Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 1st day January 3, 2014

England contribute to own downfall

As England again wilted in the face of an Australia counterattack, inadequacies in the national team environment were laid bare

#PoliteEnquiries: A bad Warne clone

Déjà vu is never so good the fourth time around. England may have juggled their squad, found a new allrounder, called-up a new fast bowler and taken a chance with a young legspinner, but it all came to the same end.

For the fifth time in five Australia first innings this series, England earned themselves a decent position, only to concede it to a counterattack that had Brad Haddin's fingerprints all over it. Mitchell Johnson may well win the Man of the Series award, but Haddin has enjoyed a magnificent campaign and will haunt the nightmares of this England side long after the tour is over. From an England perspective, it was as wearingly familiar as drizzle and slate-grey skies.

The contrasting fortunes of the two lower-orders has been a feature of this series. While Australia's first five wickets contributed only 16 more runs than England's in the first innings of the four completed Tests of the series so far (612 against 596), their last five added an extra 624 (842 to 218). The value of Johnson against the England lower-order and the success of Haddin against England's tiring bowlers has largely defined this Ashes.

Once again, though, England will reflect that they had a hand in their own downfall. The side that dropped Steven Finn for his lack of economy conceded 4.28 an over throughout the Australia innings and during the key sixth-wicket partnership of 128 in 27.2 overs were punished for 21 boundaries.

It should not be a complete surprise. When you call-up a 23-year-old legspinner who was 14th in his county's bowling averages last year, a fast bowler who has not played in over a month and rely on a 22-year-old allrounder who admits he is still learning his trade as a seamer, then you are, in part at least, trusting to chance. The last time an England legspinner took a wicket in a victory for England was in 1968. The bowler was Ken Barrington and the batsman was Seymour Nurse. Scott Borthwick's economy rate in his first innings for England was actually worse than Simon Kerrigan's at The Oval in August.

That even James Anderson was guilty of pitching short was also a reflection of some poor field placements. Lured into overdoing the short ball by the carry of the pitch, there were two men back for the hook throughout much of the stand, with the bowlers discouraged from pitching the ball as full as they might have done.

And, if your attention to detail is going to extend to producing a cookbook, should it not also extend to ensuring there is a set of stumps at both ends in net sessions and ensuring that bowlers do not overstep or dislodge the bails as Ben Stokes did on several times on the first day here? As it is, England's bowlers routinely overstep in practice and need only avoid a single stump.

While Stokes, the silver lining in this gloomy series for England, impressed with his persistence and lively pace, his success was offset by the news that Joe Root had been dropped. For several months, Root has been touted as the future. To see him derailed, at least temporarily, has dimmed a ray of light at the end of this dark tunnel.

But the faults in the English system go back much further than that. If England really want to be able to dispose of lower orders in the way that Johnson and co have managed, then they could sorely do with a bowler of such pace or a match-winning spinner.

But the system designed to produce them is actually holding them back. Not the county system - the environment which has given England Finn, Tymal Mills, the Overton twins, Stuart Meaker and many others - but the extended England environment.

At an open day at the ECB's National Performance Centre not so long ago, there was a presentation that talked with pride about the speeds achieved by some young English bowlers under laboratory conditions. Dig a little deeper, however, and you discover that fastest pace achieved was by Meaker, the Surrey bowler who deteriorated markedly for his exposure to the England environment this time last year, on his first visit to the site. On each subsequent visit, burdened by more advice from ECB specialists, he has become a touch slower.

The experts there will also tell you, with barely concealed pride, that a bowler such as Saeed Ajmal, a man who has been proved to have a legal action, would not be able to progress in English cricket. The experience of Maurice Holmes underlines how hard it is for unorthodox spinners to develop in England.

Around the counties, directors of cricket talk in exasperation of the damaging effects of exposure to the England environment on their players. Look at Finn, or Meaker or Chris Woakes. Even James Anderson, after he had lost his pace, his ability to swing the ball and developed a stress fracture, admitted that he progressed only by going back to what had served him well when he first broke through at Lancashire.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that all the money spent on developing the best players is, in part, holding them back.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Vinod on January 5, 2014, 12:08 GMT

    To be honest much of what is described in the above article is mirrored in indian cricket also. We've had quickies start off at 145 kmph or thereabout and after their first season they turn out to be medium pace trundlers. Eg Ajit Agarkar, ankola, abey kuruvilla, irfan pathan, zaheer khan, MUNAF PATEL. vrv singh, ISHANT SHARMA. The only guy i see who sees himself and bowls like an out and out quickie is Umesh Yadav and hopefull this will continue. All others have their action tampered with, or are told to loose pace for accuracy or their wrist position, bio mechanics, alignment of the planets/stars etc is not good, also with the advent of IPL these guys end up as cannon fodder - biggest example is munaf and ishant. I hope the BCCI selects Craig McDermott as indias bowling coach else these guys have no future and will be glorified off spinners. For England, their setup is much better than india's will always have abetter bowling attack than india's-which is pathetric.....

  • Android on January 5, 2014, 9:50 GMT

    It's the same issue with India. When you watch the likes of Akram or Shoaib Akhtar on TV, you get a sense that in Pakistan, young fast bowlers are told to do one thing: go and bowl as fast as you can. Technique doesn't enter the picture until much much later.

    In India, the BCCI "experts" are so obsessed with intricacies like wrist position, biomechanics, etc, they forget that the job of a fast bowler is to bowl fast!

    That's the difference between the two sides in why Pakistan has a Junaid Khan that regularly clocks 145 kph and we have a Bhuvneshwar Kumar that clocks 125 kph.

    The only decent fast bowler we have today is Mohammed Shami, who has a beautiful and fast bowling action because he was never corrupted by our "academies."

    Otherwise he might have also ended up with an orthodox, but artificial bowling action like Varun Aaron who is injured two days for every day that he is fit.

  • Rue on January 5, 2014, 7:08 GMT

    Bharadwaj will you get over Sachin, he was a great player but that does not mean his records can't be broken?! Cook despite his recent poor form has an amazing record also. He will get it back and score lots of runs, especially against India, you seem to forget England have pretty good record against India which included Sachin. I am not saying cook will amass more runs than Sachin but I do know the ecb won't be changing tours and arranging test matches against weak opposition just to give him a send off when he retires!

  • Christopher on January 5, 2014, 3:10 GMT

    I well recollect advice that Ian Chappell gave to an up and coming batsman on arrival in the Australian team. 'You got here doing things your own way. I don't want you to change a thing.' That is the mind of an enlightened leader speaking. When Phil Hughes joined the Aus squad in '09, he had scored 1637 runs at 96 on 3 continents in the preceding 10 matches, including 8 centuries. The 2 vs SA were against an attack of Steyn, Ntini, Morkel, Kallis and Harris, with 1100+ Test wickets between them at that time. Then suddenly he couldn't play and was described as being 'found out', by the far inferior attack of Flintoff and Co. That myth has survived to this day. What actually occurred, as reported by his then long time mentor, DeCosta, was that he was 'forced to prepare in a way that wasn't suited to him-wasn't suited to his game.' Nielsen described how they had Watson penned in all along as the Ashes opener. My heart goes out to Hughes and the many players destroyed by dangerous coaches.

  • Dummy4 on January 4, 2014, 16:35 GMT

    Australia lineup against south Africa should be: rogers warner doolan Clarke smith Watson haddin Johnson harris lyon siddle. the other squad players should be: bird pattinson hughes faulkner

  • Gerald on January 4, 2014, 11:42 GMT

    There is a reason why most of the best fast bowlers come from outside big metropolitan school areas where they are allowed to settle into a bowling action that suite their individual bio-mechanics - mostly because the intense coaching is not available. While batsmen come from big metropolitan schools where they received lots of game time and intense coaching that honed their batting instinct at a young age. Coaching approaches need to differ between the two skill areas.

  • Indian on January 4, 2014, 10:59 GMT

    The problem is cricket coaching in England and its cricketing structure. County cricket produces batsmen who cannot bat freely, seamers who cant bowl unless they get help from weather and pitch conditions. Spinning skills are non existent. Cricket is "taught" systematically with textbook/ emulation methods which curbs natural talent. The result is that someone like a Malinga/Dhoni/Sehwag/Johnson etc would never come up from such a system... they would have an army of coaches tweaking their action and ultimately spoiling any natural gift they might have. Look at poor Finn!

  • Srinivas on January 4, 2014, 9:56 GMT

    But in 2011, when India toured England, we were told that brits and ECB like test cricket and test cricket only, and that they will go to any lengths to prepare meticulously for it along with unbeatable bench strength to boot, and how BCCI should learn from ECB in giving respect and importance to test cricket!!! What happened to all that gloating and crowing?

  • Millan on January 4, 2014, 9:05 GMT

    You are rightly criticising the selection of Borthwick the leg spinner. But can I remind you that in one of your previous articles after the last lest you were advocating the inclusion of Borthwick!!! That's double standards and playing to the crowd! You were quick to suggest Panesar who has done nothing wrong be dropped! Panesar is by a long way England's best spinner, yet England seen to have a "anyone but Panesar" policy. It's bad treatment for someone who can actually win England matches if treated properly. On that basis, England deserve everything they are getting and nobody should feel sorry for them.

  • Chris on January 4, 2014, 7:01 GMT

    Six months ago it was the development system that was why England were good. For example, Robson played inEngland because more opportunities for first class matches. Etc.

    Now the system is the problem?!

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