Opinion: Where did it all go wrong for England?
The composition of the squad, muddled thinking, an obsession with the Ashes and fading stars battling poor form have promptly led to England's demise in Australia, writes Peter Miller.
England have lost the Melbourne Test in the most dispiriting way possible. They got themselves in a strong position for the first time in this series and still managed to lose so badly they almost finished third. The fifth Test starts in Sydney in just a few days and it is impossible to see anything other than a whitewash in this series. Now the time has come for postmortems.
<b>The Ashes Squad</b><br>This squad was an absolute shambles from the very beginning. David Saker's reported obsession with tall bowlers saw England pick three big quicks. Of those Steven Finn is short on form and confidence, Boyd Rankin is unproven and Chris Tremlett is so far past his best it is a distant memory. They have managed one Test appearance between them in the series so far.
Then there is the spare wicketkeeper. England clearly backed Matt Prior to play every Test. When his form deserted him England had no choice but to pick him for the first three Tests as they had no extra gloveman. Jonny Bairstow was there as spare batsman/emergency 'keeper, but he isn't really good enough at either suit to demand inclusion.
Graeme Swann was backed to play every Test, with Monty Panesar brought along in case there was a pitch that would take turn. When Swann called it a day Panesar was found wanting as a frontline spinner in unhelpful conditions. Alastair Cook's reluctance to turn to him spoke volumes.
<b>Ashes Obsession</b><br>England and their fans have an Ashes addiction. It is all consuming. There are plenty of cricket fans that only really get worked up for this series, and perhaps a few cricketers too. Playing two series in a row is in fact an attempt to lessen the impact of this. Now the away Ashes will not take place in the run-up to the World Cup.
However, there is clearly an emotional toll that these back-to-back Ashes has had on this England side. Andy Flower's dressing room is not a place where it can be easy to relax. It appears to be an intense and introspective place. Playing two Ashes series in a row under these circumstances seems to have left this England team shattered physically and emotionally.
The time has come for England and their fans to look at the bigger picture. A World Cup win will mean a lot more than an Ashes victory. It is time to readjust the thinking.
<b>Muddled Thinking</b><br>Captaincy when things are going your way is easy. You set your plans and wait for them to come off. Alastair Cook is very good at this. Where he struggles is when he has to get "funky". England's plans for the Australian top order have been hampered by their inability to catch. Their plans to the lower-order seem non-existent. On the third morning of the Melbourne Test England needed the wicket of Nathan Lyon, they went about this by trying to hit is head off. As Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris pilfered runs throughout this series England seemed to have no answers, in fact they seemed to unsure what the question was.
With the bat England appear to have two modes. All-out attack where they find themselves caught in the deep. Or all out defence where they fail to push for singles and defend balls they should leave and leave balls they should defend. Moving between the two tactics seemed to be randomly selected by drawing straws.
<b>Fading Stars Or Poor Form?</b><br>Swann has been amazing for England. He has in effect been two bowlers which has allowed them to go into a game with a four-man attack. He has held up an end when it hasn't turned and run through sides when it has. He has been the most important player for England since the retirement of Andrew Flintoff. His fading form over the last 12 months has been England's biggest concern, and when he called it a day it was clear that few within the England camp were surprised.
James Anderson has been struggling to take top-order wickets. He still keeps it tight, but he isn't bowling the wicket-taking balls that he was. Whether this is a consequence of the inability of other bowlers to keep the run-rate down only he can say. There is no escaping the fact that Anderson is not the wicket-taking threat that he was. Whether this is an issue of form or fading ability is up for debate.
You can cope with one batsman being out of form, you can even deal with two. When every single player in the top seven is struggling you are in serious trouble. There has been moments of good batting, but no consistency. The only bright light in a sea of darkness is Ben Stokes' maiden ton. Other than that there hasn't been a single innings where an England player has looked well set and in charge.
<b>The Answers</b><br>This is where things are hard to put into context. Flower is still the best man for the job as England coach. This squad is the nucleus of the best players that England have. There are no players in county cricket that are performing so well that they are demanding inclusion. Changing a side for the sake of it is not going to solve anything. This series has been a disaster, lessons will need to be learnt. What those lessons are isn't particularly clear. The most obvious solution is for these cricketers to play better. How they do that is a bigger mystery than a Muttiah Muralitharan doosra.
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