06 January 2007

Ashes 2006/2007: The Final Humiliation

5-0. The first whitewash in 86 years. An absolutely disgusting performance from the tourists and a tour de force from the home side.

The result was confirmed after a farcical couple of hours on the fourth morning of the fifth and final Test, but it was written in the previous day when England let Australia's tail wag in a way they could only wish their own would copy and the tourists' top order collapsed in a gutless display of I'm An England Cricketer - Get Me Out Of Here! The series was not held entirely in the jungle, but the visitors certainly made it seem that way.

The whitewash was a last hurrah for Warne, McGrath and Langer who all bow out of Test cricket with the culmination of the series and it was a deserved reward for a hugely motivated Australian side who outperformed their hapless opponents from start to finish. It has been stated many times by the England hierarchy during this series but it is true that the side competed with Australia in small patches. A session or a day here and there went England's way but the fight, and ability, was not there to compete for every session of every day - the absolute minimum a successful tour would have required.

I'll not delve into what went wrong - I've said enough in the past and every site and blog following proceedings likely has too - nor heap further praise on the Australians: they were awesome, the scoreline fairly reflects this. Anything more is embellishment for the sake of it and picking out stars isn't appropriate, for it was a true team performance (all the bowlers took significant wickets; each of their top 7 made centuries, Martyn and his premature departure aside).

The ECB have announced an inquest into why things turned out quite as badly as they did but the short answer is it does not matter: unless England's players, selectors and - yes - coach take a good hard look at themselves and make a point of learning from this as the Aussies did in 2005 things will not improve further. The side must learn to function as a team, must learn to focus, must believe and must strive to improve. Focusing on 2009 would be a big mistake. Focus must move to the one-day arena now - with individuals and the team conspiring to actually perform in the tri-series and World Cup to the best of their abilities. Then, focus must shift to the summer's Test series, and each and every match must be fought for and played with full concentration and desire. Changes to the team will happen over time and, personally, I hope the coach will change too: Fletcher lost the plot on this tour and whilst he has been great fro England over his reign I feel his tenure is growing stale - typified by the selection issues for the Brisbane Test.

England must also think about shifting to a 6 and 4 structure, rather than sticking to 5 and 5 like dogma. 5 bowlers worked fantastically with Simon Jones in the side, and has worked against lesser sides where the shortened batting has not been a worry. But when the fifth seamer is not capable at all with the bat and patchy at best with the ball they simply do not warrant a place - especially against sides which do bat well down the order. Sajid Mahmood just does not have the quality - at least at this stage - to be the fifth bowler and number 8 batsman and I am convinced the England side would have been stronger in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney had Ed Joyce played ahead of Mahmood.

But most of all the management need to prepare players properly for Test matches. The team needs to be fit and in form going in to the series, not finding fitness and form as the matches pass them by. Flintoff needed batting and Harmison needed bowling - his best spell was the last morning; proper preparation before series means allowing your key players to get match practice and fitness!

To end on a positive note: England are still, deservedly, the second best Test side behind Australia. The team contains true stars (Flintoff, Pietersen) and players with big futures (Cook, Bell, Panesar) and is young enough to be around as a team for a long time. Lessons must be learned, yes, but the team is not a bad one for one awful series. As and England fan I must hope and believe that this team will learn the lessons there for them and the management will get them right. If so, the summer should be one to enjoy; if not the damage to cricket in England - now off free-to-air TV in the home summer - could be irreparable in terms of lost interest.

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