December 31, 2013

Outplayed and outdone by Australia

England have been hammered in this series, but that doesn't mean the players and coaches are not good enough anymore

It is probably inevitable that after a tour like this there will be questions asked about our futures and the futures of our captain and coaches. After arriving in Australia full of hope and expectation, we have been badly beaten. There's no getting away from that.

All I can say is that in my ten years of playing for England, we have never had it so good. We have all the information, all the facilities, all the advice and all the encouragement. The coaches can't go out and score hundreds or take wickets. That is up to us as players. We have let our coaches and captain down.

People forget that it is only a year since Alastair Cook led us to victory in India. He showed magnificent leadership on that trip and retains the respect of the whole side. He is a lead-from-the-front captain and although he will be a bit disappointed by his lack of big scores on this trip, we all know what a fine player he is. I thought his batting in the second innings in Melbourne was very good, too.

It is the same with Andy Flower and the coaching staff. These are the same men who led us to No. 1 in the world, the same men who we all praised when we won three Ashes series in a row, when we won in India, even at the end of the England summer. It is not their fault we have played so far below the level of which we are capable. We remain as well a prepared team as any in the world.

Clearly I was as guilty as anyone for my second-innings dismissal in Melbourne. In the last five years I have prided myself on my ability to make runs under pressure and when the team need them most, so to let them down on this occasion was particularly disappointing.

I have to give credit to Nathan Lyon, the bowler. I was trying to drive the ball on the ground through extra cover, but there was more drift than I thought, I didn't quite get to the pitch and ended up spooning it to mid-off. It was the sort of freakish dismissal I have fallen to quite a few times on this odd tour. I still feel in good form. I still feel confident every time I go out to bat.

I passed 1000 Test runs for the year during the game. Michael Clarke was the only other man to achieve that during 2013 and it is a milestone of which I am quite proud. I hope people will remember that a couple of low scores do not suddenly mean you have forgotten how to play the game.

It is just the same with other members of the team. Cook became the youngest man to score 8000 Test runs during the Melbourne Test, James Anderson and Stuart Broad created chances that we failed to take in the field, and Kevin Pietersen is now the fourth-highest Test run scorer in England's history. Players like that deserve to have some credit in the bank.

Defeat in Melbourne hurt us deeply. It reminded me of the Test in Adelaide in 2006-07, when, having fought ourselves into a strong position, we let it slip. It just goes to show how important every session is in Test cricket, I suppose, but it wasn't good enough.

We have to hold our hands up individually and collectively. We were timid in our second innings when we should have taken the game to Australia. It's not good enough at Test level just to defend and allow pressure to build. You have to try and dictate a bit.

Australia seem to have reacted better than us during the back-to-back series. They have learned where to bowl to each of us and they have executed their plans brilliantly. They have been better than us in that regard.

Maybe we are at the start of a new journey. We have to draw a line under the team that won so much over the last five years and accept that this is a new team with several young players. It will take a while for the likes of Ben Stokes, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow to gain the experience you need at this level, and learning in front of 90,000 people at the MCG is a big ask. In fact, it is as tough an environment as I have experienced. That makes it all the more important that senior players like me step up and help them.

There is no denying the fact that we have sustained a big blow on the chin on this trip. And there's no denying it has hurt. But anyone who is waiting for the tour to finish might as well go now. We are playing for our pride and we are playing for our futures. More importantly, we are playing for our country.

We have to show we still have the desire, the quality and the strength to play at this level. I have every faith in my team-mates and myself. We go to Sydney full of fight and determination.

A fixture in England's middle order for almost a decade, Ian Bell has played in four Ashes-winning sides

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