Australia v England, 3rd Test, Perth, 3rd day December 15, 2013

England return to the bad old days

After years of improvement and investment, an ageing England side produced a medley of the bad old days at the WACA

Like an ageing entertainer on a farewell tour, England produced a medley of the bad old days of English cricket on the third day at the WACA.

They gave us a classic batting collapse, an insipid display of bowling, a couple of dropped catches, a comic missed stumping and that old standard, an injury to a key player, during a performance that underlined the sense that the belief has long since drained from this side.

It seemed that all the years of improvement, the investment into central contracts and academies, the input of high-profile coaches and the attention to detail that saw such initiatives as the production of an 80-page cookbook and the appointment of an army of support staff so vast it now comprises a spot welder and a woman who makes balloon animals, had never happened. It could have been 1994-95.

It is hard to pinpoint England's lowest moment on a day so full of them that you could go pot-holing in the ignominy. Might it have been the sight of England's No 6 flashing at a ball outside the off stump in the manner of a tail-ender? Might it have been the sight of Stuart Broad on crutches? Or might it have been the sight of Matt Prior, for so long a beacon of excellence in this side, flailing around behind the stumps like a drowning man? Or perhaps it was simply the sight of Tim Bresnan taking the new ball. Whatever the plan was when England named three giant fast bowlers in their squad for this series, it surely wasn't Bresnan taking the new ball at the WACA.

But the sight of Graeme Swann and James Anderson carted around Perth by David Warner and co might be considered most dispiriting of all from an England perspective. Both men have long been fine servants of this team and both men are in the top six Test wicket takers in England history. But it is becoming increasingly hard to avoid the conclusion that they are players in decline. Their series averages - seven wickets at 48.85 for Anderson and seven wickets at 74.14 for Swann - are far from the levels required if England were going to win this series.

There is no obvious drop in pace from Anderson. There have been times in this match when he has hit 90mph on the speed gun and his control has remained admirable. He is the only member of the England attack to concede fewer than three runs in a series throughout the series to date.

But whereas in 2010-11 - the series in which he claimed 24 wickets at an average of 26.04 - he was able to generate lateral movement, here he has struggled to find the seam or swing to trouble batsmen on such good pitches. More worryingly, he has failed to gain the movement found by his Australian counterparts.

It may be that England have simply asked too much of Anderson. There was a time when the side were uncomfortable reliant upon him - remember that 14-over spell that sealed the Trent Bridge Test. Certainly the vision of him bowling in Australia's second innings, with the game long gone and the temperature well over 40 degrees, was like using a sports car to carry scaffolding.

It is a similar tale with Swann. On pitches offering him little, he was always likely to struggle for bite. But the fact is, he has been out-bowled by his opposite number, Nathan Lyon and, in conceding nearly four-an-over, has been unable to give his captain the control required to build pressure.

It is not just that he has struggled to gain any turn; that must be expected on these wickets. He has also struggled for the dip that used to make him such a dangerous bowler and he has failed to gain the bounce that has, at times, rendered Lyon the more dangerous operator.

But the bowlers are not the primary reason for England's imminent Ashes defeat. It is not the bowlers who have dropped chances or bowlers that have batted so feebly. It is not the bowlers' fault that they have, in three successive matches, been forced back into the field for the second innings without adequate rest and with the Australian batsmen enjoying an enviable match position. England have hardly given their bowlers a chance.

No, the main reason for England's defeat will have been their batsmen. First innings totals of 136, 172 and 251 are simply inadequate. At times when England should have showed patience and application, they have tried to hit themselves out of trouble like novices.

So it was entirely typical that, of the three remaining top-order batsmen at the start of day three here, two should lose their wickets in the morning session to reckless attacking strokes. Prior and Stokes followed Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen in departing to unnecessary shots that spoke volumes for the pressure built up by Australia's disciplined attack and the desperation of a batting line-up that have lost faith in their ability to grind out totals from tough positions.

The last time - 22 innings and 10 months ago - that England scored 400, against New Zealand at Wellington, England had two centurions: Nick Compton and Jonathan Trott. In the aftermath of the game, there were suggestions that such a pairing in the top three might result in England scoring too slowly. That England might need to score quicker to win games. That England needed to be more positive.

At Leeds, in May, England beat New Zealand by 247 runs only to be bombarded by criticism for their slow rate of scoring. Compton was dropped and Trott was described as one-paced and even selfish by some.

Right now, such a view looks more than a little foolish.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on December 16, 2013, 22:02 GMT

    madhu_ayyagari - haha absolutely spot on. The English media always gets carried away to the extreme with things, whether the sport is cricket, rugby or football. The fact is the warning signs were there last summer, and 3-0 was flattering. However, credit must go to Australia. As I said on here at the start of the series, Harris and Johnson on form will be a tough prospect for anyone. Fact is, there is so little genuine quick bowling in the world now that batsmen have forgotten how to play it.

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2013, 16:51 GMT

    Ageing ? In 54-55 we had Hutton, Edrich, May, Compton, (young) Cowdrey, Bailey, Evans, Tyson, Wardle, Appleyard, Statham .. In 70-71 Boycott, Luckhurst, Edrich, D'Olivera, (old) Cowdrey or Fletcher / Hampshire, Knott, Illingworth, Snow, Lever, Shuttleworth / Willis, Underwood .. In 1968, Boycott, Edrich, Cowdrey, Graveney, Barrington, D'Olivera, Knott, Knight / Illingworth, Snow, Brown, Underwood .. Difference was these guys played cricket 6 or 7 days a week .. played for counties between Tests .. They worked out their own problems and techniques .. Fact is Australia could have drawn 2-2 in summer .. They are better than England's backroom experts realised ..

  • VIKAS on December 16, 2013, 10:32 GMT

    This happens when you do not have respect for your work place. The work place is a place which is to be worshipped. For a cricketer, a cricket pitch is the work place. And I remember England players peeed on the pitch after winning the Ashes in England. Hence, this was bound to happen. Only if England players feel sorry from the bottom of their heart and ask for forgiveness from The Almighty, their fortunes can still turn around. Else, a 5-0 is written on the wall.

  • d on December 16, 2013, 9:02 GMT

    will Australian Immigration please release the real England team from its detention cells & let these 11 jobbing actors stop impersonating a team & go back to pantomime. anyway : following an English summer, in which the victors got no credit-all defeats were down to Australian inadequacy, supposedly-there seems a lot of focus on England shooting themselves in the foot now. They are playing as well as they are being allowed to play. This is Australia's victory, cleverly conceived & executed. They deserve the limelight & praise. Whether they sustain it, is harder to predict, but no one should diminish their achievement in making the opposition look ordinary.

  • Patrick on December 16, 2013, 7:24 GMT

    Accept your point @crockit, stiff enough to burst the bubble that was Eng cricket, February will be the measure of this team when they hit SA, based on our last few encounters, they'll be expecting stiff opposition I expect!

  • Ronnie Joshua on December 16, 2013, 5:24 GMT

    This is the same Australian Side- which lost 4-0 in India; they just don't know how to play "SPIN"(With Exception of - Smith). The point I am trying to make is that of Spinning option of Monty. He happens to be a left-armer and they are most difficult to play even on bouncy trakcs which do not assist spinner. Why isn't England Picking Monty(Who has more RPM-and more the RPM the more the chance of spinning the ball on a flat and bouncy wicket.) over Swann?Though I understand Monty was given a chance in 1- Game. But you cannot expect that a spinner who is given once chance in 8 test to perform straight away. He need to bowl regularly. Coming Back to Swann - Who has almost forgotten to Spin the ball. He is going through the same phase has "Indian Off- Breakee" Harbajjan did. The Result was he was dropped!!

  • madhu on December 16, 2013, 5:01 GMT

    Cant agree more with legsidewide. English sports writers always exaggerate english sports performances to the extreme. Only a short time ego they were describing Greame Swann as the 'Greatest Spinner in the world', James Anderson as the 'Greatest Fast bowler in the world', Alastair Cook as the 'Greatest Batsman in the world' and conveyed the impression that the current English team is better than Clive Lloyd's West Indies team

    Even this is nothing compared to what their Tennis writers do. If you read only English sports writers, you can be pardoned for thinking that Tim Henman is a mixture of Boris Becker and Pete Sampras and Andy Murray is better than Roger Federer and Ruffel Nadal combined

  • Kenso on December 16, 2013, 4:58 GMT

    As an Aussie I really thought we were in for a tough summer. This english side is/was full of class players and I was just hoping that we would put up a fight. Even after the Gabba I thought the poms would fight back. What has happened since then has been probably the biggest cricket upset since Mcgrath rolled his ankle in 05. England have just been ambushed and its about to cost them the urn. Whats worse for them is without Broad they 5-0 looks like a real possibility as they just seem unwilling to fight. Think it might also spell the end for Prior, KP and Swann to make way for youngsters as they have a relatively easy series against WI before they take on India

  • Rob on December 16, 2013, 4:35 GMT

    Prior's been woefully out of form since the start of the last English season. Now his keeping has fallen away as much as his batting. With age catching up on Prior it has to be Bairstow for the rest of this series then either him or Buttler long term. Thanks Matt, but your time is done.

  • Pankaj on December 16, 2013, 4:01 GMT

    So good to see an article that is summed up in the headline itself. Quip must be in a parallel universe. Yesterday's piece on Cook was sanitising his performance and praising him for not running away. If that was all he could be praised for, there's nothing left to say really. Australia declare 500 ahead and so now England have to play five sessions and a bit more to save the match.