The Ashes 2013-14 December 17, 2013

Exhausted and broken

ESPNcricinfo looks at five reasons for England's failure to compete in Australia

Selection and coaching
When the England squad was announced, there was excitement over the inclusion of three unusually tall fast bowlers - Boyd Rankin, Chris Tremlett and Steven Finn - and the expectation that one or all could play a key role on Australian pitches offering pace and bounce.

But anyone who had watched county cricket in 2013 could have confirmed this was always unlikely. There was a mountain of evidence to suggest that Tremlett was not the force he once was and that Finn was enduring something of a crisis of confidence as he weighed up conflicting advice from county and international coaches. It was naive to think that an England set-up with little track-record of improving bowlers - James Anderson and Stuart Broad were international players before the current management took charge - could revitalise such players. It might well have proved helpful to have Graham Onions, the best bowler in county cricket over the last two seasons, on the tour to provide cover and balance.

Rankin may still prove a valuable player but he failed to shine in his few opportunities and, under the guidance of England bowling coach, David Saker, has regressed during the tour. Indeed, Saker's influence requires some reflection: to have failed to capitalise on the substantial talents of Finn is a major stain on his record.

Questions might be asked about Graham Gooch, too. There is little doubt that England have brought, give or take a name or two, their best batting line-up on this trip: the records of Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell will stand the test of time. They have proved they are fine players. But England are failing to maximise their talent. While the primary responsibility must always lie with the individuals, it is fair and sensible to raise questions of a batting coach who seems so unable to coax the best from talented players.

One man who could feel unfortunate not to make the tour is Nick Compton. He was dropped after two poor games at the start of the 2013 English summer - a decision that suggests cliques - but has continued to churn out runs in the county game. The last time England scored 400 in a Test, Compton and Jonathan Trott contributed centuries. His solidity and restraint would have been valuable.

The inclusion of Jonny Bairstow is also questionable. He appears, through no fault of his own, not to be trusted with bat or gloves by the management. So why bring him?

Losing Trott
The departure of Trott disturbed England. It was not just the absence of a top-order batsman, a vital buffer despite his drop in form, but the sight of a friend and colleague in obvious distress shocked the dressing room and disrupted the equilibrium of those left behind. All the planning, all the attempts to create a calm environment were dashed in that moment. England have never recovered.

Mental and physical overload
Trott's descent into exhaustion may be extreme, but it is not unique. Several other members of this squad have progressed further down the same road than should have been allowed. A combination of a reliance upon a few key players in all formats and the ECB's schedule - a schedule that prioritises income above a duty of care to their most important assets - has asked too much of too few.

Since December 2011, no one has faced more deliveries in international cricket than Cook, with Bell and Trott also featuring in the top five. In the same period, no seamer has bowled more deliveries than Anderson or Broad and only R Ashwin has bowled more deliveries than Graeme Swann as a spinner. That is despite Swann undergoing surgery and missing games with a variety of injuries.

But it is not just the quantity of cricket that England have been playing. It is also the environment in which they travel and train. The intensity of the England set-up has done nothing to dispel the pressure that can build up over time with the many virtues of Andy Flower - the attention to detail, the drive - slowly becoming vices as they are repeated over a long period of time without levity. It may be no coincidence that three of those who have fared best in this series are the three that have most recently come into the side: Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Michael Carberry.

Somewhere, somehow, England forgot to enjoy the journey.

Batting and fielding failures
It may seem odd to lump these two aspects of the game together, but the failures in both may well have the same root: weariness and a lack of belief.

Fielding is often the barometer of a team's morale and England's in this series has been poor. By the time Australia declared in Perth, it had sunk to the level of appalling. England's inability to take their chances in the field reached its nadir in Adelaide when an opportunity to dismiss Australia for around 350 was punished ruthlessly and fatally.

The batsmen have failed to score 400 in an innings since March, 22 innings ago, with Stokes the only centurion in the series so far. The failure in England's top order simply exposed a soft middle to lower order before the tail were blown away.

The domestic system
It is no coincidence that, when the England side enjoyed its best years, it was on the back of a sharp improvement in the standard of county cricket. The move to two divisions, the introduction of promotion and relegation, the appearance of strong overseas and non-England-qualified players heralded a particularly competitive era in the county game, with the likes of Justin Langer remarking that it was as tough domestic cricket as he had experienced.

But the ECB could not resist tinkering. It brought in young player incentives, tightened work-permit criteria, took the best players out of the county game for reasons as diverse as Lions matches, rest and gym sessions and created a schedule that squeezed the County Championship into the margins of the season. Furthermore, it allowed games to be staged on homogenised slabs of mud which bear little resemblance to those on which international cricket is played. Many of the initiatives were well intentioned but nearly all of them have backfired.

  • Brydon Coverdale on why Australia were the better side

    George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

  • Comments have now been closed for this article

    • stuart on December 19, 2013, 22:02 GMT

      Could it just be exhaustion and also total shock that Mitchell Johnson has been fast and accurate.

      The real issue is burn out and England's game has been based on grinding efficiency.when they are challenged by a greater force they lack that spark to answer back.the impact players have had no looks out of sorts and the lower order that has supplied the aggression has folded.a lack of catches being taken and a siege mentality has been evident.

      There is plenty of young talent to go forward and this is what happens when one team gains confidence and one loses it

    • StJohn on December 18, 2013, 22:19 GMT

      It's an oft-repeated statement that England's 3-0 win at home flattered them. But it was ever thus in sport: I've never watched a football World Cup without the winner enjoying some decisive luck, or marginal calls/misses, somewhere on the way. Similarly, when SA beat England 2-0 in England a couple of years back, England were totally blown away in the 1st Test of that series, however, but for dropped catches (some real sitters went to ground), it would have been 1-1 or 2-1 to England. In that vein, this 3-0 scoreline to date probably flatters Australia a bit too: England have had their chances, but have failed to take them; and the scoreline owes as much to England's underperformance (whether due to fatigue or otherwise) as Australian exceptionality. Australia are the better team at the moment and deserve to win, but despite the thumping results so far, there still isn't really that much between the two sides. As was the case last summer.

    • Dummy4 on December 18, 2013, 19:24 GMT

      The writing was on the wall for England before this series even started. South Africa had already proven over numerous seasons that most of the English batsmen were very uncomfortable against hostile and genuinely fast bowling. And Pakistan's spinners further highlighted England's batting woes in failing against the extra turn and bounce of drier, dustier pitches in the UAE. In other words the very conditions they would encounter in Australia.

      England became arrogant and complacent, just as Australia had become in 2005. They underestimated and failed to respect their opposition, who were more determined, employed better strategy and tactics, and who quite frankly played a more attractive game of cricket.

      With such negavity in too many aspects of England's game the outcome of this series should not have been a surprise; all that remains to be seen is whether Australia can make it 5-nil.

    • Rahul on December 18, 2013, 13:15 GMT

      Here is my take on things: 1) the slide in English cricket had set in even during the summer Ashes win in England. The 3-0 result was excessively flattering as England escaped winning some key sessions and the Aussies were unfortunate in sevral instances. The series was in fact closer than the scoreline would suggest but for Bell's brilliance the reuslt might have been different 2) The Aussies got it wrong with Agar. HAd they stayed with Lyon they might have been a lot stronger and 3) Mitchell Johnson is clearly making the difference in Australia but again the English were fortunate that Johnson did not get picked in England. He was clearly in good bowling form as he later showed in the ODI series. Net Net, i think England got lucky during the english summer in no small measure becasue the Aussies got thier team selection wrong. Interestingly, man for man the English still have by far the more impressive credentials

    • Stuart on December 18, 2013, 10:37 GMT

      This is one tour too many for too small a group of players. Taking into account the fact that back-back series of such intensity were always going to be arduous and unforgiving tasks, England appear to have hit a physical and mental wall. The players look drained, the management and coaches come across as weary and the performances which peaked at Lords and Chester-le-Street have just dropped alarmingly since. Questions do need to be asked about selection and coaching. Why is Onions not on the tour, why is Finn who was dropped for 4 out of 5 tests in the summer deemed good enough and as you rightly point out, why is Compton not even considered? Although Flower has worked wonders with the team and squad, perhaps new coaches are needed- Thorpe as batting coach is a suggestion and a new face for bowling too. England seem to have adopted a 'cosa nostra' circle where loyalty and familiarity are perhaps valued above newness and the untried.

    • Dummy4 on December 18, 2013, 10:01 GMT

      Australia won all three tosses and chose to bat. England then either dropped or failed to get into position to take vital catches. That is bound to knock confidence. Monty has bowled well but he is still a dreadful fielder. Slow and cumbersome. He is simply not a first class athlete and you can't afford to carry anyone in the field at this level. For similar reasons I would replace Prior, who is unfortunately completely out of form with Jonny Bairstow. Bairstow is a very good keeper, is young, fit and in form with the bat. He is far more likely to score runs that Prior.

    • Richard on December 18, 2013, 8:19 GMT

      An article like this hammers home just how badly the England team have been managed/coached. The purpose of any management structure or coaching is to allow players to perform at their best, or in some cases like Brian Clough in his prime, make people perform above themselves. The opposite is occurring here. Players come into the England team and get worse. What is going on when players like Bairstow & Finn arrive with massive talents and buckets of confidence and end up introspective and ineffective? Not to mention the senior players looking like they'd really rather be anywhere else. Its a damning indictment of the entire staff structure and in my eyes points to a root and branch overhaul being a necessity, including Flower & Saker. There are lots of young keen cricketers around the country, and in Giles a bright cheery coach. Lets get them in.

    • Altaf on December 18, 2013, 7:49 GMT

      England was coward through out the series that led them to sloppy performance. They were better side by far. Before the start of the series, Aus lost 4-0 in India and almost 4-0 in England where as England won 2-1 in tough India and almost 4-0 against Aus. Eng Management didn't handle mental game by Aus well that led them for slippery. Now, only rain can save them from 5-0.

    • Sugath on December 18, 2013, 7:35 GMT

      This series has clearly shown that coaching is not about getting few corrections in the stride of a batter or the few things of a bowler. It shows that it is always about mind conditioning and mind moments. Clearly in mind moments English showed how they delved in the concern and not the influence. The five-door adverting process clearly showed what was wrong with English side. Person with only cricket knowledge but not being able understand the persons is not a good coach. History has shown that good players are not good coaches because a good player is more self-centered and is unable to understand the other, thus not good for coaching. Clearly the best coaches would those with little knowledge of the game but good mind managers. For that you need to understand the 17 mind moments and what that means to each person. With current coaching staff difficult to see England winning the next two games. I am pretty sure that tcoaches must be taking about what is wrong and not what is right.

    • Andrew on December 18, 2013, 7:26 GMT

      @valvolux on (December 18, 2013, 6:29 GMT) - I agree re your comment. The Ashes in England, Oz were one batsmen short - Mike Husseys retirement, was the difference between the 2 teams. At the end of the day England can only beat whoever is put in front of them, but I really believe that the Trent Bridge collapse & the 1st Test falling short, wouldn't of happened under Mr Cricket's watch - that was how close it was. Oz had a lot to play for at the end of the Ashes & in the ODIs because of the short turn around. It will be interesting to see how England respond here, because there is not as much pressing matters to be gained out of the final 2 matches - except for self preservation & avoiding a whitewash. The ODIs will be important for both teams with the W/C just around the corner.

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