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