaincy in this series. He is not fit and the balance of the side is suffering, but i'm not blaming Flintoff for being 4-0 down. Having said this, Ashes 2006/07 series could be a blessing in disguise. They have a good side England potentially, but because of lack of direction and leadership, they are not playing like a good side at the moment. Having said that the Australian players wanted to win this series more, because as we have seen the past few days its their last series in test cricket.

  • Dan on December 28, 2006, 21:06 GMT

    I am pleased that you brought this up as a subject. See my comments under "Not the same old Story". If Australia was now 0-4 and had capitulated by an innings within three days, a commission of inquiry and possibly mass sackings would already be underway. The body language of English batsmen yesterday suggested that it was all too bloody difficult, and don't you think the likes of Shane Warne cottoned on to that quick smart. Flintoff is not a captain's bootlace. Some of his dismissals in this series have been disgraceful examples to set to his team and field placements, particularly for Monty Panesar in this latest Test, were farcical. When out in the field, we see the Poms in team-bonding huddles; assumably being addressed (and motivated?) by the skipper. What exactly was being said there? Nothing constructive or effective, obviously. I get the distinct impression that Steve Harmison doesn't even enjoy playing the game, and that Kevin Pietersen is more interested in "red-inks" than in playing for his team. England, you have deep-rooted problems. without Vaughan as your leader you are hopeless. He should play and skipper the side regardless of form or fitness. In that regard I refer you to a previous English captain, Brearley. A mediocre player but a great leader of men.

  • RSN on December 28, 2006, 21:02 GMT

    I agree with Tim that if not for Hayden and Symonds, the match would have had an entirely different script.

    But, the appalling fact is that England seem to have given up and want to return to their cozy fireplaces back home.

    One would expect a losing team(in a dead rubber) to come out with all guns blazing since they have got nothing to lose but pride to regain. But England seems to have stuck its tail between its legs!

  • greg on December 28, 2006, 20:40 GMT

    Then again, do you really think that Australia would have only scored 150 second time up? They don't fail twice. Nos 3, 4 and 5 only scoring 18 runs looks slightly different when you consider they only got one innings.

    For me what summed the whole farce up was when Hoggard was interviewed after day 1 and said (defending the decision to bat) "if we'd managed to get 250 it would have been a good score". Which begs the question: "what sort of misguided team selection says that a pitch is poor enough that 250 will be a good score first up, but that five bowlers will be needed to bowl the opposition out?"

  • kathy on December 28, 2006, 20:38 GMT

    Nice to see a balanced perspective, Tim, when far too often these kind of defeats just bring out the hysteria in the cricket writing fraternity.

    I saw McGrath and Warne damn near brought to their knees in Adelaide. Although the results don't show it, they haven't had it all their way.

  • David on December 28, 2006, 20:26 GMT

    Heartily agree with all you've said Tim, down to the last line. I don't know that Hayden and Symonds should be insulted at being passed over for MotM selection, though surely they would each have had fair claim. Both had a huge influence on the outcome of the match, and it would indeed be tough to choose one over the other. Hayden was given a life, perhaps two, very early in his innings, but had to fight harder for his runs. Symonds' runs came comparatively easily, once they started, and perhaps the only weakness of his innings was that he got out at all. You might also suggest that Stuart Clark had a large say in how the match ended, though he's possibly even less showy than McGrath in the way he goes about his business. Warne can perhaps count himself lucky to be chosen from a very tight field, but I'm sure he'd have been just as happy to share that stage with his teammates, if the system allowed. And if Steven, when you Ask, replies that Australia have indeed won before with similar small contributions from batsmen 3-5, make sure you remind him that this was an innings victory and see if that doesn't top the lot.

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  • David on December 28, 2006, 20:26 GMT

    Heartily agree with all you've said Tim, down to the last line. I don't know that Hayden and Symonds should be insulted at being passed over for MotM selection, though surely they would each have had fair claim. Both had a huge influence on the outcome of the match, and it would indeed be tough to choose one over the other. Hayden was given a life, perhaps two, very early in his innings, but had to fight harder for his runs. Symonds' runs came comparatively easily, once they started, and perhaps the only weakness of his innings was that he got out at all. You might also suggest that Stuart Clark had a large say in how the match ended, though he's possibly even less showy than McGrath in the way he goes about his business. Warne can perhaps count himself lucky to be chosen from a very tight field, but I'm sure he'd have been just as happy to share that stage with his teammates, if the system allowed. And if Steven, when you Ask, replies that Australia have indeed won before with similar small contributions from batsmen 3-5, make sure you remind him that this was an innings victory and see if that doesn't top the lot.

  • kathy on December 28, 2006, 20:38 GMT

    Nice to see a balanced perspective, Tim, when far too often these kind of defeats just bring out the hysteria in the cricket writing fraternity.

    I saw McGrath and Warne damn near brought to their knees in Adelaide. Although the results don't show it, they haven't had it all their way.

  • greg on December 28, 2006, 20:40 GMT

    Then again, do you really think that Australia would have only scored 150 second time up? They don't fail twice. Nos 3, 4 and 5 only scoring 18 runs looks slightly different when you consider they only got one innings.

    For me what summed the whole farce up was when Hoggard was interviewed after day 1 and said (defending the decision to bat) "if we'd managed to get 250 it would have been a good score". Which begs the question: "what sort of misguided team selection says that a pitch is poor enough that 250 will be a good score first up, but that five bowlers will be needed to bowl the opposition out?"

  • RSN on December 28, 2006, 21:02 GMT

    I agree with Tim that if not for Hayden and Symonds, the match would have had an entirely different script.

    But, the appalling fact is that England seem to have given up and want to return to their cozy fireplaces back home.

    One would expect a losing team(in a dead rubber) to come out with all guns blazing since they have got nothing to lose but pride to regain. But England seems to have stuck its tail between its legs!

  • Dan on December 28, 2006, 21:06 GMT

    I am pleased that you brought this up as a subject. See my comments under "Not the same old Story". If Australia was now 0-4 and had capitulated by an innings within three days, a commission of inquiry and possibly mass sackings would already be underway. The body language of English batsmen yesterday suggested that it was all too bloody difficult, and don't you think the likes of Shane Warne cottoned on to that quick smart. Flintoff is not a captain's bootlace. Some of his dismissals in this series have been disgraceful examples to set to his team and field placements, particularly for Monty Panesar in this latest Test, were farcical. When out in the field, we see the Poms in team-bonding huddles; assumably being addressed (and motivated?) by the skipper. What exactly was being said there? Nothing constructive or effective, obviously. I get the distinct impression that Steve Harmison doesn't even enjoy playing the game, and that Kevin Pietersen is more interested in "red-inks" than in playing for his team. England, you have deep-rooted problems. without Vaughan as your leader you are hopeless. He should play and skipper the side regardless of form or fitness. In that regard I refer you to a previous English captain, Brearley. A mediocre player but a great leader of men.

  • kerry on December 28, 2006, 21:12 GMT

    They definately lack direction at the moment on the field. Is it time for new management or some new ideas in the test side. I personally think that it was a mistake to give Flintoff the captaincy in this series. He is not fit and the balance of the side is suffering, but i'm not blaming Flintoff for being 4-0 down. Having said this, Ashes 2006/07 series could be a blessing in disguise. They have a good side England potentially, but because of lack of direction and leadership, they are not playing like a good side at the moment. Having said that the Australian players wanted to win this series more, because as we have seen the past few days its their last series in test cricket.

  • pb on December 28, 2006, 21:22 GMT

    Nice one Tim. I agree that this English team is not a bad one by any means. After all they are number 2 in the world for a reason. But poor management and selections broke the momentum that this young team was carrying forward. Cricketers coming back from injuries and breaks rarely hit form straightaway. This reminds me of the third test between India and Australia in the previous Border Gavaskar trophy. A rehabilitating Tendulkar was brought in with absolutely no match practise; he failed and the trophy was gone. But atleast that was Tendulkar and well worth a risk; however, as fans with cricketing brains we deserve to know the discussions that brought giles and jones in to the team. The management would do well to answer these questions HOW ? WHY? WHAT THE HELL?

  • Paul on December 28, 2006, 21:23 GMT

    It's true we spectators probably often have only a vague idea of how good the professional cricketers are, the dedication and sacrifice they have shown, and their extraordinary talent that has got them this far. And if they are less than victorious we quickly write them off as hopeless, spineless etc. Very few of us do our jobs in front of 90 000 screaming fans. So no, they are not spineless. However, difficult as it is to face fast bouncers, that is the nature of the sport they chose to play. There are stories of Hayden playing on with a broken hand because he didn't want to retire and risk being dropped, Dean Jones throwing up between overs in India on the way to a mammoth score, and outside cricket, Jimmy Connors finishing a tennis match on an intravenous drip. I don't suggest such extremes are needed, or even sensible, but even a fraction of this pig-headed, stubborn, refuse to die attitude would be welcome. Symonds came in with his team in trouble and his test career, such as it is, on the line, and he ground it out before he opened up. Hayden did the same thing in thez last Ashes to save his career. Who in England is doing this? This is why they leave themselves open to accusations that may be unfair, but do reflect something that is missing in the team.

  • K.D on December 28, 2006, 21:40 GMT

    Well a series that was suppose to promise so much has become an embaressing slaughter of the English cricket team. To my mind take the competitive series of 2005 which was heaped in Englands favour for reasons not worth bringing up now (yes I can make excuses too) but this series to me reminds me nothing more even less than the other Ashes series for the last decade and a half or so, very one sided. England submitted inside three days like many before them without a struggle. I hope the potential England showed in 2005 can be recaptured. There are sure to be scars from this thrashing the hype surrounding this series has resulted in a group of English cricketers who appear to be gutted. With the soon to be retired Australians & likelyhood of more to come I hope England can regroup. There doesn't seem to be other teams standing up in world cricket, with a new bowling lineup & innevitable batting line up too I hope England can re-group. To me they were never going to be equal to this champion side that we are seeing the closure of their era but they demonstrated in 2005 the next best thing Australia has encountered throughout its reign. With the three prong pace attack of Flintoff, Jones & Harmisson if he keeps his head right the batting lineup of Pieterson, Strauss, Cook, Vaughan , Trescothick if he can get back & Flintoff recapturing form this promises real competition for Australia which they've lacked for many years. Take Australias champions Mcgrath, Warne, Gilchrist, Hayden & Langer nearly half of the current side & we're not mentioning Martyn already retired this series & replace them with younger less experienced talent & hopefully we'll get closely fought edge of your seat competition & we won't have to endure all these excuses & reasons to justify the defeat currently experienced by the English side. Face facts England is being beaten by a much better side with better players guiding the ship. This side would have beaten convincingly the form England showed in 2005 despite what many English fans & press alike might try & claim.

  • Bill Drodge on December 28, 2006, 21:47 GMT

    Tim states "This was a match won not just by some fiercely disciplined bowling, but by one outstanding partnership, outside of which Australia made 140 for nine."

    Geez lucky then they weren't required to bat a 2nd time.