The Ashes series for 2017/18 has come to an end and Australia were worthy winners. Yet reading some reviews of the series one would think it was a far closer affair than it ended up.
Sure there were key moments in the series on which the individual Test Matches swung, but on every occasion Australia were the team that swung the advantage their way.
England will no doubt always ponder the “What if” in relation to Ben Stokes and had he been available, but one man does not make a team. Would he seriously have changed the course of the series?
The truth is coming into the series there were always doubts as to whether England had the firepower to bowl out Australia twice in a Test.
James Anderson, their spearhead, and England’s all time leading wicket-taker had never excelled in Australia, so what was going to be different this time? Anderson is a bowler who thrives on the ball swinging and moving off the pitch. In Australia that was unlikely to happen very often. Yet you would never leave Anderson behind, however England needed him to bowl accurately and quick and in short spells.
They say that facts do not lie. Anderson finally took his first five wicket haul in Australia on this tour. He took it Adelaide in a day/night Test bowling in the evening when the ball started to move more. This was his fourth tour of Australia, and although his economy rate is good at 2.95 runs per over, just slightly higher than his career average, his 60 wickets in 34 Innings at an average of 35.43 and with a strike rate of 72.05 is a little high for a World Class bowler. His career average is 27.40 and his career strike rate is 56.59, which confirms that Australia is not a happy hunting ground.
Stuart Broad his bowling partner was on his third tour down-under and did not fare much better. Just 34 wickets in 21 innings on those three tours at an average of 37.17 and a strike rate of 75.29. His career average is 29.33 for his 399 Test wickets at a strike rate of 58.97. Many in the know will tell you that Broad is very much at the end of his time in the England Test team.
Sadly the burden of expectation fell upon the shoulders of these two bowlers, and England had, due to injuries to Finn and Wood, no one to come in and take up the challenge to be the spearhead of their attack. Woakes was far from being a front-line bowler and Moeen Ali was a huge disappointment. The only shining light was Craig Overton.
Questions should be raised as to whether the selectors picked the right bowlers for the conditions, and if they believe they did whether their preparation leading into the first Test was adequate.
When it came to batting the opening partnership was a big issue for England. Just as it looked as if they may build a decent opening stand a wicket would fall.
Sadly England’s greatest run-scorer Alastair Cook was unable to recapture the form of his first two tours down under in 2006/07 and especially 2010/11. Instead it was more of the same from 2013/14. In 2010/11 Cook was superb. He scored 67 and 235 not out in the first Test in Brisbane, 148 in Adelaide, struggled in Perth with 32 and 13 before notching 82 in Melbourne and then 189 in Sydney.
In 2013/14 he could only manage three fifties in ten innings.
Before his monstrous 244 not out in Melbourne, where he carried his bat, he had managed only 83 runs in six innings in the first three Tests and the Ashes were lost. In fact he only managed 132 runs in eight of the nine innings he had.
Vince and Stoneman regularly made starts to a big innings but never managed to go on and record a century; although sometimes were unlucky with the decisions they received. Both managed two fifties and no centuries.
Only three England players made centuries in the series. Five Australians scored centuries and of those five, three scored more than a single century in the series. Five Australian batsman averaged over fifty in the series and two over 100, while for England only three batsman averaged over 40, Root, Malan and Cook, courtesy of his 244 not out.
In the bowling only three England bowlers took more than 10 wickets and none took over twenty; Anderson 17 (Avg 27.82), Broad 11 (avg 47.72) and Woakes 10 (Avg 49.50). Whereas four Australian bowlers took over 20 wickets in the series: Cummins 23 wkts (Avg: 24.65) Starc 22 wkts (Avg:23.54), Hazelwood 21 wkts (Avg: 25.90) and Lyon 21 Wkts (Avg:29.23).
The figures are dismal reading for England who claim that they were never out of the series, yet ended up losing it 4-0.
However probably the most distressing part of the series for many was the Captaincy of Joe Root. At 27 years of age one would expect that he would be in his prime to be leading the team. He certainly led from the front when he batted, even if he did not score a century. He did scored 5 fifties in the series with a highest score of 83 and topped the averages. However tactically he looked lost in the field. He appeared to let the game drift and lacked the courage to take risks to try and make things happen when Australia looked to be getting on top. Sure, as mentioned he lacked the firepower and consistency needed from his bowlers and batsmen, but only Andrew Flintoff in recent times has look more inept as a captain.
Some will say the captaincy was thrust upon Root. That there was no one else. He was selected along the lines that Australia choses their Captain, he was the best player, so therefore he should take on the role. Yet it is a role that appears not to sit comfortably on his shoulders. This has rarely been England’s way of appointing a captain, in the past they have opted for men with tactical acumen even though they may not be the best player.
It would probably have worked had England had a more dynamic head coach to support the Captain, but in Trevor Baylissthey have a dour and uninspiring man in public who certainly gives little impression that he is anything else inside the confines of the dressing room. His press conferences rarely had anyone inspired or made anyone believe that he genuinely felt his team could beat the Australians.
Coaches and captains in all sport must work as a partnership. The Captain should be an extension of the coach on the field of play. Root is clearly a shy man. One who prefers not to be in the limelight, who likes his actions to speak louder than his words. So should Bayliss have taken some of the attention away from his captain?
England has won just 15 of the 38 Test matches they have played since Bayliss took over the role. Yet far more scathing is the fact that they have won only three test matches of the 19 they have played away from home in that time. This shows poor preparation and poor selection.
Sections of the English Press are already baying for Bayliss’s head and he may well be looking for another job in the near future. This was a very poor display by England. They were outclassed in almost every department. It is time that they started to regenerate the team before Joe Root’s desire for the fight starts to wane, and he opts to step aside as Captain because his form continues to suffer under the strain.
England need Joe Root the batsman far more than they need him as Captain. It would appear from the outside that Root had very little to work with and one has to question how much support and input he received from the coach. Moving forward, one feels England need to revisit the captaincy, tap a few ageing players on the shoulder to make way for some younger blood and possibly explore the possibility of a new coach.
No matter how they try to talk it up. This was not a good tour. England were roundly beaten by a better side.