December 29, 2021: Some 40 England teams have toured Australia since the first ever Test match was held in Melbourne in March 1877. It is difficult to pinpoint any one of them as weak as the current one which has already lost the series in the shortest possible route – going down tamely in the first three Tests.
It is not just the margins – nine wickets, 275 runs and an innings and 14 runs – that underline the humiliation the touring squad has had to endure. It is the manner in which they have gone down without a fight the series being virtually over in 12 playing days. It is not that England teams in the past have not suffered such heavy defeats. In 1920-21 they lost all five Tests a “feat’’ they duplicated in 2006-07 and again seven years later. Last time out four years ago they lost 0-4. But those were formidable Aussie teams, the best in the world and boasting several all-time greats. The current side while being a good one is not the best in the world, are not as strong as their predecessors and yet a 5-0 thrashing is very much on the cards.
More than any ruthlessness on the part of the Aussies it is the meek surrender of the tourists that has been the cause of much discussion. The bowling is bad, the batting worse. Save for Joe Root no one else has come out from this ragged display with any credit. One’s heart goes out to the skipper who despite being under pressure has batted in a manner that is in keeping with his reputation as one of the best batsmen in the contemporary game. His captaincy however is under a cloud. He is not exactly sound tactically and some of his remarks have not gone down well with the experts. His blaming the bowlers after the defeat at Adelaide was uncalled for as more than the bowling it was the batting that had failed. If anything the second innings debacle at the MCG underlined this.
Nothing symbolizes the enormous disparity between the contestants than the series stats and what is really perplexing is that England continues to persist with players who are failing continuously. The batting is particularly fallible. Their predicament can be best summed up by the horrendous show of Rory Burns. Which other team would persist with an opening batsman who averages under 31 after playing 31 Tests and getting only three hundreds? This kind of persistence with a batsman whose technique has been badly exposed during the ongoing series – in which he has scored just 51 runs in four innings – forces the genuine cricket fan to ask the question – are there no other batsmen in England? His opening partner Haseeb Hameed is no better averaging 26.50 after nine Tests with no hundred and a highest score of 82. In the present series he has just 65 runs from six innings.
When a team has two opening batsmen who are repeatedly failing half the battle is already lost. Their No 3 David Malan too has had his chances but has failed to grab them averaging just under 30 after 20 Tests with only one hundred. Much the same can be said about Ollie Pope who has not lived up to his early promise and averages under 30 after 22 Tests with just one hundred. They have also been hit hard by the fact that Ben Stokes has failed to come up with the kind of contributions in keeping with his larger than life image while more was expected from established stars like Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler. The bowling by comparison has emerged better but only by comparison. Full marks however to that old warhorse James Anderson who at 39 and having just started his 20th year in international cricket is as indefatigable as ever.
So what can we expect in the remaining two Tests? Can England prevent another whitewash? Can they put up even a semblance of a fight? The way things stand all this seems highly unlikely. The Aussies are on the rampage. It must not be forgotten that they didn’t have Pat Cummins for the second Test and Josh Hazlewood at Adelaide and Melbourne. This did not hinder them at all and in the process they unearthed a gem of a talent in Scott Boland. The batting is sound enough against this lacklustre England bowling line-up. Yes, viewed from any angle – particularly the manner in which they folded up in the second innings at the MCG – another whitewash is very much on the cards.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal)