In the aftermath of the Adelaide test, cricket expert and Sports Team member Ben Pullan analyses the state of the England side. Are they in crisis or can they rescue the series? Is the natural end of a golden era for England?
Watching last week’s Test Match was a pretty harrowing experience; whereas England’s dire performance in Brisbane could be cast aside as a one-off, there is now no hiding from the truth that England’s seven-year grip over the little urn will most likely come to an end this winter.
In Test cricket teams simply do not come back from 2-0 down. In 130-odd years of the game, on only three occasions has a team come back to draw a series from this position. And an England win? Well if that were to happen, they would stand with Bradman’s ’36 / ’37 Australians, the only side to have achieved this. The facts make pretty grim reading.
It is not simply the fact that England lost last week that has enraged fans– though this is hardly a top Australian side – but the manner in which they succumbed. For it became quickly apparent that England’s illustrious batting line-up had not learnt their lessons from Brisbane. They still showed no answer to the raw pace of Mitchell Johnson, who simply blew away England’s first innings with figures of 7/40.
Though the mustachioed villain did send down one of the most inspired spells of pace bowling in recent history, there is simply no excuse for collapsing to 172 all out on a wicket as flat as Adelaide’s.
The second dig, as well, highlighted that the ‘soft’ tag that had been attached England after Brisbane was justified; craving to see some sort of resistance from Broad and Swann on the fifth morning, we were palpably let down when they both threw their wickets away.
The bowling attack, likewise, seemed toothless in the face of their Aussie counterparts. Whilst Johnson, Harris and Siddle all steamed in with aggression for Australia, Broad and Anderson tiptoed – and England’s master plan of playing two spinners was an unequivocal failure: the combined match figures for Swann and Panesar read 4/380 – a complete nightmare.
Just to complete the set, Australia out-fielded England, who dropped several chances during the match, including an absolute dolly from Carberry when Haddin was only on seven, costing England 111 runs.
Indeed watching England so far this series has reminded me what it was like prior to the Flower ‘golden age’. Waking up to find that England’s batting line-up had collapsed once again recalled strong memories of the horror story ’06 / ’07 whitewash – when, as a cricket-mad eleven-year-old, I used to dread the early morning check of Cricinfo. At least in that series England had challenged the Australians by this stage, having scored 551 for six declared in the first innings of the Adelaide Test.
The most remarkable aspect of this series so far is that the teams have experienced such a sudden change of fortunes. Looking simply at recent results, very few would have predicted England to be 2-0 down after 2; yes, they had to scramble a series draw in New Zealand last March, but on the whole, their results have been good, whilst Australia’s have been dire.
Nevertheless, the more observant spectator would have noticed that, over the past year or so, the master plan that saw England dominate world cricket in 2010 and 2011 has slowly been eroding. During that period, England could generally rely on one of their top seven of Cook, Strauss, Trott, Pietersen, Bell, Collingwood and Prior to score big runs in the first innings. This ensured that the pressure was always on the opposition, never more so than Down Under in the 2010 / 2011 Ashes, where in every Test bar Perth England racked up a huge score, meaning that the Aussies could not get a look in.
However, since then, cracks have appeared and widened. The number 6 position, for so long occupied by the stalwart of the side Collingwood, has been problematic since his retirement; Morgan, Bopara, Root and Stokes have all had a go, but none have nailed down the spot.
Likewise, Strauss has still not been replaced at the top of the order. Compton was the first choice, but he was rather unfairly dumped, to be replaced by Root, who has now been dropped down the order once again to make space for Carberry.
In addition to this mess, Prior and Cook have been in woeful form, Trott has had a breakdown, and Pietersen has been his usual inconsistent self. Really, the only batsman who has played to his full potential in recent times is Ian Bell, to whom England have to thank largely for their Ashes victory last summer. Looking at it in this way, it should not really be that surprising that a top class attack with a quick bowler in genuinely world class form should succeed against such a flawed line-up.
The question now is where do England go? Is this genuinely the end of an era? Are wholesale changes to the team required for success? Is this the equivalent of the 2005 Ashes, where Australia’s decade-long empire finally began to crumble? If so, then England have had not nearly long enough as a superpower in world cricket.
At the start of the series, we thought we had a settled line-up, but over the past couple of weeks the heads of such regulars as Graeme Swann, Jonathan Trott, Matt Prior and Kevin Pietersen have been called for at some point or another. These are men who have dominated world cricket during our current decade – and should now be in the prime of their careers – but has this settled England side begun to stagnate? There have even been suggestions that Alistair Cook – for so long touted as Strauss’s successor – should relinquish the captaincy. What a turnaround from the position he was in at the end of last summer!
I personally would advise England not to act too drastically yet. Put slightly simplistically, it has just been two poor performances. Carberry and Stokes have already been thrown in at the deep end, and I would be loath to see more newbies brought into such a series; it could be potentially career damaging.
So let’s give the old guard their chance to prove their worth. It now really is ‘do or die’ time, and if they don’t stand up in Perth – and the Ashes are ceded limply – some careers will be on the line.bookmark me