In what was expected to be a closely fought Ashes cricket series between Australia and England, it is now just case of the tourists avoiding a 5-0 whitewash after losing the first three tests ‘down under’ without really offering much resistance. Already, recriminations have begun in the English press but drastic action may not yet be required at this stage.
During a summer when England were most definitely the superior team after securing a 3-0 victory against Australia, perhaps a shade of complacency has prevailed with no plan B as a back-up measure. The Aussies tended to marginally improve as the 2013 series progressed, on wickets more favourable to the hosts, but this statistic was rather ignored in the euphoria of retaining the Ashes.
On the first day of the opening test of the current Ashes series, it appeared that England once again were in the ascendency as Aussie wickets tumbled, but a dismal 136 total by the visitors in reply was not in the script.
The self-confidence of the England team seemed to disappear overnight as they realised that the Australian’s were much better prepared for the forthcoming cricket and the contest would be that much fiercer. There had been talk of a 5-0 win for England before the series began and perhaps an air of over-confidence had spread into the team. Now, they seem unable or incapable of stemming the Australian tide.
Yet, the performance of the tourists was relatively improved from the previous two tests with Durham cricketer Ben Stokes scoring the first ton by an English batsman in this series. His partnership with Ian Bell in the second innings was the highest to date by a pairing, falling just short of 100 and while the England total of 353 was also the their best score to date, it was still lower than both scores recorded by Australia in this test.
That Ben Stokes is the least experienced of the England eleven and was playing in only his second test speaks volumes about the application of the more senior members of the squad. When all appeared so easy during the summer, once placed under real pressure of clinical fast bowling especially from Mitchell Johnson, the response is not so forthcoming.
Attitudes must change for the remaining two tests especially as the ability of the England cricketers has been proven in recent productive test matches. There have been several sessions when the Australians have appeared fallible but slack and shoddy England play has allowed the hosts to recover the situation.
If the tourists are to return home with any dignity, they need to start matching Australia for application and determination in front of an increasingly confident home crowd.