January 10, 2014

England's tour from hell?

One has to go back to 1985-86, when they suffered a 5-0 hammering by West Indies, to think of a worse tour

Back in 1986, England's bowling was ineffective and the batting exposed by pace. Sound familiar? © Getty Images

Confused planning. Poor decision-making. Competent people making uncharacteristic errors. A situation that starts to spiral out of control. Efforts to dig a way out of the hole end up digging it deeper. The onset of desperation. Even more confused planning. Further poor decisions. And the cycle of failure starts to loop round again.

It's a situation most of us have seen at some point in our working lives. Some of us might have been unlucky enough to get caught up in the madness. Trapped in the middle of group failure. Trying hard to do your best but feeling powerless. Dreading having to come in to work in the morning. Clinging to gallows humour as a way of getting through the day.

Of course, it's unlikely any of us have had to do this under the pressure of the national media spotlight. And unless you've delivered the wrong pizza topping to the Yorkshire committee room you wouldn't have incurred the wrath of Geoff Boycott. But then we don't get paid good money to travel the world to play cricket. And after the litany of abject failure produced by England during the recent Ashes series, sympathy for their players will be in short supply.

The tour from hell. I've seen it called that a few times. It's catchy. Stick that on a t-shirt and you could make some money selling them to the Barmy Army.

The description might be over the top, but then it's hard to think of a worse tour. Perhaps supporters of other teams can remember some dim and distant ODI series where their side got through five captains, and the bowling machine was impounded by customs. But in my thirtysomething years of following England this is their low point.

Up until now, the 1985-86 tour of the West Indies probably held that title. There are parallels: England's bowling was ineffective, the batting exposed by pace, and the 5-0 result a foregone conclusion. But that was against undoubtedly the best side in the world at the time. A team with such bowling resources that Courtney Walsh spent most of his time ferrying drinks out to his team-mates.

Australia fielded a fine attack in this recent series, led by a fast bowler who charged in with the kind of sustained pace and controlled aggression that's been rarely seen in recent years. But it's also a side that went into the series on the back of some of the worst Test match form in their long history.

England should have been competitive in the Ashes, but instead were blown away just as ruthlessly as when they were being whitewashed by the great West Indies side of the 1980s. It's that knowledge of what should have been that makes this defeat feel even worse and gives everyone the chance to navel-gaze over the state of the game once again. Something English cricket has always excelled at.

The finger-pointing at players has already started and it won't be long before we get calls for yet another review of county cricket. England's greatest underperformance during the Ashes came from senior players who don't play domestic cricket on a regular basis, but there'll still be demands for it to change again as we enter a season that has the most logically laid out schedule in years - one that, ironically enough, finally implements some of the changes recommended by the Schofield Report in the aftermath of another 5-0 drubbing England suffered Down Under seven years ago.

Seven years; Ashes defeats can cast a long shadow. If the repercussions of this series are still being felt seven years from now, and add that to the humiliation of being whitewashed by a side you've just comfortably beaten at home, then perhaps calling it "the tour from hell" isn't so over the top after all.

Dave Hawksworth has never sat in a press box or charged a match programme to expenses