England’s pitiful defeat in this year’s Ashes is a far cry from the 2015 squad’s regaining of the urnAirwolfhound (Licenced under Creative Commons Attribution)/Flickr

In 2006, Steve Harmison bowled one of the most infamous balls in Test cricket history, sending the first ball of the Ashes straight into the hands of second slip. England went on to lose 5-0, outclassed by the Australians in every department. The 2021 Ashes began in similarly farcical fashion, with Rory Burns’ leg stump sent cartwheeling by Mitchell Starc’s first ball. England’s performances since then have been nothing short of abject, none more so than the innings defeat at Melbourne in the Boxing Day Test. The gulf in quality between the two sides looks to have shocked even the Australian players, who have cruised to a 3-0 lead (and Ashes victory) without having to move into second gear.

Upon entering Australia, the England squad had to quarantine for fourteen days, meaning they spent more time in quarantine than their twelve days of playing cricket before losing the Ashes. The margins of defeat - by nine wickets at the Gabba, 275 runs in Adelaide, and an innings and fourteen runs at the MCG, cement this tour as one of the worst in living memory. Collapsing to 68 all out in the second innings of the third Test was a fitting way to end the tourist’s feeble resistance, losing by an innings in a game where Australia only scored 267 runs. For a side that began 2021 with successive Test victories against Sri Lanka (twice) and India away from home, it is an ignominious way to end the year.

“Some of the decision-making from English batsmen on this tour has frankly been laughable”

Captain Joe Root has had one of the greatest years ever for a Test batsman in terms of individual run-scoring. His total of 1708 runs this calendar year ranks third in the all-time list, behind only Viv Richards’ efforts in 1976 and Mohammad Yousuf’s mammoth undertaking in 2006. A brilliant 228 in Sri Lanka, as well as 218 against India in Chennai, have been accompanied by four more centuries. He has been short of his superlative best in Australia, but still tops the run-scoring chart with 253, including three half-centuries so far.

England’s batting woes simply lie elsewhere, starting with the opening batsmen. Not since the halcyon days of Andrew Strauss and Alistair Cook have England had a reliable opening partnership. At the beginning of the tour, Rory Burns and recently recalled Haseeb Hameed were entrusted to open, but after Burns’ calamitous dismissal in the First Test and total of 51 runs in four innings, he was dropped for Zak Crawley for the Third Test. Prior to the Melbourne Test, Crawley had an average of eleven runs in 2021 Test cricket. He managed to worsen his average by being dismissed for twelve and five, while Hameed has been dispatched twice for nought in this series, never looking comfortable at the crease.

Far from the openers being the sole problem with England’s batting lineup, the middle order has failed to bat convincingly whilst Down Under. With the exception of Dawid Malan, who has accompanied Root in the middle frequently and fairly ably, some of the decision-making from English batsmen on this tour has frankly been laughable. Jos Buttler’s ugly hoick to deep midwicket in Melbourne while England were 128-5 was borderline criminal, and Bairstow’s bizarre dismissal in the same innings was a surreal reminder of the inadequacy of the batting order. Chris Woakes is England’s third highest run-scorer in the series despite being left out in Melbourne, batting at number eight in the first two tests.

“It is easy to chastise England for their fragile attempts to regain the Ashes, but it must be said that Australia’s squad has been excellent”

Doubts have been cast over coach Chris Silverwood’s and Root’s decisions in this series, particularly the omission of Mark Wood from the side in Adelaide and the usage of Jack Leach as the primary spinner. Bowling has been less of an issue than batting but, despite an ageing James Anderson’s monumental efforts, England’s attack has looked toothless at times. More worrying still is the woeful fielding displayed by the visiting side, with catches going down in the slips frequently. Jos Buttler, England’s hero at the ODI World Cup in 2019, had a nightmarish Second Test, dropping a number of routine catches behind the stumps, albeit saving some face with several stunning grabs. Questions arise, therefore, over the decision to send Ben Foakes home with the England Lions earlier this month, given that he is probably the best English wicketkeeper and also an accomplished batsman. Buttler’s continued failure with both bat and gloves has ultimately cost England dearly, regardless of his prior brilliance.

It is easy to chastise England for their fragile attempts to regain the Ashes, but it must be said that Australia’s squad has been excellent, especially their bowling attack. Newly-appointed captain Pat Cummins is on scintillating form, hardly bowling a bad ball all series. His opening partner, Mitchell Starc, has been brutally effective, while the rotating support cast of Cameron Green, Jhye Richardson, and Josh Hazlewood have all bowled well.


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Scott Boland’s unbelievable debut on his home turf in Melbourne will go down in Ashes history, recording 6-7 from four overs as England were skittled for 68. Nathan Lyon has been his usual self, taking valuable wickets and sustaining pressure on the England batsmen that Leach, however likeable, simply cannot replicate. They have not needed to score many runs due to England’s incompetence, but David Warner, Travis Head, and Marnus Labuschagne have finely demonstrated to the English batsmen how to play; far more reliable in the field, they look a class above an England side that is one of the weakest in recent memory.

The loss through injury of Jofra Archer and the need to carefully manage the workload of Stuart Broad and James Anderson can both be considered (slight) mitigating factors in the Australian dominance. However, the lack of proven Test run-scorers outside of Joe Root, along with the complete absence of a quality spinner, means that this team will not improve instantly. The next two tests will inevitably be tough viewing for English fans, and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) certainly has a job on its hands to restructure this test side over the next few years and save us from another Ashes humiliation like this.