As an England fan and a huge devotee to Test Match cricket, the lead up to an Ashes series is always one of excitement, optimism and hope thinking ‘This is our time’.
In Cricket we NEVER want the Aussies to win anything but especially The Ashes! The rivalry is so fierce and deep rooted that the thought of seeing the Aussies raise that tiny Urn is enough for any England supporter to have sleepless terror filled nights. When this greatly anticipated and hugely important sporting event comes around, I want to see the England player’s give their everything; if you can give the best account of yourselves and are beaten by the better team then so be it. Play with pride and passion for you, your team and your country. Sadly, this was not the case again; we showed no fight throughout, gave our wicket’s away and visibly chucked the towel in towards the end. It was an utter embarrassment. The Aussies on the other hand showed strength and had togetherness. They worked for each other, but fundamentally they nailed the basics and were relentless with it. We didn’t do or have anything like that.
In life there are certain things you can guarantee. At the end of the day, it gets dark, Tuesday comes after Monday, and an England batting collapse. This year I had a little buddy to enjoy the game with. My 6 year old son Fin was excited and getting up early to watch it with me and the first thing he’d ask as he came in to the living room was always ‘Are we doing good Daddy?’, ‘No not really mate’, ‘But why Daddy?’, ‘Ermm well to put it simply it’s our batting son!!!’. I was gutted for him. He didn’t even get to feel the excitement build in one single test. How are we meant to inspire future players with a shit show like that?
There are lots of examples of where we went wrong to pick from and players to call out, however one thing that springs to mind straight away as I write this was the dismissal of Rory Burns – it set the tone on the 1st day/1st test at the Gabba. Burns who’s got more moving parts than Inspector Gadget when he’s at the crease, was bowled around his legs the very first ball of the innings from a Mitchell Starc delivery. It was quick but not particularly menacing, but from that point on it was that familiar stomach churning feeling of ‘Oh FFS here we go again’. From then on in it was clear to see that Burns head had gone from the effect of that first baller, as the mode of his dismissals throughout the rest of the series were weak; in particular the direct hit from Labuschagne where there was zero desperation or will to get the big dive in to save his wicket. Maybe the time off between now and the Windies in March will give him time to reflect on his weaknesses and sort his technique out or maybe it’s just time up and you’ve had your chance? As for his counterpart Hameed (who is hyped to be the next Boycott), well he was a walking wicket from quite early on; he batted too deep in his crease with low hand’s exuding zero confidence and for me was completely and utterly out of his depth. I highly doubt he’ll be back.
Rather than just watching England be dominated by the Aussies, I also flicked between the SA vs India Test as it was where I was able to watch a proper opener go about his business properly. Dean Elgar showed mental toughness and determination. He wore a few, was solid in defence, knew where his off stump was and left the ball very well. What we wouldn’t do for an Elgar!!
I don’t need to go into detail about the Australian team’s performance as it’s pretty obvious they were much better than us in every department. A few mentions though. I thought Khawaja was a joy to watch – kept it simple and played proper cricket shots and has got that lovely left hander’s technique which is beautiful when in full flight. Head was obviously man of the series, no need to go OTT on that. Pat Cummins seems to be an exceptional bloke. Whenever I’ve watched him, he bowls gas, gives a 100% and takes poles for fun! In any interview or media work he’s done, he comes across as annoyingly likeable, very genuine and to top it off has just Captained a winning Ashes side. Boland, what a find he’s been, and at 32 has taken to international cricket very easily (some would say with our help!), and then Cam Green who took wickets at important times and looked genuinely quick. He can also bat and is gun in the gully; looks like he will be around the Aussie set up for a long time now and will be a serious all-rounder for years to come.
The Aussie’s have lots of depth in their bowling and their pace attack, spearheaded by Cummins and Starc, bowled great areas, and Cummins who you can bet your house on to perform was outstanding with the ball in hand. His introduction into the Captaincy role couldn’t have been a smoother transition even if you were to script it (they call him Mr Perfect for a reason). It was the Aussie Newcomers to the test side that I thought we gave too much to. Richardson and the incredible finds in Boland and Green all bowled really well by hitting good lengths and they used some variation and extracted movement and bounce from wicket’s which definitely assisted the bowlers. However, I think we made them look way better than they were. Granted they didn’t bowl many bad balls but we let them bowl the way they did to us. The way our batters were playing at balls that were on the 4th/ 5th stump line to snick off not once but numerous times throughout the series was not just frustrating but down right poor. I appreciate that the pressure and intensity is daunting in front of Australian crowds when you’re facing what you are facing, but they are meant to be the best we’ve got? We made the same mistakes over and over again and we became predictable.
To try not be all doom and gloom (can you blame me?), there were a few good performances to note with the bat; Bairstow’s ton at the SCG (the only Englishman to score a 100 on this tour) and I thought Crawley looked class at times with some great crisp timing of the ball. He drives and latches on to anything short very well but he is a shot a ball man and he needs to reign that in. Also, I’ll give Stokesy his dues with a couple of 50+’s; he showed grit playing throughout the pain but was not surprisingly anywhere near his best! In comparison Joe Root, our best batsman, failed to capitalise on the starts he made, looked knackered and completely drained by the end of it, which, is understandable under the circumstances. It’s just another example of it being evident that there’s far too much pressure put on him when we implode. Root is a brilliant batsman no doubt about it; however, as a Captain he seems to run out of ideas when we are up against it and it looks like he just hopes for the best sometimes. The truly unfortunate thing is that he is all we’ve got regards a Skipper and there are no replacements really in the current team who have the leadership credentials (and wants to do it) as another option.
So, what now?
Covid can’t be used as a scapegoat anymore and be the reason given as to why we are not playing well enough or why we were unprepared. We can’t go on from here now thinking things will work themselves out by keeping things as they are?
Silverwood in my opinion does not seem like a coach the team will run through brick walls for. I think one of the biggest things that hurt was the way we surrendered on that last day in Hobart, losing 10 wickets for 56 runs. Gutting. It required someone to stand up, be accountable and dig in, which no one did! Chasing down that total was very achievable. We caved under the pressure. Undoubtedly it was the worst collapse of the tour but it also suggests to me that Silverwood hasn’t got the boys behind him. He doesn’t seem the type to crack the whip when were under the pump - I appreciate some player’s need an arm round them sometimes to get the best out of them but equally if you’re going to shrivel up after a rollicking, you’re probably not cut out for the job. I honestly think it needs to be done sometimes especially at this level; player’s do need a rocket and it can be the catalyst to get their tickers going, as long as it’s done in a way that’s constructive, has value and is from a person(s) that can show proof in their proverbial pudding. To not play Broady and Jimmy however on an absolute green top in the first test at the Gabba, will remain forever as one of the great mysteries (I understand it would have been a joint decision).
So, who could successfully coach the England cricket side? I don’t even know who would be in the running for it, maybe Kirsten? ’Big Sam’ Allardyce? Who knows, but going forward we do need a change with a huge emphasis to be placed on red ball Cricket. The overall standard of County Cricket also needs to be as high as it can be consistently so we can produce test match batsmen. It was very apparent we were totally undercooked going into this.
So, a few of the things that I’m taking from this farce of an Ashes tour was that our only shining light for England was Mark Wood who bowled his heart out and thoroughly deserved his best test figures of 6-37 as well as earning his step at the Bellerive Pavilion. The argument over whether Bairstow should be a permanent fixture in the test team is simply a YES from me; of course, he should. Lastly, Warner got a pair, Broad hates Robots, and when Ollie Robinson comes out from hiding behind the square leg umpire, he needs to get fit and lose some timber.
What you would like to see change in the England team set up?