Having arrived Down Under hoping for a fourth straight Ashes success, England have subsided, with dominant Australia securing the series in just 14 days of cricket. So what has gone wrong?
For the last few years, England have placed great store by stability of selection.
Consistently good results have helped them stick to that, but aside from the usual core of senior men, the playing party for this series betrayed some muddled thinking.
Including Tim Bresnan, who was unavailable for the first Test due to injury, the England and Wales Cricket Board brought a bloated group of 18 to Australia and questions over Alastair Cook’s opening partner, the No 6 batting position and the third seamer’s role provided an unusual sense of uncertainty in the build-up.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Much of the aggressively anti-English media campaign this winter has been misguided, laughable or both, but there was a hint of genius about the Sydney Morning Herald’s deconstruction of the tourists’ leaked culinary demands.
That an 82-page booklet was being provided to hotels to ensure England’s cricketers were getting only the very best goji-berry breakfast bars (no, really) might have seemed meticulous and uber-professional in victory.
In such a crushing defeat, it provides a rich seam of comedy value and paints the picture of a team obsessed by minor details, while struggling with the basics.
England’s seemingly unflappable No 3 did not seem himself during the series opener at the Gabba, but when it was revealed Trott had flown home immediately after due to a long-standing stress-related condition it cast a long shadow over the whole team.
With the experiences of Marcus Trescothick and Michael Yardy fresh in the mind, the admission that a player so senior, so popular and so important was now losing a similar battle hurt England’s batting line-up, but must also have provided a blow to the morale of the whole squad.
The ‘will he stay or will he go?’ debate around team director Andy Flower has been openly raging for months.
His decision to hand over the limited-overs team to heir-apparent Ashley Giles at the end of 2012 seemed to be the first step towards a wider handover and his poker-faced refusal to commit himself to the Test side beyond the current series has become a distracting sub-plot.
Flower’s fingerprints are all over this squad and they need to know his intentions.
As well as being England’s best spinner for a generation, Graeme Swann’s happy go lucky, quip-a-minute persona has been a welcome counterpoint to his straight-laced team-mates in recent years.
But while the wickets have dried up in Australia, that sense of humour has drifted wide of the mark too.
Swann apologised for “crass and thoughtless” comments on social media that suggested England had been “a*** raped in Perth” – making negative news headlines to go along with the bad news in the sports pages.