If Australia had ever lost 0-5 in England there would’ve been uproar from Perth to Port Macquarie and from Darwin to Devonport. It would have been a national humiliation – the nadir of Australian sporting history. And they would’ve made sure that it never, ever, happened again.
If only the ECB cared about the Ashes as much. We’ve been beaten 0-5 twice in the space of eight years, and the last time it happened there wasn’t so much as a review into what went wrong. Instead our hapless board simply moved the head coach sideways, scapegoated the team’s best batsman, and (after a poor world cup) ultimately decided to focus on white ball cricket instead.
Just think about that for a second. England lost the Ashes 0-5 but the ECB effectively decided to make the last four years about winning the Champions Trophy … (something they also failed to do).
What should’ve happened, of course, was a focused and determined attempt to make sure we sent a competitive side to Australia in 2017. To make English cricket respected again. But apparently that was too much to ask for. Instead we’ve sent an even worse side to Australia than we did in 2012/13. And it’s just not good enough.
Instead of prioritising the county championship, nurturing specialist spinners, finding fast bowlers with a yard of pace, and developing batsmen with watertight techniques and the aptitude to play long innings, the ECB have actually done the opposite …
The first thing Andrew Strauss did was appoint a coach regarded as a bit of a white ball specialist. And the first thing Tom Harrison did (more or less) was to say the team must play entertaining cricket and risk losing to win. Steve Smith must be laughing his head off. Has the Australian captain become the world’s best batsman by taking risks? I think not.
As for the championship – the domestic competition that players and supporters care about the most – the ECB have treated it like an inconvenience. At my club Worcestershire there will only be two championship games at New Road between 15th May and the 4th September in 2018. That’s basically the entire summer. How on earth is that going to help England produce a team that can compete down under?
So what, exactly, have the ECB been doing over the last four years? Rather than helping Joe Root and his team avoid another humiliation, the board have been pulling out the stops to create …. < wait for the big fanfare > … a city-based franchise T20 tournament! You couldn’t make it up. Their main priority has been a competition most cricket fans think is unwelcome and unworkable.
Efforts to incorporate this T20 monstrosity into an already busy schedule are going to hinder the prospects of our test team even further. The championship is going to slide some more. One rumour is that there will be no first class cricket played in August from 2020. That’ll help us develop a Nathan Lyon of our own. Not.
The driving force behind all this is the cricket economy, stupid. The ECB argue that city franchises will create a bountiful revenue stream … except for the fact that it’s going to make a loss in its first few years. And as for crowds flocking to city stadiums to see the likes of Chris Gayle and Brendon McCullum, hasn’t it occurred to Harrison and Graves that these players already feature in the very popular NatWest Blast?
So as England went down limply in the early hours of this morning, I hope everyone remembers the broader context. The minutiae are basically irrelevant. We can criticise Root’s decision to bowl first; we can blame the cut on Moeen’s spinning finger; we can blame the fresh air between James Vince’s ears; heck we could even blame the selectors. But the real culprits are the ECB – the board that’s overseen the decline of first class cricket in England, the demise of proper batting techniques, the dwindling concentration spans of our batsmen, and our failure to produce more than one world class spinner in three decades.
What’s more – and I don’t want to depress everyone too much – things are highly unlikely to get any better in the future. If you think for a second that Graves and Harrison might rethink their city-franchise plan if the worst happens and we lose at Perth, Melbourne, and Sydney too, then I politely suggest you think again. There’s about as much chance of that as Strauss and Pietersen getting wed at a civil ceremony on the top of mount Kilimanjaro on Christmas day.
The reality is that the ECB had no plan to prevent us from being humiliated in this Ashes series. And they have no plan to prevent another possible whitewash in 2021 either. All they seem to care about is picking off T20s low hanging fruit. Our only chance is that Australia decline at a more rapid pace than us.
So as much as it hurts, I’d like everyone to forget about Adelaide sharpish. This calamity didn’t happen because Root likes to bat at 4 rather than 3. Few of England’s problems will be solved by Ben Stokes returning, and there’s also little point in speculating how we’ll cope when Anderson and Broad retire either …
The bottom line is that English cricket (the test team anyway) are inexorably doomed until the people running the ECB realise that we supporters – the people who pay money to watch cricket and indirectly pay their salaries – don’t give a rat’s arse about emulating the IPL and the Big Bash. All we care about is the Ashes.
Never before have the goals of supporters and a governing body been so diametrically opposed. And that’s the lamentable truth.