Match Analysis

Tea and sympathy won't suffice as England face up to another drubbing

Stoicism is an admirable trait that serves the country well, but it's time to get really rather cross about the state of English cricket

There's a pattern of behaviour prevalent in England which dictates that, in times of extreme stress or emotion, we should do almost anything but acknowledge the truth.
So we sit around the hospital beds of the dying, telling them they'll soon be back on their feet. We tell doctors we hardly drink, never smoke and go the gym almost every night. We go to funerals and tell each other the wife-beating alcoholic had a heart of gold. Her bottom never looks big in that and there's almost nothing - not nuclear war or zombie apocalypse - that can't be overcome with a nice cup of tea.
It is, in some ways, a wonderful quality. It was that stoic refusal to acknowledge reality that enabled a previous generation to win a war that, in cricket terms, had them following on in gloomy light and on a pitch showing signs of uneven bounce. And the band on Titanic - just like the Barmy Army - played all the way down.
But there are moments when it is also an incredibly irritating characteristic. And damaging. So, just as you really should get that mole checked out, just as that lump probably won't go away, England really should acknowledge that this Ashes series really wasn't close.
There were moments - flashes might be a better word - when it looked as if England could compete. When James Vince reached 83 in Brisbane; when Australia were reduced to 76 for 4 in the same match; when Jonny Bairstow and Dawid Malan took England to 368 for 4 in Perth. On these occasions, it appeared England were working their way into a good position.
But they only made 302 in that first innings in Brisbane. They trailed by 215 on first innings in Adelaide (even though Australia declared their own first innings with eight wickets down). Only three men passed 25 in England's first innings in Perth, and only two men in the top seven managed more than 22 on the flattest Melbourne pitch you ever will wish you hadn't seen.
This was a team trying to snatch a goal on the break. This was Frank Bruno catching Mike Tyson with his left hook; Greg Thomas dislodging Viv Richards' cap; England's openers enjoying a good start (they were 101 without loss) against West Indies at Lord's in 1984; Graham Dilley reducing them to 54 for 5 at Lord's in 1988. Looking back now, they were far from reflective of the general balance of power. They were the cat hissing at the dog; the condemned man cursing his firing squad. To suggest they represent squandered opportunities is largely delusional.
So, while it's true that Steve Smith was a difference between the teams, he wasn't the only difference. The same could equally be said about Nathan Lyon and the Australian pace attack. So that's the batting, pace bowling and spin bowling covered, then. England were out-gunned from the start. They haven't squandered moments of great promise. They've occasionally caught sight of them in the distance when the clouds parted for a moment. But, actually, now they look again, it may have been a cow.
You can't really blame players for buying into the narrative - a narrative repeated several times by Joe Root and most recently by James Anderson - that the series was decided by a few key moments. It comes with the territory in top-level sport that the protagonists have to maintain high levels of self-belief. They have to believe they can win. It's part of the make-up of a champion.
But you would hope that none of those in positions of power fall for such nonsense. You would hope they reflect on this Ashes series - a series in which Australia scored in excess of 600 twice, won by an innings twice (despite losing the toss on both occasions), had the three highest run-scorers and four highest wicket-takers - and understand that it was a rout.
Nor should it be dismissed as an aberration. England have now lost nine of their most recent 11 overseas Tests. Sure, playing in Australia and India is tough. But England didn't win in the Caribbean, either. Or Bangladesh. Or New Zealand, the UAE or Sri Lanka. Living off their success against South Africa in 2015 - excellent result though it was - is a car driving on fumes.
It'll keep happening, too. Sure, they may snatch the odd series - perhaps in New Zealand in a couple of months, perhaps in the Caribbean at the start of 2019 - because they have, in Ben Stokes and Root and Anderson, a few top-quality players. But generally, such wins will come very much against the norm while England prioritise their white-ball development at the expense of their red-ball team. Until they can develop more spin and fast bowlers, until they stop hiding behind wins on home surfaces, they will remain also-rans in Test cricket.
Some will say this tour went wrong in September. And it is true England lost a key player - and just a bit of their energy and equilibrium - when Stokes was arrested that night in Bristol. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the affair (and the proper authorities can decide that) there are lessons to be learned about the level of sacrifice inherent in the life of an international sportsperson. There might well be some justification for some of Stokes' actions that night. But should he have been there in the first place?
But it went wrong long before that. It went wrong when the ECB continued their exclusive relationship with a subscription broadcaster long after it had become clear it was damaging the long-term health of the game. As a result, cricket lost relevance in the public consciousness. The talent pool on which the game relies has grown shallow and is absurdly over-reliant upon the private schools, Asian and ex-pat communities.
England haven't squandered moments of great promise. They've occasionally caught sight of them in the distance when the clouds parted for a moment
It went wrong when the Championship was shoved into the margins of the season, when counties were incentivised for fielding teams of young, England-qualified players, when the ECB stopped believing in their own domestic competitions and allowed them to be diluted and devalued.
While the suspicion lingers that Root caught the bug that laid him low on the final day of the series while eating jelly and ice-cream at a kid's birthday party (it was his son's birthday on the fourth day of the game), that will do nothing to derail the narrative that he lacks the maturity or gravitas of a leader, even though there is no evidence for that save his boyish face.
To see Root in the field, coaxing and cajoling his side into another effort, was to see a born leader. To see him behind the scenes, handling each crisis with calm good humour and ensuring this tour did not sink to the levels of the 2013-14 debacle, was to see a young man with strength, energy and integrity. He simply wasn't dealt a handful of aces. He's not the problem here.
And nor is Trevor Bayliss. Sure, he's not a technical coach. And nor is he a selector in the sense that he has the knowledge of county cricket to offer much there. His job, in essence, is to keep the first-team environment positive and focussed. And he's good at that. It's not his fault that England can't produce pace or spin bowlers. He's not an alchemist.
No, the trouble is much higher up the pyramid than that. The problem is the ECB chief executive, Tom Harrison, trying to kid us that English cricket is in good health, and Andrew Strauss who has achieved little in his time as director of England cricket other than settling a couple of old scores: getting rid of Peter Moores and Kevin Pietersen. If teams are judged by their success in global events - as Strauss has always said - it is worth remembering they did worse in the 2017 Champions Trophy than the 2013 Champions Trophy.
Blaming Stokes or Bayliss or Root for this loss will solve nothing. It's more fundamental change - and an acknowledgement of their problems - that England require. And a nice cup of tea. Obviously.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo