INTEREST IN ASHES DWINDLE BECAUSE OF ENGLAND’S INEPTITUDE
January 20, 2022: The Ashes for so long the main event for cricket followers is now in danger of becoming a side show of a side show. No genuine cricket fan likes a one-sided contest and when it happens over and over again interest is bound to dwindle. England’s repeated failures in Australia has already meant that the game’s enthusiasts have only a passing interest in what was for well over a century the showpiece of international cricket.
And they are not just failures but embarrassments. England have had to endure the kind of humiliating defeats that rookie sides have suffered at the hands of vastly experienced teams. In four of the last five series Down Under England have been thrashed 5-0, 5-0, 4-0 and 4-0. They have lost 13 of the last 15 Tests they have played in Australia and in the just concluded series the visitors were within a wicket of losing all five Tests. They have gone down without a whimper by margins that cannot be debated, by an innings, in three days and being bowled out for double digit totals.
Perhaps there is nothing new in England being humiliated Down Under. After all they lost four successive series from 1990-91 to 2002-03 but the margins of defeat were not as comprehensive. There was some fight in the Tests which frequently went to five days, the players were of high calibre and they provided considerable entertainment even while going down. Since then they have gone from bad to worse but surely the just concluded series was the nadir of England in Australia. They just about avoided the whitewash of 2006-07 but the bowling and particularly the batting was seen in very poor light. It didn’t have the feel of an Ashes contest at all.
The Australians could hardly believe their good fortune. They did not have to stretch themselves, so weak was the opposition. They could even make light of the fact that Steve Smith, their batting mainstay for years, finished the series with an average of 30. Even their other star player Marnus Labuschagne was below par but Travis Head and Usman Khawaja came up with two hundreds each and the batsmen really did not have do much with England’s batting being gutless.
England’s bowlers performed within their limitations but this was easily the weakest batting line-up in years. That the team management still persisted with players like Joe Burns, Zak Crawley, David Malan, Ollie Pope and Haseeb Hameed had cricket fans asking the question – doesn’t England have better players? The inability of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler to perform in keeping with their reputation cost the team dearly but to be candid the disparity between the two teams – this is underlined by the series stats – was so much that even an improved show by a couple of cricketers would not have made much difference to the final result. Too much depended on Joe Root though it was Jonny Bairstow, who played only two Tests, who got England’s only hundred. In bowling Mark Wood was the lone star excelling with his pace and hostility while the durable duo of James Anderson and Stuart Broad who are surely in the evening of their great careers did as much as their experience would help them.
What attracted considerable notice was that England went down so meekly to a side that does not compare with their great predecessors. Those were world beating sides brimming with all-time greats. This was a middling side and it is only the near whitewash that has seen Australia rise to the No 1 spot in the ICC Test rankings. Viewed from any angle this was arguably the weakest England team to tour Australia.
There are no easy solutions for England. With the ECB hell bent on promoting the limited overs game – symbolized by the introduction of The Hundred last year – the standard of county cricket has gone down and as everyone is aware it is a sound first class cricket structure that is a must for success in the sport’s traditional format. For the moment then England will continue to flounder at the international level. England are currently No 4 in the ICC Test rankings but that is because the teams below them are inconsistent. One would not be surprised if England slide into the second half of the table.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)