Ben Stokes, one of England's best attacking cricketers, has been charged with one count of affrayBen Sutherland

It’s over. After five exasperating Test matches, the result of the 2017/18 Ashes Series has finally been set in stone. 4-0. Four-nil. Cuatro à zero. Whichever way you decide to dress it up, England were humiliated. 4 defeats, 1 draw and an overriding emotion of relief that, somehow, a complete whitewash was avoided.

Before the series started, I labelled the squad as “beleaguered and inexperienced.” Sadly, such expectations were dishearteningly realised over the five matches. The stalwarts of the team failed to perform with the bat, the bowlers shrank into the shadow of genuine Australian pace and, despite sparks of encouragement from some unproven members of the team, their inexperience was repeatedly exposed.

Perhaps it will be a series remembered more for what happened beyond the boundary rope as much as the contest on the pitch. The stage had been set in September – before the series even began – and the resultant absence of Ben Stokes, who has since been charged with affray, was undoubtedly a crucial factor in the balance of both the England team and the series itself. Not only did the tourists lack a blustering, belligerent batsman and a front-line bowler with vim and vigour, but his absence altered the team dynamic too. The batting line-up was already under the microscope; withdrawing a key block from this teetering edifice would likely induce collapse.

The visitors’ performance was not just poor but defied even the most modest expectations

This is not, however, to make excuses for England’s performances on or off the pitch, both of which were embarrassing and added to the wintry tale of cricketing discontent. Whether it be introducing yourself with your forehead, or pouring a pint over your teammate’s head, England’s tour has been not far short of a shamble. Perhaps such a view is harsh – these stories were exploited and propagated by the Australian media to devastating effect – but, unless failings and truths are openly acknowledged, the same mistakes might be repeated; for a sleep-deprived cricket-consuming public this would be nothing short of a betrayal of trust. The visitors’ performance was not just poor but defied even the most modest expectations; most disappointingly, not simply in relation to performance but also to behaviour.

But what now? There will always be a debate as to whether implementing wholesale changes or tinkering with internal team mechanics would be more appropriate in moving forward. Both approaches have their merits. The media maelstrom which always follows a series defeat such as this, however, tends to favour, and often induce, the former. Responsibility is an oft-used word in such cases – who should be held accountable for this performance? Who is to be paraded as the scapegoat of the defeat such that the rest of the team and ECB can absolve themselves of liability?

The short answer is no-one, yet everyone. Though paradoxical, accountability does not necessarily need to result in dismissal. In fact, unless a solid, alternative and progressive agenda can be established to replace the current situation, dismissal would only serve to prolong the issues. At the same time, everyone should be questioned about their performances to ensure liability is spread throughout the administration. That said, however, there are some changes that need to be made. James Vince has now played 12 matches, averaging only 22, not a record which should see him retained and additionally, the  long-term future of Ben Stokes must be decided; uncertainty breeds inertia, though it appears the matter is now to be decided in Bristol Magistrates' Court and not by the ECB. But, the future of players such as Alistair Cook and Moeen Ali, both of whom did have uncharacteristically poor tours, should not be in doubt.

England should not concern themselves with planning for the next Ashes series down under, at least not yet. There are more fundamental issues at the heart of this disappointment. The concentration should be focussed upon admitting that this tour was a disaster, acknowledging that the level of public engagement in the sport continues to deteriorate, and that the structure of cricket in the UK needs some scrutiny beyond internal ECB enquires which, invariably, result in policies that serve merely to plug the holes of a sinking ship.


Mountain View

Russia 2018: England's next great sporting opportunity

Since 2005, when the sport gripped the nation with terrestrial television coverage enhancing cricketing fervour, the sport, sadly, has been in decline. Over a quarter of a million people attended the Melbourne test match – even if England had a big enough stadium, the attendance would be far from comparable. It is, therefore, not the England players who need to be looking in the mirror after this series – their time would be better spent in the nets – but rather the whole cricketing institution in England. The central question to be addressed is, do we actually want cricket to feature in the sporting future of the UK? I know I do, but unless changes are made, I fear we are entering the twilight of this historic game’s affinity with an increasingly exasperated British public 

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