The last time England toured Australia we were slight favourites. We’d just beaten them 3-0 at home, albeit not as convincingly as the score suggests, and we had a settled team with fond memories of their last Ashes tour.
The spine of the team looked good: Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, a young Root, Prior, Swann, Broad and Anderson. A few of them were carrying some physical or mental baggage but overall life looked rosy and most fans were relatively optimistic.
And then we lost 0-5.
When disasters like this strike, the ECB have a responsibility to turn things around before the next Ashes tour. The Ashes are, after all, the most important event in the English cricketing calendar.
So how come, after a full four-year cycle, England are returning to Australia with a weaker side than the one they fielded at the SCG in 2014?
The ECB’s first job was to assess why things went so wrong last time. They failed. Rather than having a proper debate they decided to scapegoat the team’s most destructive batsman. Then they replaced a head coach who was slightly past his sell by date with one who had gone completely mouldy several years beforehand.
Only an complete imbecile would have thought that sacking Pietersen in a bungled manner, and then bringing back the much maligned Peter Moores, was a recipe for success … yet that’s exactly what Paul Downton did.
Meanwhile, James Whitaker was proving to be a complete liability as a replacement for the amiable Geoff Miller. Yet what did the ECB do? Nothing. Nada. Sweet FA.
Instead they compounded the mistake by hiring Gus Fraser, a man who was already a full time employee of Middlesex, and then compounding that mistake by appointing Mick Newell, a full time employee of Nottinghamshire. Perhaps someone should have explained what the term ‘conflict of interest’ means?
As a trio, Whitaker, Fraser and Newell, are about as inspiring as a holiday in Bognor. And they’ve performed so badly that Andrew Strauss considered sacking them last summer. What a shame that he decided not to. Heaven only knows why.
England’s selectors have had almost four years to find an opening partner for Cook and decent replacements for Trott, Pietersen, Prior and Swann. That’s five tasks in total. And they’ve completely botched four of them.
The only success story has been Jonny Bairstow, who is just as good if not better than Prior (in my opinionated opinion). Some might argue that Moeen is effectively Swann’s replacement but I disagree. He’s not a specialist spinner, and he’s not nearly as good … especially away from home.
When England field Stoneman, Vince, and Malan at Brisbane (injuries permitted), it’s basically an admission that our selectors have screwed the pooch repeatedly since 2013/14.
Stoneman will be playing just his third test – having been behind Robson, Lyth and Jennings in the past – whilst Malan will be playing just his sixth match after making his debut as something of an afterthought half-way last summer.
Meanwhile, James Vince has been recalled simply because the selectors have run out of original bad ideas. Therefore they’ve decided to recycle old ones. Maybe they think it’s good for the planet or something?
If one wanted to leap to the selectors’ defence – please don’t all queue up at once – one might argue that the cupboard is bare so it’s not their fault. Well in that case it’s the ECB’s fault. After all, they were the ones that scapegoated Pietersen rather than having a proper review and making changes that might have improved the team in the longterm.
Now before I sign off in a state of beleaguered bewilderment, it’s worth remembering that England haven’t actually lost the Ashes yet. The score is currently 0-0 and there’s everything to play for … in theory at least.
However, if England do somehow miraculously retain the Ashes – and Stoneman, Malan, and Vince miraculously turn into the new Chris Broad, David Gower and Michael Vaughan – it won’t be down to good planning. It will be down to pure luck. After all, these players aren’t the selectors guys; they’re not the players the selectors have clamoured for (and invested in) over a prolonged period of time.
The bottom line is that England’s new players are just metaphorical dung … the latest dung our groping selectors have hurled at the wall in the hope that some of it might stick. Their selections are based purely on hope rather than good judgement. It’s because they’ve basically tried everyone else at this point.
And so, with this in mind, I ask you all a question: do England actually deserve to win the Ashes? The ECB sure don’t.