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ESPNcricinfo examines how England's players acquitted themselves during the disastrous 5-0 defeat in Australia
January 6, 2014
Features : Finest Ashes pace numbers since 1890
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Jarrod Kimber : England's road to hell
Features : Well-prepared England well beaten
Players/Officials: Ben Stokes | Stuart Broad | James Anderson | Graeme Swann | Kevin Pietersen | Chris Tremlett | Tim Bresnan | Alastair Cook | Gary Ballance | Michael Carberry | Ian Bell | Scott Borthwick | Joe Root | Matt Prior | Jonny Bairstow | Monty Panesar | Boyd Rankin | Jonathan Trott
Series/Tournaments: England tour of Australia
A ray of light amid the darkness. In his debut series, Stokes registered England's sole century of the Ashes and claimed one of only two five-wicket hauls to suggest he could be the man to balance the side for many years to come. While his Perth century was the only time he made 50 and his economy-rate with the ball was above four an over, Stokes' performance was still impressive for a 22-year-old in a struggling side. Only Stuart Broad took more than his 15 wickets and no one else averaged above 30. He may not be the finished article, but Stokes should have a golden future.
A series that demonstrated Broad's skill, character and determination as a bowler. Despite an avalanche of abuse from the crowd every time he appeared, Broad retained his focus to such an extent that he claimed 21 wickets in the series, including a six-wicket haul in Brisbane. It was Broad's pace and control that earned England a foothold in several games before Brad Haddin's increasingly inevitable fightbacks won Australia the initiative. Broad showed particular character in Melbourne where, despite bruising from a painful blow sustained to the foot off the bowling of Mitchell Johnson in Perth, he bowled admirably. The days when he could lay claim to allrounder status may have gone, but he has developed into a fine bowler.
The figures are not pretty - 14 wickets at 43.92 apiece- but Anderson bowled a little better than that. He enjoyed no fortune and was forced into extra spells by his colleagues' inability to catch and his own reliability when others went missing in action. All too often he was forced to bowl in second-innings situations where Australia could bat without pressure and having enjoyed very little break between innings. He also suffered the embarrassment of conceding a record-equalling 28 in an over in Perth. But while Anderson's pace remained fine - he touched 90mph at times - he struggled to gain the lateral movement he enjoyed in 2010-11 and, as a consequence, was less dangerous. He gains credit for acting as nightwatchman at Sydney, though. Having just finished another draining session in the field, it took some character to go out and face Johnson and co when his more able colleagues didn't fancy it. It was, as so often in this series, an unequal struggle, but Anderson did not suffer for a lack of bravery.
A sad end to a great career. With many miles on the clock, Swann was unable to summon the dip, drift and spin that once made him such a fine bowler and had little answer to the aggression of the Australia batsmen on pitches offering him little. He didn't bowl badly but he was out-bowled by Nathan Lyon and he finished with a grisly series record of seven wickets at 80.00 apiece and a batting average of just 7.20. He attracted some criticism for his decision to retire mid-series but, knowing he could no longer do what he once could, it was a well-intentioned move from a man who simply felt he had no more to give. The struggle England had to replace him - struggles that are only just starting - underlined his immense value for so long.
Pietersen finished as England's highest run-scorer in the series but will still be hugely disappointed not to have passed 300 runs or registered a century in the series. He battled hard in several innings, not least in Melbourne where he made 71 and 49, and was conspicuous with his encouragement to his colleagues on and off the pitch throughout the tour. But England required more from their senior players and some of Pietersen's dismissals - caught at long-on, midwicket and long leg - were unacceptably soft. For a great player - and Pietersen's record really invites no debate on that subject - it was bitterly disappointing.
There was a bizarre level of surprise when Tremlett, selected for the first Test, bowled for England exactly how he had done for Surrey the previous season: accurately, with control and skill but, following a series of injuries and operations, without any of the pace that made him such a dangerous bowler on the previous Ashes tour of 2010-11. He was dropped for the reminder of the series and looks unlikely to play at this level again.
Perhaps England's faith in Bresnan highlights one of the issues with the current team and management. Rooted in the past, the selectors remain adamant that Bresnan is the same bowler who played such a role in England's ascent to No. 1 in the Test rankings, despite growing evidence to suggest he has lost a bit of his nip with the ball and a bit of his confidence with the bat. He remains an admirable cricketer and almost never bowls badly but, in this series at least, he lacked the bite to trouble batsmen on good pitches. He was, however, not helped by some poor fielding off his bowling.
Cook's failure to score a century in any of his 20 Test innings against Australia stretching back to July has been a major reason for England's inability to post competitive scores. But he did pass 50 three times in this series - no one else in the side did it more than twice - and, despite the many slings and arrows fate threw at him - Trott's departure, Swann's retirement, a hopeless side - he did retain a certain world-weary dignity and composure. But he also attracted criticism, not all of it fair, for some negative and reactive captaincy, and leading a side to a whitewash defeat in the Ashes is the sort of thing that stains a record. Certainly, he was unable to lift or inspire his flagging team. It may also be worth noting that, in five series against Australia, he has only once averaged more than 27: in 2010-11 when he averaged 127.66.
While Ballance's fitness at the start of the tour was not it all it might be, it improved over the trip and, while the run tally hardly shows it, he acquitted himself well enough on debut in Sydney. In the first innings a bouncer crashed into his helmet and in the second he was undone by a ball that kept a bit low, but he displayed a good temperament and technique in general and offered some hope for the future. It says something about the tour though, that a man who scored 25 in a single match, is among the few reasons for guarded optimism.
While Carberry saw off the new ball on several occasions - he actually faced more deliveries in the series than Haddin and scored more runs than any England player other than Pietersen - he only made one half-century and never went on to register the big score required of a top-order batsman. He also missed a costly and straightforward chance in the field in Adelaide. Like several of this squad, he may struggle to play another Test.
A bitterly disappointing series for a man who came into it with such high expectations. Bell looked in good form throughout the first three Tests but never went on to make a match-defining contribution and, whether it was hitting a full toss to mid-on or turning an offbreak to short leg, had a hand in his own downfall on several occasions. Some of the shots to which he was dismissed in the final two Tests were as poor as any played by England batsmen in the series. England needed more from such a senior player.
Called into the side for the final Test - one of 18 players used by England in a series for which they originally picked a 17-man squad - Borthwick was slightly flattered by his match figures of 4 for 82: two of the wickets came from full tosses, another to a catch at long on. In between times, though, Borthwick bowled some nice deliveries and showed a temperament that might yet flourish at this level. Whether he quite has the quality with bat or ball remains debatable but, aged 23, he has time on his side.
It says much about England's plight that the man who has been used as an example of hope for the future should end the series out of the side. Root battled hard and, at times, looked a player of some class but was worn down by Australia's high-quality attack. Too often he was tied down - his strike rate of 33.27 was lower than any of the regular top-order batsmen - and then drawn into injudicious strokes - a slog-sweep at Adelaide was especially careless; more often it was simply indeterminate pokes outside off stump. He was omitted for Sydney but few doubt that he will be back soon.
Nothing sums up England's decline more than Prior's experience. Hailed as an example of everything good about the team before the start of the English summer, Prior lost confidence after a run of poor scores and, eventually, saw even his wicketkeeping standards drop. He was omitted from the side for the final two Tests as much for his own good as anything - he appeared worn down by the struggle - but few would bet against him being the man with the gloves in June.
While Bairstow kept neatly enough for long periods and, in Sydney, claimed an outstanding catch, there were a couple of errors in Melbourne that did little to suggest he was the man to replace Prior. Similarly, with the bat, he swung merrily for a while at the MCG but looked too loose to prosper at this level. That he hit three sixes and three fours in his 49 runs across four innings highlights the frenetic nature of his batting.
A contentious selection after enduring a poor season on the pitch and a controversial one off it in 2013, Panesar did little to justify his inclusion. Struggling with his fitness, Panesar was unable to sustain the requisite length and was punished for pitching short in Adelaide, while in Melbourne he was reduced to slinging deliveries down at something approaching medium pace. There were some nice moments - the wickets of Steven Smith and Michael Clarke in Adelaide were a reminder of the fine bowler Panesar once was and, perhaps, could become again - but three wickets at 85.88 and a batting average of 1.00 tell their own story. He remains a liability in the field, too, but may find a way back. In the absence of Swann, he remains one of the best spinners available to England and, aged 31, could recover.
An underwhelming debut saw Rankin fail to do his considerable talent anything like justice. Having failed to force his way into the side for the first Test, there were few subsequent opportunities to do so. After a modest showing in the tour game in Alice Springs, he was not trusted with a debut in Perth - the ground that would have suited him best - and, by the time he was given a chance in Sydney, he looked a long way out of rhythm. He suffered an attack of cramp in the first innings - perhaps a sign of nerves as much as a reflection on his fitness - and struggled to maintain his line in the second. There seems a genuine danger that he will join the ranks of one-cap wonders.
Trott left the series after one game when his performance was clearly impaired by a stress-related condition. His loss sent shockwaves through the side and his calming contributions at No. 3 - even in the series in England when he struggled, Trott reached 40 in five out of 10 innings - were never adequately replaced. Recent reports suggest he is recovering well.
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: George Dobell
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