Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 2nd day January 4, 2014

Back to the days of boom and bust

England's chief executive David Collier has guaranteed Andy Flower a job until 2015 - and the debrief on England's Ashes humiliation has not begun. Can that be right?

#politeenquiries: Do England fans deserve a refund?

Had Mark Lathwell emerged from the pavilion, blinking in surprise at the large crowd, England could not have looked more out of place in Sydney.

As their top-order was brushed aside with embarrassing haste, it was as if the last decade or so hadn't happened. This could have been 1993. Or 1989. Or 2006. Or 2002. This was a day as ignominious as any in England's recent history. And the competition for that title is starting to hot up.

It will not do to defend England with reminders of their success in recent years. And it will not do to claim that England's army of coaches, selectors and support staff are well-intentioned and hard working. Such qualities must be taken for granted at this level. It is not enough.

Nor is it enough to claim that such reverses are part and parcel of the cyclical nature of professional sport. Only a few weeks ago, Hugh Morris claimed - in an act of hubris reminiscent of Gordon Brown's speech about ending boom and bust economics - that England had put the foundations in place to secure continuity and lasting success. The ECB cannot have it both ways.

Now, despite all the millions invested in academies and tours and coaches and facilities, England are on the brink of a 5-0 defeat against a decent but far from great Australian team. England are as low as they have been for a long time.

Question No. 1: How is it, before Paul Downton has begun any series debrief, that the ECB's chief executive is guaranteeing that Flower will be team director in 2015? Has the England team became as cosy and unmeritocratic as that?

Certainly, the evidence of recent times raises searching questions that Paul Downton, the new MD of England Cricket, and Andy Flower, the Team Director, need to answered before any decisions are made about the future of captains, coaches or selectors.

For example:

How is it, before Downton has begun any series debrief, that the ECB's chief executive, David Collier, is guaranteeing that Flower will be team director in 2015? Has the England team became as cosy and unmeritocratic as that?

How does Boyd Rankin, an experienced fast bowler good enough to justify selection for Test cricket, good enough to have been praised by Marcus Trescothick as the most hostile he faced one season, turn up for a game unable to get through 10 overs in the first innings or hit a barn door in the second? And how is that, like debutant Simon Kerrigan before him, he has failed to do himself justice by such a large margin?

How does a record-breaking batsman like Alastair Cook - the youngest man to 8,000 Test runs in history - lose form to such an extent that he was dismissed when leaving a routine, straight delivery for the second time in the series?

How do batsmen as good as Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell fall to basic technical errors, pushing at deliveries without foot movement, appearing, despite all their success over recent years, utterly devoid of confidence?

How is it that England's batting, despite a line-up boasting several players who may be recalled as some of the best to represent the country, has been so atrocious that it is now 25 Test innings since England scored 400? And how is it that they have been dismissed for under 200 five times in this series?

How is it that ECB coaches, at Lions level at least, exist below the radar for years without any track record of success other than not rocking the boat?

And how is it that, for all the specialist spin bowling coaches, all the investment in facilities and spin-camps in Asia, that England are not able to find a young spinner who can reliably land the ball on the cut strip?

The answer to all these questions may well be the team environment. While individual players must all, ultimately, take responsibility for their performances, there have to be questions asked about an environment where so many players have lost form at the same time. There have to be questions raised about an environment where coaches seem incapable of lifting players and where an entire squad seems so bereft of confidence and enjoyment.

Every one of these England players is better than this. With one or two exceptions, the squad that left England was the best available and bore more than passing resemblance to the squads that won in Australia in 2010-11 and in England in 2013.

But over recent weeks it has become clear that this England team is playing as a unit worth far less than the sum of its parts. One way or another, the environment requires changing.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Steve on January 8, 2014, 0:51 GMT

    Is the obvious answer too obvious even the experts cant see it?

    If you constantly prepare dry slow, low turning pitches batsmen will suffer on fast bouncy wickets. India have done it for decades. Brilliant at home, terrible away. You can always adjust back to slow wickets however it is much more difficult the other way.

    England have got away with some home series and an Indian series on the back of Swann spinning batsmen out and very good bowling with the Duke cricket ball (Which is very different to other balls used throughout the world) from Anderson, who in my mind is the best old ball, slow wicket, reverse swing, LBW exponant in the game, and Broad who is a genuine tall, hit the deck fast bowler.

    They haven't needed to score 400 as they roll sides for less than 250.

    Until they stop doctoring the pitches and use a similar ball as the rest of the world they will continue this "Champions one day and chumps the next" roundabout they are on.

  • Dummy4 on January 7, 2014, 21:39 GMT

    England need a better batting coach , they should change there few coaching staff , spain coach , batting coach , fielding coach.

  • Alexander on January 7, 2014, 1:46 GMT

    I know its hard to digest as the results and statistics speak for themselves. However, I can't fathom the present England setup being as whimsical as the previous century's. This team possesses the nucleus of the team that got to number one. In three formats. But it would be extremely stupid to lay blame at coaching staff, managers, physios, hairdressers, dry cleaners and the like. The players are tired. exhausted. Out of gas.

    Any cricket fan who has played the game and have spent a season in a team that were cellar dwellers realise the dynamic and the mental strain it is to even turn up to a game. Yes, I know, professionals, getting paid for it all the rest, but that doesn't negate being exhausted.

    England cricket will recover, and probably faster than most would expect. Australia partially has. The West Indies never did. South Africa could if needed to. And India are not far away from the team that held Number 1 considering the mass changes that occurred.

  • patrick on January 6, 2014, 21:37 GMT

    And it'll all look worse after South Africa have given the overrated Australians a hiding.

  • Naveen on January 6, 2014, 20:37 GMT

    IPL is the root cause of this poor show by england players...oh no wait...none of them played IPL...LOL

  • Gautam on January 6, 2014, 19:59 GMT

    I strongly urge Eng fans to read one the best articles on cricket ever (also read comments from your own compatriots)

    Flowers handling of KP saga and him rallying Swann, Broad and others on commenting how Eng will be better off without KP - really tells the story about Eng locker room. Its my way or the high way for Flowers. In such a rigid atmosphere - when things go wrong - they crumble all around you.

    Eng illusion of great team was built upon defeating a rebuilding and shaky Aus and then defeating weak bowling teams like India and SL. As soon as they met competitive bowling units in Pak (how I envy them as an Indian) and SA - they LOST. Something that was papered over by media - by just focusing on and gloating over Ashes victories. Now that they have been humiliated in Ashes by arguably a still weak Aus team - suddenly the inadequacies of the system and team are hitting Eng fans and media right in face Please publish

  • Rolf on January 6, 2014, 16:18 GMT

    @zoot364. There is no way anyone involved should have a guaranteed job after such a catastrophic performance. Imagine that happening in the banking sector! Ahh.

  • Dummy4 on January 6, 2014, 14:09 GMT

    The whole attitude and mentality has to be questioned. Playing slow long innings appears to be the approach...and hasnt worked. Australia have shown positive batting puts teams on the back foot and we need to follow suit.

    I think for the Sri Lanka series, get some new blood and bats who score at good rates in, the aussies rotated strike and punished bad ball so well. We need to be more positive. Takes pressure off bowlers. Cook, Bell, Root and KP need to be scoring at good rates, and should be surrounded by other bats who do this. Moeen Ali, Eoin Morgan, Jos Buttler, Alex Hales(needs short version form but has the ability) could all be part of a stunning England batting unit again.

    Root appears at his best at 4/5 position. Lets give him one of those roles for the year and get the best out of him.

  • Dummy4 on January 6, 2014, 13:25 GMT

    Its one of the humiliating defeat for the England. It is more significant defeat than all other defeat because of simple reason England were favorites at the start of the series. England have lot to think about. Its rather than sacking the players or coaches, they should think about how to encourage them to do well. Its really a challenge. Anyway, 5-0 loss is never acceptable for any team.

  • Dummy4 on January 6, 2014, 9:47 GMT

    Another question worth asking is what has happened to the most promising young fast bowlers in England. In particular, Steven Finn has the height and pace to trouble the best batsmen, and he is the only member of the squad not to have played a test. Given the "success" of those who have, you have to wonder what has happened to him. More generally, most young English quicks seem to have gone sideways at best. Also: Why were 3 tall fast bowlers selected specifically with Perth in mind, and none of them played in Perth? Why does the best county bowler in England (Onions) never get a game? Why did none of England's experienced and talented top 5 score a century? Why do England insist on playing achingly dull cricket? Is there any joy in the England camp at doing a job many of us would kill for?