So it’s finally all over. Thanks heavens for that. We predicted a 0-4 defeat at the start of the series and unfortunately that’s exactly what transpired. It’s all unfolded, or perhaps I should say unravelled, in the most predictable manner.
Overall it was generally a poor series, played on disappointingly slow and lifeless pitches, with soporific run rates, and very little competitive action. I’m sad to say that it wasn’t a good advert for test cricket at all.
The one-sided nature of the contest just made things worse. Although the result made it bearable (enjoyable even) for the most partisan Australian supporters, I think most observers who have test cricket’s best interests at heart will be very disappointed (not to mention concerned) at the outcome. The Ashes needs to be more competitive and watchable than this.
Although England kept trying until the very end – an improvement from the last Ashes tour – they never looked like winning a game and were completely outplayed. So called English ‘greats’ looked washed up, while our rookies, Dawid Malan aside, proved predictably inadequate. In fact, Malan, Jimmy Anderson, and possibly Craig Overton were the only players who can hold their heads up high.
Some might argue that England were competitive, and only lost because they couldn’t seize the moment at crucial times, but I completely disagree. Any team, no matter how overmatched, is likely to find themselves in half-decent positions at some point over 5 five-day tests. We occasionally got into positions during the whitewashes too. The bottom line, however, is that disaster was always lurking around the corner. Most of us sensed it. And I suspect the England players sensed it too.
Despite the comprehensive and somewhat humiliating scoreline, the quest for silver linings has inevitably begun in some quarters. The most prominent of these seems to be “all teams are rubbish away from home”. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and this argument doesn’t hold much water. Why? Because England have turned losing away from home into an art form: we’ve lost nine of our last ten tests in Australia, and four of our last 5 in India too. Nobody does capitulating abroad better (or should that be worse?) than England. At least Australia are competitive when they come to our shores.
Apart from a somewhat fortunate win in South Africa a couple of years back, when the Cricket Boks were in transition and missing key players through injury, England’s away recent away record is deplorable. We’ve all known the reasons why – a lack of pace and high quality spin bowling being the two most obvious – for years but the ECB never do anything about it. I can’t think of a single thing they’ve done since the last Ashes whitewash to improve matters, and Tom Harrison has already said that nothing will change this time either. The pursuit of T20’s low hanging fruit is apparently all that matters to our hapless administrators.
Instead of targeting this Ashes series as an opportunity to gain revenge for 2013’s humiliation, the ECB has spent most of the last 4 years blaming Kevin Pietersen, prioritising white ball cricket, and coercing the counties into their unpopular, nonsensical, and unworkable city T20 competition.
Things are going to get worse too. When Harrison’s Harebrained Have A Hit starts in 2020 (if indeed it goes ahead) the championship will be further marginalised. First class matches will occur exclusively (rather than mainly) in April, May and September when bowlers require little pace or skill to take wickets; they’ll merely need to utilise the green facilities. What’s more, batsmen won’t learn to play long innings because there’s always a ball with their name on it coming shortly. Let’s face it folks, the way things stand the England test team is going to get less and less competitive abroad – and eventually less effective at home in high summer too.
So what can we do about this depressing state of affairs? I guess all us humble supporters can do is intensify our dissent – not that I expect anyone to listen. What I’d like to see, however, is an ICC led initiative to make things easier for touring teams. There needs to be proper competitive matches at the start of tours – not self-serving schemes to weaken the domestic teams involved – and I’d like to see reciprocal arrangements whereby all counties, not just England (and New Zealand), invite overseas players to participate in their domestic first class competitions.
International cricket boards and clubs have been too self-serving for too long. It’s time for them to realise that things need to change, and that the health of test cricket in general is far more important than ‘getting one over’ the English or the Indians. If this means cutting down the number of ODIs and T20s at the end of tours, so that important test series can be stretched out over a longer period of time, with proper first class games between test matches, then so be it. Unfortunately, however, I doubt the authorities would consider doing this for second. Generating revenue through white ball cricket is increasingly their biggest priority. After all, it’s easier (lazier) to milk the T20 cow than actually telling the world what a great game test cricket is.
As for the England team itself – which players should be dropped and which should be retained – this is a discussion for another day. The subject needs an entire article to itself. What’s more, everyone is always a little emotional a day after an innings defeat. I imagine we’ll see a demand for wholesale changes even though no decent replacements are waiting in the wings. And we all know whose fault that is!
Having said that, I do think England need to move on from certain players now. And it’s certainly time for our selectors to do one too. Dawid Malan is the only new batsman they’ve unearthed in four long years. And they only picked him because they’d basically tried everyone else first. Indeed, they’d tried Garry Ballance three bloody times!
Although Malan might find it tougher to score runs in England (I think the pitches in Australia suited him) he’s shown more gumption and application than any newcomer for some time. He’s so obviously better than guys like Ballance and Westley that one wonders why it’s taken him so long to get his opportunity?
Malan has been on England’s radar for almost a decade (he’s captained the Lions and first got picked for the England Performance Squad back in 2008). He’s also been right under Gus Fraser’s nose at Middlesex. Yet it’s only now, at the age of 30, that he gets a gig at the highest level. The mind boggles.
English cricket has so many problems from top to bottom: from the lack of cricket in state schools, to underfunded clubs, to dwindling participation figures, to a lack of exposure on terrestrial television, to counties struggling with debt, to corporate incompetence, and a national board with entirely the wrong priorities.
These problems are all complex and it’s going to take time to put them right. Fortunately however, phoning up Jim, Mick and Gus, and telling them to sling their hook, will only take a few seconds. It’s not going to solve all England’s problems by a long shot, but it seems like the obvious place to start.