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Feature

Ten losses, one draw - Running the rule over England's decade of Ashes desperation

Once again, England have slipped behind after the first Test in Australia. The recent omens aren't great

Andrew Miller
Andrew Miller
13-Dec-2021
Joe Root leads England off the field after the team's defeat  •  Getty Images

Joe Root leads England off the field after the team's defeat  •  Getty Images

England have not won a Test match in Australia for 11 years and counting, in which time they have lost ten and drawn one across three separate series. As the attention shifts to the second Test at Adelaide, here's a run-down on a decade of defeat ... ranked in order from the moderately competitive, to the downright hideous
10. Second Test, Adelaide 2017-18
Lost by 120 runs
Two pink-ball Tests in this Ashes series could in theory play to England's advantage, but aside from speculating about the cooler evening conditions and the sense that swing is good for England and bad for Australia, all there is to go on is a solitary precedent on the 2017-18 tour. And seeing as England's 120-run defeat in that match is their narrowest loss in Australia this decade, then they might as well consider it a floodlit life-raft. More pertinently, the match featured a James Anderson masterclass in the second innings - his 5 for 43 routed Australia for 138 and briefly aroused hopes of a miracle, much as his impending recall is likely to do now. Mitchell Starc, however, is still around to ensure it won't be forthcoming.
9. First Test, Brisbane 2017-18
Lost by 10 wickets
England still wonder how this one got away, let alone with such a gory final margin. From first day to last, Australia absorbed England's energies as if it was fuel to their own internal fires - most extraordinarily Steve Smith, whose magnificent 141 not out from 326 balls included a passage of play so glacial that he added just 17 runs on the third morning. With Pat Cummins alongside him, he turned what looked like being a 100-plus deficit into a lead of 26, and so drained England's bowlers in the process that David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were able to knock off an eventual target of 173 with contempt. The first day, meanwhile, had been lit up by the most sumptuous 83 of James Vince's life. Had he not been run out in full flow by Nathan Lyon's direct hit, who knows where this one would have ended up. (With an Australian victory, probably…)
8. Third Test, Perth 2013-14
Lost by 150 runs
Sometimes all you can ask is for someone to put up a fight. That, frankly, is all that England got to take home from the 2013-14 Ashes - the cast-iron proof that, in Ben Stokes, they possessed a gem of a Test cricketer, even if it would take a few months of false starts and punched lockers for his raw ability to be fully harnessed. Elsewhere on a WACA flyer, Australia's dominance was unequivocal - James Anderson was ransacked for 28 runs in an over by George Bailey, after centuries from Warner and Shane Watson had broken all resistance, then Alastair Cook was bowled by Ryan Harris's ball of the century for a first-ball duck. But Stokes fronted up in pursuit of an impossible 504 target, driving with a clean straight blade and leathering the short ball with fearless resolve. The battle was lost but the respect was won.
7. Fourth Test, Melbourne 2013-14
Lost by eight wickets
The Ashes were gone, and Kevin Pietersen was weeks away from banishment too - the Melbourne Test of 2013 was the scene of the infamous team meeting at which his fate as an England cricketer would be sealed. But before all that blew up, KP's twin scores of 71 and 49 gave England just something to work with, as Mitchell Johnson ripped another gale through a shellshocked batting line-up. Their first-innings 255 seemed typically insufficient, until Anderson and Tim Bresnan - in an echo of the efforts that had routed Australia for 98 in the previous Boxing Day Test - combined with Stuart Broad to seal a handy lead of 51. Nathan Lyon, however, popped up with five second-innings wickets to limit the target to 231 and make it clear that his fellow offspinner Graeme Swann, who had retired mid-series with an elbow problem, was likely to be a significant absentee. Sure enough, a Chris Rogers century and 83 for Watson rushed Australia to a 4-0 lead.
6. First Test, Brisbane 2013-14
Lost by 381 runs
Ah, the innocence of Brisbane 2013 … when England arrived in Australia with designs on a fourth Ashes victory in a row, only months after securing a misleadingly absolute 3-0 win at home. The build-up was dominated by a media vendetta against Broad, who took a rolled-up copy of the Courier Mail into his first-day press conference after starring for England with five wickets. Heady days … and then, mayhem. Johnson, so often a figure of fun, bowled like a banshee for match figures of 9 for 103; Warner and Michael Clarke piled on second-innings hundreds to confirm the gulf between the sides. Soon after the rout, Jonathan Trott quit the tour citing burnout, the first fatal crack in the disintegration of a world-beating Test team. Objectively it deserves to be lower in this list, but England were genuinely caught cold.
5. First Test, Brisbane 2021-22
Lost by nine wickets
In terms of wickets, this was England's least-worst defeat at the Gabba for 35 years, which isn't saying much. The series build-up was extraordinary - a combination of Covid and rain kyboshing both teams' preparations, but Australia's residual faith in their home conditions shone through as England faltered fatefully in the contest's clutch moments. They were 11 for 3 inside six overs after winning the toss, then lost 8 for 74 on a miserable fourth morning, just when it seemed that Joe Root and Dawid Malan had set the stage for a fightback. A first-innings deficit of 278 was too much to overcome, however, as Warner rode his luck for 94, before Travis Head slaughtered a tiring attack for a 148-ball 152.
4. Third Test, Perth 2017-18
Lost by an innings and 41 runs
England's record in Perth, with one win in 14 visits and eight consecutive losses since 1990-91, is about as abject as their recent run across the whole of Australia, so it's potentially a relief not to have to venture out west on this latest tour. That said, on their last trip four years ago, the now-defunct WACA ground was the scene of perhaps England's most dominant position of the whole tour, as Malan and Jonny Bairstow racked up a fifth-wicket stand of 237 to give the impression that the series was still alive. It didn't last long. England's last six wickets tumbled for 35 runs for a total of 403, and the inadequacy of their efforts were confirmed as Smith alone surpassed that partnership with a career-best 239. Mitchell Marsh, a WACA homeboy, also climbed into a toiling attack with a Test-best of 181 as Australia declared on 662 for 9. Josh Hazlewood's five-for confirmed they wouldn't need to bat again.
3. Fifth Test, Sydney 2017-18
Lost by an innings and 123 runs
The most crushing defeat of the era, and the most evocative one as well, thanks to Root's exhaustion at the end of his futile attempts to keep pace with Australia's juggernaut. He missed the post-match presentations after passing out in the dressing-room, his twin fifties in Sydney's furnace-like heat no match for an Aussie line-up in which both Marsh brothers made centuries and Usman Khawaja top-scored with 171. Mason Crane, the Hampshire legspinner, was clonked for 193 runs in his only appearance to date. Australia's victory was so clear-cut from so far out, there was time even to erect a provocative victory podium, featuring a four-fingered salute for each of Australia's wins, and a clenched English fist to confirm, once again, they hadn't even made it on to the board.
2. Second Test, Adelaide 2013-14
Lost by 218 runs
Squelch. Forewarned for England most certainly was not forearmed, as Johnson followed up his Brisbane onslaught with one of the greatest displays of flat-deck fast bowling in Test history. England had been ground into the dirt over the first two days, with centuries apiece from Clarke and Haddin in a massive total of 570 for 9 declared. But Johnson ignited expectations by beating Alastair Cook for sheer pace before the close, then transcended the conditions with irresistible heat on day three. Armed with a 50-over-old ball, he torched England's middle and lower order with five wickets in the space of 18 balls, including a triple-wicket maiden, en route to innings figures of 7 for 40. England's second whitewash in three tours had been ordained there and then.
1. Fifth Test, Sydney 2013-14
Lost by 281 runs
Probably the most dysfunctional performance in England's history. By the fifth Test in 2013-14, the mighty Test team that had ruled the roost for the previous three years had been ransacked and into the fray came a trio of debutants - two of whom, Scott Borthwick and Boyd Rankin, were so horribly exposed that they would never play another Test for England. The rancorous mood within the squad spilled into every facet of the performance, with the honourable exception of Stokes, whose 6 for 99 in the first innings was followed by a top-score of 47 in England's first innings. He made 32 from 16 in the second as well, but by then his team-mates were on the plane home. England were rolled aside for 166 in 31.4 overs, nearly a run a ball of slap-happy surrender.

And the one that got away…

Fourth Test, Melbourne 2017-18
Match drawn
Cook batted, and batted, and batted, his 244 from 409 balls setting a new highest score by a visiting Test batter at the MCG. Unfortunately no one else in England's line-up managed more than 61, meaning that the weight of England's eventual 174-run first-innings lead was insufficient to force any pressure on a soporific drop-in wicket. Smith, inevitably, responded with a hundred, as the match died a death on a tedious fifth day.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket