Match Analysis

Cosmetic changes won't mask England's deep structural flaws

England's inability to compete in the Ashes would once have been a matter of national shame. But the ECB's priorities lie elsewhere

Having carried the drinks for most of the Ashes tour, Gary Ballance now looks set to carry the can for it.
Ballance, despite not having played a first-class game on the tour, is one of the few involved in this campaign who appears to find his place in jeopardy ahead of the two-Test series in New Zealand in March. A couple of others - notably Jake Ball and James Vince - might be waiting nervously for a tap on the shoulder, too.
But most of the main protagonists in the series - the batsmen who have averaged in the 20s, the bowlers who have averaged over 100 - look set to keep their places. And most of those behind the scenes - the administrators who make the policies that have held England back, as well as the development coaches who have failed to develop a player for years - appear to be immune from consequence.
Nobody is advocating a return to the days when England used 29 players in a series (as they did in the 1989 Ashes). And nobody is advocating an adoption of the culture prevalent in football where managers - well, managers anywhere but in north London - are never more than a bad fortnight away from the sack.
But there has to be a balance. And the problem England - and the ECB - have at present is that they are in danger of breeding and encouraging mediocrity. And, while what appears to be a cosy life goes on for many of those involved, nobody is taking any responsibility.
The ECB have, you know, a pace bowling programme. It is designed to identify the most talented young bowlers and provide them with the best coaching and support to ensure they avoid injury as much as possible. It is designed to optimise their ability and ensure England get the best out of them.
Sounds great, doesn't it?
But let's look at the results: their first change in this Test is a medium-fast bowler who was born in South Africa and invited to England as a 17-year-old. And hard though Tom Curran has worked - and his efforts have been faultless - he has not looked likely to take a wicket. Meanwhile the fast bowlers who have developed in county cricket - the likes of Jamie Overton, Olly Stone, Mark Wood, Atif Sheikh, George Garton, Stuart Meaker and Zak Chappell - are either injured or not deemed consistent enough for selection.
The poverty of the programme has, to some extent, been masked by the enduring excellence of James Anderson and Stuart Broad. That's the same Anderson who went through the Loughborough experience, sustained a stress fracture, lost his ability to swing the ball and reverted to bowling how he did originally. Take them out of this attack - and time will eventually defeat even the apparently indefatigable Anderson - and you have real trouble for England. You have an attack that will struggle to keep them in the top six of the Test rankings.
The ECB have a spin bowling programme, too. A programme that has delivered so little that, here in Sydney, they have taken a punt on a talented kid who, in a more sympathetic domestic system, would be learning his trade bowling over after over for his county. But, as it is, with the Championship squeezed into the margins of the season, Mason Crane (who did fine here after a nervous start; Shane Warne took 1 for 150 on Test debut, remember) has struggled to warrant selection for Hampshire (he played half their Championship games in 2017 and claimed 16 wickets). Other promising young spinners - the likes of Ravi Patel and Josh Poysden - could tell a similar tale.
Meanwhile Adam Riley, who not so long ago was viewed as the most talented young spinner in England - some well-known pundits recommended him for Test selection - didn't play a Championship game for his county, Kent, last season having previously been identified for inclusion in the ECB's spin programme. Does that sound like a success story?
It is not just those at Loughborough to blame. The county system is ever more marginalised by those who set the policies in English cricket - the likes of Tom Harrison and Andrew Strauss - so the development of Test quality cricketers has been arrested. The struggle to develop red-ball players will only be accentuated by the decision to have a window for white-ball cricket in the middle of the season. With so many games played either before the end of May or after the start of September (when the start time is brought forward to 10.30am), the need for quality spin and pace has been diminished. Why bother to invest in the time and effort of developing such players or fast bowler when the likes of Darren Stevens can hit the seam at 65 mph, nibble the ball about, and prove highly effective?
But will anyone be held accountable for this Ashes defeat? Will the director of England cricket take responsibility? Will the development coaches? Will the executives who prioritise T20 over the success of the Test side? Judging by recent events - Harrison telling us that, actually, England cricket has had a fine year, that the pace bowling programme is delivering "excellent results" (he namechecked Mark Footitt as an example of its success) and that changes to the governance of the sport somehow represent an "exciting moment" - the answer is a resounding no.
In the longer term, there is talk around the camp of the creation of a new position. A manager might be appointed - particularly on tours - who would be responsible for discipline within the squad and act as a sort of big brother for players who may be struggling. It would be no surprise if that new appointment - no doubt a recently retired player with experience of such tours - was in place by the time England depart for Sri Lanka in October.
There's probably some sense in such an idea. But it does grate a little that England's response to this latest series loss abroad is the appointment of another layer of middle management.
It's not as if they don't have a fair few figures on tour already. There's already a coach, an assistant coach, a batting coach and, in normal circumstances, a bowling coach. That's before we even consider the doctor, physio, masseuse, selector, strength & conditioning coach, topiarist and women who makes balloon animals. OK, those last two were made up, but you get the point. Does another manager on tour really answer the questions England are facing? Or does such an appointment further obfuscate who takes responsibility when things go wrong?
The fact is this: England have lost eight out of their last 10 away Tests and won none of them. The only away series they have won since the end of 2012 was the one in South Africa in 2015. Despite being awash with money (relatively speaking), England are about to slip to fifth in the Test rankings.
They really shouldn't be satisfied with that.
Ashes defeats used to hurt. They should hurt. If the ECB have in any way become inured to such pain, if they are in any way content with that away record and anything other than entirely focused on improving it, they are not just accepting mediocrity, they are bathing and swilling in it.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo