England must admit they have a problem January 6, 2007

Time to tell the truth

Australia's planning for their Ashes tour-de-force began the day after they relinquished the urn at The Oval in September 2005. This time the ECB have tried to go one better.



England have failed to own up to their mistakes © Getty Images

Australia's planning for their Ashes tour-de-force began the day after they relinquished the urn at The Oval in September 2005. This time the ECB have tried to go one better. While the Australian team were still singing in the SCG dressing rooms a press release announced a 'broad-ranging' review into the tour.

In fact, the catalyst behind this move was a paper issued by David Collier on December 29 - three days before the final Test - so at least it shows the board would not have hidden behind a face-saving victory, had England managed such a result at Sydney. However, having said that the investigation will be 'comprehensive' they must live up to their word and if tough decisions are needed must make them.

While knee-jerk reactions are not going to help England rebound from the most depressing period in their recent history, it is the lack of any real reaction that has been most disturbing. There is now no point dallying around trying to extract the minute positives. Last week West Ham were thrashed 6-0 in the Premiership but if the post-match reaction had followed the Fletcher-Flintoff handbook Alan Curbishley would have been speaking of 'missed opportunities' and 'the fighting qualities of his side.'

Instead, Curbishley said: "I don't want to hear how good they were last year [when West Ham enjoyed a reasonable season]. It's nonsense - last year is last year ... it's a different season. Everyone keeps telling me about last year - and I don't want to hear it any more." How England could have done with more of that attitude during the last six weeks.

After each Test there has inevitably been reference to the 2005 success, saying how it showed that this England team knew how to beat Australia and would continue to believe in themselves. But as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and the soundbites have become more and more hollow up to the point where Andrew Flintoff's post-match reaction in Sydney - "Their efforts [the England players] throughout the series - they've kept coming back, kept working, and kept their intensity. They've tried to improve and perform, and you just can't fault that" - just left you wondering whether they'd been playing in a parallel universe.

Nasser Hussain and Ian Botham, never ones to hide their emotions, have been scathing about England's attitude about not owning up to their mistakes. Supporters are not easily fooled and the pain of endless defeats is only exacerbated when the coach and captain seem oblivious to the failings. Obviously, they aren't, but a touch of honesty would go down much better with the public. It is hard to believe there is a single person who seriously thinks England had their preparation right before the first Test - but Fletcher continues to be adamant they did.

Now the responsibility falls onto the shoulders of the ECB. A small, but significant, section of the statement about the review says its role is "To determine how Team England performances during the period 2003-07 should be improved." That, coincidently, is the period covered by the ECB's last mission statement, which was to make England the best team in the world by 2007. No amount of rhetoric or spin can pretend they have been successful. Admittedly they had their moments, the 2005 Ashes and their tremendous run in 2004, but as with other pretenders to Australia's crown at vital times the march has been halted as minds have wandered and the bar has been pushed higher.

If positives are to come from this whitewash there can't be any hiding behind injuries, Champions Trophy tournaments or past success. England don't have to be terminally scared by this winter - there is a better structure in place than the early '90s when the game lurched from one series to another - but, as all the best therapists will say, the first part of solving a problem is firstly admitting that you have one.

Andrew McGlashan is editorial assistant of Cricinfo