Action: fifth Test January 5, 2007

England's troubles turn to farce

History repeats itself, Marx said – the first time as tragedy, the second as farce
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History repeats itself, Marx said – the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. And he was amply borne out this morning, as the lower half of England’s batting did their best to re-stage the nightmare they suffered in the first innings. The bigger picture was just as bad. The series began with England's bowlers conjuring up the first hour from hell, and here they were plumbing similar depths with the bat.

First the last batsman standing, Kevin Pietersen, lunged forward without thinking and nicked a ball from Glenn McGrath that was passing harmlessly outside his off stump. Pietersen is a huge talent, but he has shrunk before our eyes in the past couple of weeks. He has been able to stick around but his strike rate, usually so high, has plummeted. It’s almost as if two months in Australia have turned him into a fair-dinkum Englishman.

Then Monty Panesar and Chris Read blocked for 15 minutes. Finally they decided to set off for a run – or rather Read did, while Monty was slow out of the blocks. Andrew Symonds took out the middle stump with a ridiculously good throw. England were now, in effect, 12 for seven. You had to laugh.

When some runs did come, they were off the edge. Read soon flapped at a lifter, just like in the first innings. He’s an outstanding wicketkeeper and although he has played a few hapless strokes, it’s not his fault that he has been asked to bat at number seven in Australia, half-way through a series in which it had already become clear that an extra batsman was sorely needed.

Saj Mahmood, in surely his final appearance at number eight, was bowled off an inside edge. Steve Harmison mustered a little defiance, clouting McGrath back over his head. But it said an awful lot that England had reached the point where eight runs counted as defiance. The bottom five managed 29 runs in the innings, 33 in the match.

There is a terrible collective fragility about England now. They can have two decent days, and one bad one, and the bad one knocks the stuffing out of them, undoing all the good of the previous two. It’s as if each setback has taken them straight back to that awful morning in Adelaide. This game was the fourth in a row in which England have achieved some kind of parity, only to toss it – or have it wrenched – away. And if you think the Test team are in a bad way, bear in mind that over the past four years, the one-day team have been a whole lot worse.

But let’s not dwell on the losers of this grimly one-sided series. Australia have been awesome. The 5-0 scoreline that is half an hour or so away now is a great achievement, the crowning glory of a famous team, and another memorable chapter in the book of myths and legends that is Ashes history.

The Aussies have got into a few scrapes, as Ricky Ponting has said, but the way they have got themselves out of them has been phenomenal. Seven batsmen have made hundreds, and most of them have been either big ones or viciously fast ones. The fielding has crackled with predatory intent. The seam bowling, led from the back by Stuart Clark, has been a model of sustained professionalism. Two all-time greats have been given big emotional send-offs without the razzmatazz detracting at all from the job in hand. They have made the second best team in the world look like no-hopers.

England need to learn as much from the experience as the Australians did from 2005. Whether they will have the nous, the will, the nerve and the focus, remains to be seen.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • fanedlive on January 18, 2007, 21:02 GMT

    Time has elapsed so perhaps we can see things clearer.To look forward we have to make hard judgements.We can see Cook has the mental strength and we know Vaughan is the best captain.Those are the openers we move forward with.There is no place for Strauss.Mental strength and grit are not words that come to mind when thinking of Strauss.A hit or miss player who will never erase those dreadful shots of Brisbane.The time has come to leave him behind and a spell in county cricket might re-ignite his desire to play sensible innings.We persevere with Bell at three,he has the abilty but there must be doubt over his stamina and determination.We need longer to judge him.Pietersen at four getting maturer all the time.I'd also go with Collingwood at five purely on his determination and that is something so missing in recent England sides.A fully fit Flintoff is a must.Wicketkeepers are a problem.Despite the pro-Read camps constant pushing he really fails the test at seven.Hopeless against decent pace we must move on from this cancer that has afflicted English cricket and try Davies or return to Foster. To the bowlers.There is no point in continuing with the mantally weak.So as with Strauss and Trescothick so with Harmison.If Simon jones returns all well and good,if not then Mahmood must continue with the advice that he is a fast bowler first and foremost not endlessly mixing it up.If he doesn't make it then try Tremlett.Plunkett and anderson are long term replacements for Hoggard and we will wait and see if Broad developes into anything worthwhile.Panesar is the only spin option but mus develope an arm ball and must be told that his faster one day form remains solely in that format. For Lord's against the West Indies-Vaughan,Cook,Bell,Pietersen,Collingwood,Flintoff,Foster,S.Jones,Mahmood,Panesar,Hoggard.

  • fanedlive on January 13, 2007, 3:51 GMT

    Well done Tim! As for the worst, I say you are right about Harmy's triple-wide wide. But a close second must be persevering with Geraint "Atrocious Body Language" Jones. Reluctant as I am to go a personal attack, GJ carries himself poorly when compared to his Aussie counterpart Gilly. Respectively they compare as meek versus assured, awkward versus polished and with the bat it's David versus Goliath. Read is the man, and yet now we see with hindsight Geraint's predecessor Nixon gets to squeeze his 36-year-old frame into a coloured uniform and call himself boss man behind the stumps in the Triangular (Bipolar) Series. When will it end?

  • fanedlive on January 8, 2007, 14:54 GMT

    I have to take Odie's ridiculous comments about KP to task. For someone who has just averaged 54 against one of the best bowling attacks ever seen, there must have been quite a few egdes and biased umpires to allow such a shallow entity to make so many runs, or did they all come off Symonds? Perhaps he could have a chat to Langer and Hayden...both of who scored fewer runs at a lesser average over both series...not sure what about though. Having said all that, have to agree that his autobiography was vacuous in the extreme - a real no star bargain bucket stinker.

  • fanedlive on January 8, 2007, 1:14 GMT

    I think that too much has been made of England's performance and not enough credit given to the performance of the Australian team. In four tests out of the five, England had chances to take the game. The commentary has suggested that England capitulated of it's own accord, not due to the amazing amounts of pressure applied by the Australian team. Talent counted for little in this series, 2005 showed that England has the talent to play great cricket, they even showed that this tour and should hold their heads high. What they could never have prepared for was the determination and committment of the Australian team, they had a point to prove and no side in the world was going to stand in the way of that. I for one, have never seen any sporting team so determined for victory, i don't think we'll see that again in the near future. It's never a team of champions that make a champion team, we should never forget that...

  • fanedlive on January 7, 2007, 9:57 GMT

    I agree that Chris Read has kept wicket very well. While most of his dismissals were fairly straightforward, can anyone imagine Geraint Jones moving forward to take a catch where the ball was pitching in FRONT of him? Read managed to, twice.

    What is necessary now, I think, is for all this much-vaunted selectorial and Fletcherian loyalty to be extended to Read. He seems to be the only one not to have benefited from it yet. Quite the opposite in fact. If he is given a decent run against the West Indies, preferably without any snide pressure-inducing remarks from Fletcher, the he could well show us all that he's a more than capable batsman as well as one of the best keepers in the world. He is averaging around 26 with the bat since his comeback against Pakistan, after all.

  • fanedlive on January 7, 2007, 2:38 GMT

    That interview Harmison did with ex- captain Atherton, really showed the cricket public of Oz and England the mind set of this so called international cricketer, Harminson. He has the heart the size of a pea. There's no escaping the fact that this bloke lacks both the brain, strength of character and moral fibre that goes into making a test cricketer, not just talent.If he didn't want to be there for his team mates, what on earth was the point of dragging this imbecile along to this Ashes series. He should be shown the door, and," let it hit him in the arse on his way out running home to mummy".

  • fanedlive on January 7, 2007, 2:25 GMT

    Good blog Tim. Sums up this horrible mess! Point well made by Ralph as well. Harmy is a useless liability who doesn't value playing for England. He openly said during the last test that he couldn't wait to get home. Well good, England will be better off without him and his self pity. Not sure about Odie's comment's about KP. Pretty irrelevant having a go at him saying he could take a leaf out of Hayden's book. Hayden's been over the hill for a long while. Congrats to Hayden on his one fortunate score the series at melbourne (plum lbw for not many on 2 occaisions). Congrats also to KP for making more runs and averaging more against a far superior bowling attack. KP, you've clearly let England down and this loss is all your fault!!!!!

  • fanedlive on January 6, 2007, 22:31 GMT

    Thanks for fantastic summer of reading even if biased on occasions. I just want to say what if. What if in 2005 Glen McGrath didn't step on ball in 2nd test & what if Michale Hussey who'd been in terrific form in ODI series before test matches was selected & what if some of the bad umpiring decisions against Australia were reversed, if some missed chances particularly last test where KP was dropped a number of times before going on & putting game beyond Aussies. Would have Australia won that series? Who knows like this series if Michael Vaughan , Simon Jones were available some umpiring decisions were different if selections included Monty earlier there may have well been a difference in scoreline. Hindsight is a wonderful thing many believe under different circumstances Australia would have or could have won or at leats drawn series & kept ashes they didn't. This series may at least have been tighter it wasn't. I really hope England re-group 2005 was fantastic the final two tests here over in six days was terrible. Bring on 2009 changing of the guard for the Austrlians, a few years for Englands players to regroup gather back some sort of form & confidence really for the first time I can remember in 20 years this appears to be best potential rivalry in international cricket.

  • fanedlive on January 6, 2007, 20:41 GMT

    Tim and others from the UK , they say down here..."no worries!" but in this case that is not quite true. Of course its fun for an Aussie to see a great team reach its culmination and that was what this was. But the feeling is not the same as it must have been for England in 05. That series was hard fought all the way with perhaps a fairytale ending. It was good for the game.The rebirth of English confidence in their ability at this wonderful game that they have given us truly caught our imagination and stirred things up particularly producing I felt, a misappreciation of the relative merits of the teams in England. Alas there is risk now that another incredible overreaction may occur equally out of perspective with the outcome. The reality always was in 05 that a concurrence of events ( the Ponting inexperience, too many years of success producing a lazy over confidence, some bad luck with McGrath, toss calls that went Englands way for a change ( we had the better of this for some years)...enough to offset the balance and then faced with a great and quite sudden 4 pronged seam attack that was well marshalled by Vaughan plus inspirational batting by one Freddie Flintoff and new man Pietersen on top of great aggressive opening essays from Trescothick and new man Strauss...we had as the yanks say " a real ball game!" But it was close even then and that was its fascination as this was unexpected ..a team with all time greats and an incredible track record over 10 years being beaten..it just could not happen..but it did! Now two years later the tables have been turned and a slightly more correct assessment of relative skills perhaps put in its place. ( but again exaggerated by the 5 nil outcome). Warne and Mcgrath deserve to be seen appropriately at the end of their incredible and long term careers as winners -just as Steve Waugh was. Ponting does not deserve to be remembered as the captain who lost the Ashes, and I daresay he now will have a quite different mark in crickets history! What is it then that has allowed this turnaround in 06/07? My view is that fundamental differences in experience and skills are always reflected in the test records. 100 + tests with so many great and aggressive all time great batsmen --I mean look at the career averages of Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Hussey, Gilchrist and and add successful and aggressive newcomers like Clarke and Symonds and that is before taking into consideration the much discussed lower order differences with Warne Lee and Clark all contributing.

    So batting prowess in the top order is a huge factor. I feel there has been far too much English concentration on the lower order.

    If that approach continues the seeds of further failure in 09 will be sewn. England failed big time with its opening batting here this season and number 3 in Bell is a number 5 or 6 at best against big time opponents.

    So the pressure was on new man Collingwood to rescue and he did well for a time, but until he and Pietersen managed ,for an all too brief period to get on the front foot in Brisbane and in Adelaide, the real story was unfolding.

    Of course Australia's task was made greatly easier by England's inept bowling-here the difference was also huge. Certainly England could not afford to lose any of its attacking potential and we all know about Harmisons poor start, the omission of Panesar and the writing off publicly of others by the coach- (incredible).

    My belief however is that the strength of the Australian batting when allied to the attack of Clark Warne and Mcgrath and later Lee -was any way, going to be too big a hurdle on our pitches for any contemporary opposition... but 5 zip??

    England made their job harder it is true and that is where they must improve - It must be time to change the coach. Some of the English players have to get a reality check (particularly Cook Strauss and Bell in the batting and Harmison and in the bowling). Then an aggressive approach with positive coaching not this negative "play not to lose strategy" such as we saw particularly in Adelaide and here in Sydney.

    "Not to worry" does not apply here-too many mistakes, too much misplaced sense of superiority ( something we get accused of too-but perhaps WITH MORE REASON!! Sorreeee), also made a great teams task easier.

    The story continues with a brand new Aussie team in 09..what will unfold? Who knows!

  • fanedlive on January 6, 2007, 11:26 GMT

    I was disap[pointed that Flintoff did not say something like "we'll get them back" and I am guessing that he does not think England can. The whole scene in England needs to change, from the juniors upwards. One reform that is necessary is to create an elite domestic first class competition. The current county scene is a joke - it does not breed elite players. My suggestion: 8 elite teams based on the test grounds plus two others. They only play each other (in 4 day and 1 day). No promotion/relegation. The other counties join the minor counties competition and act as feeder. This is the only way to get the quality required - no easy games, no easy pitches - tough and hard every time they play. Each team must field at least eight players who are eligible to play for England. From this structure, over time, you will prodcue battle hardened competitors plus, and very importantly, back up to cover for injury, form loss, retirements. Below this elite competition you would then have an enlarged minor counties comp. this would blood young players with potential who would play alongside the older guys with experience. Below this you have the club competitions - also organised aloneg elite lines. Below this you have the juniors - starting at under 8's then 10's, 12's, 14's 16's. The best of these juniors would play representative regional games. Adopt this system and in 10 years, England will be up there with the best. Don't do it, stay with the current system and there will be no change.

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