Well, it’s all gone a bit Pete Tong, hasn’t it? At time of writing, we’re waiting for Day 5 in Perth and hoping the rain dances pay off so that England can limp away with a draw and keep the series alive until Boxing Day. It’s just more fun on Christmas night if there’s something to play for, isn’t it?
I didn’t have high expectations of England in this series, but I have to say I thought we would do better than this. There have been positives, some even stretching to whole sessions and in a couple of cases whole days that have well and truly belonged to the boys wearing three lions.
But the crushing nature of the Aussies’ victories have exposed really frustrating flaws and disappointing performances in the England players. As many have commented, losing 5-0 to Ponting and Warne and McGrath was one thing, but this is something else.
Even Steve Smith, touted now by the BBC as the best Australian batsman since Bradman (seriously?!?) has been shown up as pretty dull most of the time, even in his ridonkulous WACA innings. It’s not so much that he can’t be got out, just that our bowlers can’t do it.
The batting performances of Cook and Root are the most disappointing of all, for me. All the pre-series talk was of how well Vince, Stoneman and Malan would cope under the intensity of Marsh and co’s fast bowling. At least these three currently look like they can hold their own heads reasonably high when this series ends.
I am a huge fan of Cook, and don’t believe this needs to be a career-ending series by any stretch of the imagination, but I am so confused by his and Root’s pretty total failures with the bat.
And then there was the stupid stubbornness of keeping Bairstow below Ali in the batting line up for two whole tests, when it was pretty obvious from attempt #1 that it was a misguided strategy. I for one would have liked to see Buttler on the plane once Stokes was ruled out. He wouldn’t necessarily need to take the ‘keeping gloves from Bairstow, but as far as I can see he’s the closest we’ve got to replacing Stokes’ aggressive mid-lower order batting style.
Our bowling strategy, too, feels out of kilter. Naturally I picked Anderson and Broad in my Fantasy Ashes XI; I think every Englishman has; but even then it was with resignation and out of loyalty rather than any strong belief in their effectiveness Down Under. As with Cook, I don’t want these series to be the end of their careers, because they are still undoubtedly excellent players, but they must be getting tired of flogging the same dead horse for days on end, only to be let down by our batsmen. Some questioned why Jimmy in particular was so fired up in Adelaide, but it seemed likely that we were seeing his frustration at his own top order being unleashed rather than any residual ire against Smith and chain-dragging gang.
It’s fair to expect the team to have been rattled by Stokes’ absence, given all that he did to glue both batting and bowling line-ups together, so maybe some of this was inevitable. After all the England team did to rebuild as a solid unit, one for all and all for one, that mentality seems to have crumbled and the players look like islands of solitude in the seas of Aussie outfields.
We have to believe we can still get something from this, and fight on until the end. As I’m sure they’ve been singing on the grass bank and in the bars of Northbridge, Perth, ‘only rain can save Australia now.’ Here’s hoping!