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

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