The Ashes 2013-14 December 17, 2013

Can England's senior players fight back?

It used to be said that a player never recovers from the disappointment of a poor Ashes tour. What are the prospects for the senior England players who failed to deliver?

It used to be said that a player never recovers from the disappointment of a poor Ashes tour.

There is plentiful evidence in this England side to suggest otherwise: Alastair Cook, Ian Bell, James Anderson and Kevin Pietersen were all part of the grim 2006-07 Ashes campaign yet have gone on to enjoy distinguished careers.

But when a man as reserved as Cook starts to talk about senior figures in the England side "playing for their futures" then you know something has gone seriously amiss.

England, for the first time since 2009, do not hold the Ashes and several of the senior players on which they built their hopes have failed to deliver.

Ashes defeats - particularly overwhelming Ashes defeats - tend to mark watershed moments in careers. There will be calls for resignations, there will be calls for sackings and calls for players to be dropped. It is likely some of those calls will be answered. There may even be a retirement, or at least a partial retirement, in the offing.

It is surely relevant that most of those who have endured disappointing series are those who have been involved in the England set-up for some time. As such, they have played a huge amount of cricket, they have spent around 250 days a year in hotels and they have been in the same high-intensity environment. Somewhere along the line, it appears they have become jaded.

The case of Jonathan Trott - forced home with mental exhaustion - might be extreme, but there are several other players on this tour who might be not so far from a similar fate.

Equally, it may be no coincidence that, of those to have enjoyed better series, three are relatively new to the set-up. Michael Carberry, Joe Root and Ben Stokes are all relatively fresh to international cricket, are yet to be wearied by the treadmill or worn down by the intensity of the England set-up. All three showed the mental strength to fight just a little harder than their more experienced colleagues.

Here we look at the performance of five senior players and weigh-up their chances of being involved when the Ashes is next contested, in England in 2015.

Alastair Cook: Age 28 Record in the series: 154 runs at 25.66 Chances of being involved in 2015: High

By Cook's high standards, he has endured a poor six months. He has not made a century in any of the eight Tests against Australia and, with ponderous feet and a backlift that appears to bring his bat down at an angle, he has looked an increasingly hesitant, awkward figure at the crease. A propensity to plant his back foot may be the long-term issue: he is reaching and pushing for the ball outside the off stump and over balancing towards the off side when playing off his legs. He has also, simplistic though it may sound, been the unfortunate victim of a couple of very fine deliveries. The best batsmen find ways to deal with such issues, but Cook might consider himself somewhat unfortunate. Weariness may be a factor. No batsman in international cricket has faced as many deliveries as as Cook since the 2010-11 Ashes series - he has actually faced more than 1,000 more than anyone else - and he is also carrying the burden of captaincy. When England fought back to win in India, the responsibility appeared to benefit Cook's game but perhaps the attritional nature of the role has worn him down.

He has struggled technically before. Towards the end of 2010, the Pakistan seamers provoked a crisis of self-confidence, before Cook rediscovered his form in Australia. With a record as good as his - he has already scored more Test centuries than any England player - it seems hard to imagine he will not find a way past his current predicament and it is inconceivable that Cook will step down or be sacked in the near future.

James Anderson: Age 31 Record in the series: 7 wickets at 52.48 apiece Chances of being involved in 2015: Medium

Sometimes it is a mistake to judge simply by returns. Anderson has, for much of this series, bowled far better than his figures suggest. While comparisons with the end of Matthew Hoggard's Test career have been made - Hoggard was dropped having lost just a little of his pace - Anderson has been bowling briskly - he passed 90mph in Perth - and has rarely delivered loose balls. But his failure to find much lateral movement has rendered him worryingly impotent on pitches on which Australia's trio of seamers have proved more adept. Anderson has also suffered through the failure of his batting colleagues: provided with little time to rest between innings, he has invariably been forced into the field in the second innings with Australia's batsmen benefiting from a dominant match position. It would be simplistic to dismiss Anderson as dangerous only in English conditions, too: only a year ago MS Dhoni rated him the difference between the teams in India and he was excellent in Australia three years ago. This is far from the vintage performance that Anderson produced in 2010-11, but his chances of being involved when Australia return to the UK in 2015 remain decent.

Graeme Swann: Age: 34 Record in the series: 7 wicket at 80 apiece. Chances of being involved in 2015: Low.

Swann has bowled better than his figures suggest. On pitches offering him little - he is far from the first spinner to find life tough in Australia - and invariably facing match situations providing the batsmen with a license to attack, he has been given very little opportunity to shine. The relative lack of left-handers in the Australian order has done him few favours, either, while the lack of turn has rendered his arm-ball something of an irrelevance. You could not tell from the figures, but he produced his best bowling of the series in Perth, gaining pleasing dip and beating as good a player of spin as Michael Clarke in the flight in the first innings. He has failed to find much turn, however, and has also not generated the bounce of his opposite number, Nathan Lyon. There have been occasional, though unconfirmed, signs that his right elbow - twice operated upon and an increasing concern - is bothering him again and a nagging suspicion that he is not quite able to sustain the dip and turn he once could through long spells. With many, many miles on the clock and plentiful opportunities in other walks of life beckoning, it would be no surprise if Swann retired from at least one form of the game in the coming weeks.

Kevin Pietersen Age: 33 Record in the series: 165 runs at 27.50 Chances of being involved in 2015: High.

It is the manner of Pietersen's dismissals that provokes such criticism. It can often seem he is getting himself out: twice he has been caught clipping to mid-wicket, twice he has been caught pulling and once he has been caught on the long-on boundary when trying to drive over the fielder positioned for the stroke. But such a view fails to credit the excellence of the Australian bowling against him. Pietersen has been tied down by tight bowling and inventive fields that have led to him looking for release shots. While the redoubtable Peter Siddle has gained the credit for having something of a hold over Pietersen, the truth is less straightforward. Pietersen was often forced to defend for long periods against Johnson and Harris and looked to target Siddle as the weaker member of the seam unit. People may look for easy explanations - his recent knee problems, for example - but there is little evidence of any long-term issue other than his frustration at being tied down by good, accurate bowling. There has been no shortage of fight: his strike-rate for the series - 51.40 - is considerably down on his career rate - 62.01 - and Pietersen has been conspicuous in his efforts to advise and encourage other members of the squad. He has had a disappointing series, certainly, and some will always look to punish him for perceived errors in the past. But Pietersen has recently suggested he intends to continue playing international cricket until 2015 and, whether in decline or not, remains as dangerous a player as England possess. He is far too good to be jettisoned.

Matt Prior Age: 31 Record in the series: 107 runs at 17.83 Chances of being involved in 2015: Low.

From the moment in May that Prior was presented with England's player of the year award for the previous 12 months, his form has deteriorated. At first it was just his batting - Prior has made only one half-century in 19 subsequent innings - but of late his keeping has started to suffer, too. As a player who likes to counter-attack, part of the problem is that Prior has been brought to the crease too early against a hard ball and fresh bowlers. But he has also shown some faulty shot selection, failing to show the requisite patience and judgement about which balls to leave and defend. And, as his run of low scores increased, so his confidence has fallen. He has been another victim of some fine, disciplined bowling from Australia. The fact that his challengers - the likes of Jos Buttler, Steve Davies or Jonny Bairstow - are deemed either not to be ready or not to be in the best of form, might win him some more time, but Prior has already been the beneficiary of the selectors' faith. Time is running out for him.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • glenn on December 20, 2013, 1:56 GMT

    Posted by ArthursAshes on (December 19, 2013, 8:36 GMT)

    You said 'Forget about what happened in the Tests' Um that's all we're talking about. There are only 5 pitches we have to worry about. So far the Aussies have scored 700+ on the first three. They certainly haven't been 'bowler friendly' for England. If the English keep blaming tosses or pitches then they will continue to be smashed.

    And forget Berry, he's having a bleat because the Vics are hopeless this year.

  • Dummy4 on December 20, 2013, 1:20 GMT

    Prior's main problem is not his batting - it's his wicket keeping! Those missed stumpings are much more important than how many runs he scores. His problem is that he's been given the role as main arbiter on whether to refer or not. He's trying to watch everything when he should be watching the ball into his gloves.

    I want changes now - I want Pietersen, Swann, and Prior out and start from there. I'd move Bell to open and push Cook to 3.

  • Jon on December 19, 2013, 23:29 GMT

    Swann is not the bowler he was. He hasnt been worked out, he has elbow and shoulder problems. Would not be surprised if he retires after ashes or very soon after. Anderson, while still occasionally hitting good pace is generally slower than he was. He looks almost as if trying to extend his career by bowling within himself. It could end up finishing it. Cook and Pieterson will play as long as they want. Look at the way the Aussies celebrate Pietersons wicket. Only question for Pieterson is desire, for Cook whether a return to the ranks would help his batting. Prior has been batting poorly and his keeping has been dire. He appears to have either lost confidence or burnt out. How well he bounces back will be a test of him and the management.

  • Inam on December 19, 2013, 16:50 GMT

    i agree that England played very slow, specially KP and Prior, they have some soft dismissal too. The key to England success in the past was mainly cook holding one end and batsmen at other End score freely, look at innings from Bell and KP in India, it was Cook holding the other end and there are no collapses, Ashes in England although Cook did not play well bu Root was doing similar task and it was close series than the result shows 3-0 England was far less convincing than 3-0 Aussies here. This is still very good England team, players caught up in bad patch a lot of them at the same time, They might win next two if they play positive and put score on the board to give any chance to bowling unit to get 20 wickets.

  • John on December 19, 2013, 14:50 GMT

    @maximum6 on (December 18, 2013, 23:25 GMT) The problem is - as I've cited as a potential problem for a while - is that England batsmen have got into the habit of getting bogged down and not moving the game forward. It seems to be a mindset thing. KP and Prior are both going at a SR at around 50 but 3 of KPs inns and 5 of MPs have been significantly under a SR of 50. In general playing a positive inns is so alien to English batsmen that when there becomes a situation where we have to chase the game we look panicky when trying to be positive. Also I've seen Bairstow showing positive intent for England before and Ballance has a rep for being a positive batsman

  • ian on December 19, 2013, 11:04 GMT

    With the Ashes gone, England really needs to begin the rebuilding process without further delay. This means that there are some huge calls to make & not ones that Andy Flower can view with his usual equanimity. The prospect of Rankin &/or Ballance making their debuts in front of about 85,000+ triumphant Aussies is not one that can be viewed with a great deal of confidence. No matter. It has to be done, for the sake of the long-term. What England needs most of all is a positive statement of intent that takes away the fear & trepidation that has seeped through in the previous three Tests. Some reputations have been damaged, but if some are repairable, by the same token, some are not. Swann & Prior have been extremely good England players, but how many last chances should they be given? If Broad isn't fit, then Rankin plays .And it just may be that Ballance sits this one out as Jonny B must surely be given his chance. Otherwise his tour selection looks absurd. No easy calls for the G.

  • Jason on December 19, 2013, 10:51 GMT

    @jmcilhinney, I think we've seen a very jaded england team, weary from tours away and seeing the inside of hotel rooms, India were in very similar situation in 2011, where thier senior players all looked a little jaded.

    I thought it was a mistake to play key test players in the ICC Champions trophy especially with the schedule, we had at the back end of the year.

    When you look at the number of tests played since 01-jan-2012 England have playeed 28 tests, only 13 of those have been at home, by Jan 10th 2014 it will be a total of 30 tests, 17 Away, compare that to Aus who will have played 26 tests, with only 12 away.

  • martin on December 19, 2013, 8:36 GMT


    Forget about what happened in the Tests, look it up, Australia have been producing more bowler friendly wickets for their cricket. Here's one comment last year from South Australia coach Darren Berry about producing "green tops".

    Berry told reporters Cricket Australia needed to look into "the state for first class wickets across the country. Wickets all around the country are very, very bowler friendly."


    I'm not saying the younger Australian bowlers are no good or can't bowl fast, it's just that a lot of it is promise and they do seem to be injury prone. They've also been helped by home pitches that are bowler friendly. It isn't just about bowling fast either, the radar has to be right, ask Mitch.

    The big problem Australia has in the future is batting. Where are the young batsman? Some have been tried and found out, that's why the current Australian team went for experience, even newcomer Bailey is 30. Who replaces Clarke and Watson?

  • Graham on December 19, 2013, 3:33 GMT

    ArthursAshes; Last summer Starc was clocked at 148 k/hr (92.5mph), Patterson was clocked at the same speed in India. Cummins has always been at that pace as well. We do have young bowlers with genuine pace. Patterson at the start of his career tore through the Indian batsman who came over here as favourites to win. Right now I wouldn't have any of these three in our best team as the incumbents are performing. But if needed and injury free they are certainly talented enough to contribute.

  • John on December 18, 2013, 23:50 GMT

    I've said elsewhere that the England players being jaded is not an excuse but it may be at least part of the reason for their poor performance. The problem is that there really is no solution to that issue. It's hard to become unjaded without time away from the situation, which means that some of those players would have to be dropped or else walk away from international cricket. That may spell the end of the road for some of them. I'm not sure that anyone would appreciate any player making themselves unavailable for selection without fairly extreme cause, e.g. Trott, but if these players' loss of form is more than just a loss of form then continuing to play may not be of any help.