England’s microscopic hopes of reclaiming the Ashes were snuffed out as their tour of Australia lurched into a full-blown crisis following an innings defeat in Melbourne.
There can be some mitigation for a side whose preparation was largely washed out but barely anything has gone right for England, with some peculiar decision-making and rudimentary mistakes compounding the ignominious results.
Here, the PA news agency explores some of the catalogue of errors that have occurred after they slipped 3-0 down inside 12 days, with two dead-rubber Tests still to play.
There were eyebrows raised in April when head coach Chris Silverwood absorbed the national selector role, with help from Joe Root, performance director Mo Bobat and head scout James Taylor. A conservative 17-strong squad was announced once the trip was given the green light, with fast bowler Saqib Mahmood and leg-spinners Mason Crane and Matt Parkinson, three potential points of difference, in the supplementary Lions party. Liam Livingstone, who had enjoyed a golden white-ball summer and was high on confidence, was left out of the travelling party altogether. Bobat reasoned: “From a red-ball perspective, quite simply, it felt like there were other players ahead of him.”
Muddled team selection
A controversial rest-and-rotation policy was adopted this year, admirably rooted in protecting player welfare amid an unrelenting schedule but it has led to too much chopping and changing. England can hardly argue they have gone with ‘horses for courses’ with James Anderson and Stuart Broad omitted on a green surface under cloud cover at Brisbane. They were back in an all-seam 80-85mph attack on a flatter Adelaide deck, with the firepower of Mark Wood missing as he was rested. Jack Leach was left out after being manhandled in the opener but there was so much lavish turn on offer that Root, Dawid Malan and even seamer Ollie Robinson bowled spin in Australia’s second innings.
The tone was set at the outset when Rory Burns, hands and feet akimbo, missed a clip off his pads from the first ball of the series and had his leg stump taken out by Mitchell Starc. It has been one-way traffic ever since. The rusty Ben Stokes and Robinson have taken wickets off no-balls while Jos Buttler has looked anything but settled with the gloves, taking the odd stunner but shelling regulation chances as well. England’s fielding, particularly in the cordon, has been haphazard while they have missed a few run out opportunities. It has meant England’s bowlers had to create more than 10 chances per innings and points to sloppiness and a lack of attention to detail.
Australia win the third Test and retain the Ashes.
— England Cricket (@englandcricket) December 28, 2021
While Australia’s cartel of bowlers have been ruthless, England have been the architects of their own downfall too often. Failing to pass 300 in any of their six innings tells its own sorry tale, with senior players guilty of reckless strokes at precisely the wrong time and handing their opponents the initiative. There is an overdependence on Root, whose 1,708 runs is the third highest by a batter in a calendar year. No other England batter has reached 600 runs this year with a number struggling to deal with technical deficiencies, while others have been accused of lacking the patience or temperament to get through the tougher periods. Extras was actually England’s third top scorer in 2021.
While it has been a golden year with the bat for Root, he has hardly covered himself in glory as captain. Winning the toss in the series opener and batting allowed one of the world’s best fast bowling attacks in Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins to feast on a fragile and underprepared England batting line-up on a seaming track. It was a false start from which they never recovered. Root then attracted criticism from Steve Harmison to Ricky Ponting after suggesting the bowlers bowled the wrong length in Adelaide and needed to be “braver”. To add insult to injury, Root suffered repeated blows to the groin, the first of which was sustained in the Adelaide nets when he was not wearing a box, adding to the feeling this was more of ‘Carry On’ film than a cricket tour.