Ashes: UK View: I’m an England batter… get me out of here

Pat Cummins celebrates a wicket as Joe Root watches the carnage unfold at the other end. Image: cricket.com.au

There’s an old story about a fella who rearranged the deckchairs on the Titanic, the theory being that if they were moved to the higher parts of the boat then they wouldn’t get washed out to sea.

History has recorded what happened to the Titanic. The sea took it, deckchairs and all.

Chris Silverwood, the England coach, is the man responsible for shuffling the players in the England squad into a cohesive and, hopefully, successful Test match team.  Four out of five times this team has fallen short.  Would probably have been five from five if not for the Sydney rain shearing seven overs from the final day’s play, one of the few things to go right for the entire tour.

Finally, tonight in Hobart, England sank without a trace. Crashing to a 146-run defeat when the route to victory was right in front of them.

Time and again England on this tour have had promising periods of play, only to surrender the initiative with varying degrees of meekness at the merest hint of any pressure from the opposition. Reducing your opponent to 12 for three after inviting them to bat is fairly promising. To let Australia escape to 303 all out was all but criminal.

After Mark Wood finally saw his heroic bowling efforts rewarded with a worthy haul of wickets, 6/37 from 16.3 overs which reduced the fourth innings target to 271, Zak Crawley and Rory Burns added 68 at four runs per over for the first wicket.  

England had not seen 68 for any all series.

To then lose all ten wickets for a further 56 runs and not even make it halfway to the target; well… words fail me. You can not even imagine this Australian side doing that.

The pundits will tell you that cricket is such a cerebral game. It is a series of one-on-one battles within a team structure, and it is so easy to out-think yourself. What will disappoint England most, and not for the first time this lop-sided summer, is the relatively low proportion of their wickets that they actually made Australia earn.

Rory Burns; half-playing, half-leaving, completely bowled. Dawid Malan; worked over for ten balls by Cameron Green, bowled through a gaping hole between bat and pad on the eleventh. Ben Stokes; taking on the deep leg-side field with an aerial hook shot and giving one of these fielders catching practice.

It got worse.  If all dismissals tell stories of their own, then Chris Woakes’s shot said, “what time does the plane home leave?” Mark Wood, so admirable and wholehearted with the ball all tour, played a shot that exclaimed, “I can’t be bothered dealing with this rubbish anymore.”

All out 124. There is no other word for it other than capitulation.

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So where does this leave England now? Since making his Test debut five years previous, Haseeb Hameed has plunged to the absolute depths, mentally and physically, to which this game can take you. He was given his chance again this year at home in the northern summer and looked handy without making the opening spot his own.

After a reasonable start to the series in Brisbane, he did not make a double-figure score after. Likewise, fellow opening batters Rory Burns was jettisoned after Adelaide but brought back to replace Hameed for Hobart with only moderate success. 

Neither begins in the starting XI in England’s next series with a cast-iron grip on the opening position.

Malan began the series as one of the two England batters on whom the team could rely. He fell subject to the law of diminishing returns after the second Test, and at 34 years of age, England will be wondering if he is the answer at number three.  

Number six is also a problem area. Ollie Pope has youth on his side and could yet become one of the pillars of the England side of the future, but the jury is still out here. 

They could look to new, youthful options. Gloucestershire’s James Bracey and Lancashire’s Josh Bohannon, both 24 years of age, come readily to mind.

As far as the bowling stocks are concerned, the cupboard is not quite as bare. One wonders how much more we will see of James Anderson and Stuart Broad. Both have expressed a desire to play on but the decision could be taken out of their hands.  

There must also be question marks about the viability of playing Chris Woakes away from England.  

However, they have Olly Stone and Jofra Archer to come back from injury, Mark Wood growing in stature as a strike bowler, Ollie Robinson showing promise as a seamer for all seasons, and Craig Overton waiting for a chance. Jack Leach is a spinner who, whilst he has had his struggles on this tour, is a man of exceptional character and no little skill, while there is the exciting leg-spinner, Matt Parkinson, to look forward to. He must get his chance at Test level soon.

Pluses for England were few. Joe Root still looks for all the world a class above the rest of the batters on show, although there remain persistent doubts about his captaincy. More may play out about this in the coming months.

Zak Crawley is showing signs that he now knows his own game well enough to deliver on his enormous potential as an opening batter. Mark Wood delivered his best Test bowling figures in Hobart and was comfortably the best of the English pacemen. Ollie Robinson continued his development as the Glenn McGrath-type seamer that England is crying out for.

Finally, Sam Billings. Plucked from the Big Bash in Sydney to debut in the fifth Test, did his job tidily, and gave England the spark and impetus that they so badly needed in the field. He is worth an extended spell as a Test keeper.

So that’s it then. Australia 4-0, two days sooner than the calendar allowed. And if you’ll excuse your English correspondent, he’s just going to go to the corner of the room and wonder how the 2010-11 triumph down under ever happened or ever will be replicated.

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