Well, it’s safe to say that Adelaide didn’t exactly go to plan. England got everything wrong. We bowled too short (despite possessing two experienced bowlers with over a thousand Test wickets), we batted poorly, we caught poorly, and we selected very poorly. It was pretty much a typical England Test performance.
So where does the post mortem begin? There has been much gnashing of teeth over Chris Silverwood and Joe Root’s strategy – and quite rightly so – but in the end we probably would have lost anyway. Why? Because Australia are simply better than us in their own conditions. There’s no avoiding the truth. England’s squad is probably the worst we’ve sent down under since 1994.
Although David Warner is all at sea in England, it’s plain sailing for him on flat Australian decks. Meanwhile, although the likes of Travis Head lose their head when presented with archetypal county pitches – Sussex fans will tell you all about that – he’s still good enough to score runs in his own backyard. At the end of the day, he’s really not that bad.
Meanwhile, Australia’s two legitimate batting superstars, Loose Bus Change and Sandpaper Smudge, have made telling contributions for their team. England’s big guns, on the other hand, haven’t translated promising starts into something match-defining.
Joe Root continues to look good without converting 50s into 100s – which has sadly been the story of his career in Australia – while Ben Stokes looks a shadow of his buccaneering self. I expected some rust but his body looks like it’s creaking. One senses that another injury is just around the corner.
As for the bowling, it’s chalk versus cheese. England’s attack crumbles under pressure (and has too many wickets chalked off for no-balls) whilst the Aussie pace bowlers look very tasty indeed. And why wouldn’t they? Australian supporters must be licking their lips when they see the techniques of Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed.
Neither of England’s openers looks capable of churning out scores consistently down under thus far. And as for Ollie Pope, what the hell has happened to him? He currently looks completely confused over how to construct a Test innings. It’s not a good look for the England coaches. Only Dawid Malan, who has only recently come back into the fold, has exceeded what were admittedly low expectations.
The only other good news so far – and I admit this is probably subjective – is that whilst some defeats in Oz have really stung, I’m actually pretty ‘meh’ about this one. Defeat just doesn’t seem to matter as much. England’s pathetic performances are just another symptom of a much deeper and existential malaise.
The bottom line is this. We beseeched the ECB to make the changes necessary to help England become competitive down under when we back lost in 2016. But they completely ignored us. In fact, they made it even worse by doubling down on other priorities: winning the ODI World Cup and setting up The Hundred, for example. This defeat was therefore a price they were perfectly happy to pay. And we all saw it coming a mile off.
It’s exactly the same story, by the way, whenever we get hammered in India, too. Sure, the ECB would ‘like’ to win Test series overseas. But they’re not the slightest bit interested in making the changes necessary. They’d rather be known for setting up sexy new vanity projects than actually fostering a competitive domestic game that produces good Test sides (as county cricket did very nicely for a decade between 2002 and 2012).
Consequently, I’ve found it very hard to get emotionally invested in this series. Test cricket is supposed to be the pinnacle of the game. And the Ashes is supposed to be the pinnacle of the pinnacle. That’s what made it special. But it can hardly be the pinnacle anymore if one of the participants isn’t particularly bothered about winning it. Basically, if the ECB doesn’t particularly care anymore then why should we? They can’t be invested in it, as they’ve invested so little in it. So why should I spend my time watching a subpar group of England players who have been set up to fail?
So what’s going to happen next? Unless the weather intervenes, or Root manages to score a double century at some point, a 0-5 defeat seems inevitable. Australia can sense it, England can sense it, and the Aussie public senses it, too. If you bet on Australian cricket down under then you’ll know that a whitewash is pretty much the expected outcome now.
The thing that matters now, of course, is what the reaction to this defeat will be back home. Will Root stand down? Is Silverwood toast? Will anyone at the ECB accept responsibility? I really don’t know. The only thing I’m certain about it that Tom Harrison will enjoy his big fat bonus for setting up The Hundred whilst completely ignoring the fact that he’s set up those of us who love Test and first class cricket for a fall.
When it comes to scapegoats, there’s no Kevin Pietersen type figure to blame this time so I expect that Silverwood might be fed to the wolves. Would I feel sympathy for him? Yes I would. Even Duncan Fletcher would’ve struggled to get a better yield from the current crop of players. But then again, it’s hard to deny that Silverwood has been awful and simply made matters even worse through poor selection and bad man management of certain players.
The sad reality is that nobody in England’s team has actually progressed on Silverwood’s watch. People forget that Leach took 12 wickets at 26 in the last Ashes series. It looked like we’d finally found a respectable Test spinner. But he’s been managed very poorly since and now looks to have regressed (certainly when it comes to confidence). Meanwhile, as mentioned above, Ollie Pope has had a chastening time despite his prodigious talent. The management have to take some responsibility for that.
And then we come to Root. I’d love Joe to stand down and focus on his batting. He’s an adequate captain at best, even though the players clearly like him and he’s a good bloke. But there really is nobody to replace him. The alternatives are worse now than they’ve ever been. Burns has gone backwards, Buttler still can’t fulfil his potential, and Stokes can’t stay fit. I really don’t know what the answer is.
I just hope, above hope, that this time enough people point the finger at who’s really to blame: Tom Harrison and his motley crew. Normally administrators can hide away and weather the storm. This time, however, the storm might actually be strong enough to blow the whole house down. At least I hope so.