By Nick Friend
Foolishly, as I have been told by many, I made the bold commitment on November 24th to watch every single ball of the current Ashes series; a lot of caffeine and very little sleep later, I feel disappointed – angry even.
How can it be that a side that has trounced India in India as recently as last year, and humiliated Australia on their last visit Down Under, can look so toothless? Forget Australia for a minute (they have been excellent) it cannot be simply down to them that England have self-combusted over the past month.
My view is that England have surrendered the Ashes due to decisions made in two positions. Perhaps, given the failure of England’s batsmen, one would expect the main problem to be down to them. This may be correct – but indirectly. I see our failure to put up any sort of challenge down to selections made at 7 and 8.
Matt Prior’s awful 2013 form is an issue, of course. However, what is forgotten is that he was touch-and-go for the first Test with a calf injury. How fit is he? I can’t fathom how a wicketkeeper of his standing can make so many errors in three games.
The issue stems from Geoff Miller, the chief selector; Jonny Bairstow will not be England’s next wicketkeeper as neither his batting or keeping are up to standard – he doesn’t even keep for Yorkshire on a regular basis.
He is in the tour party for the experience but Andy Flower and Alistair Cook are reticent to pick him. I am convinced that were Steven Davies or Jos Buttler in Australia as Prior’s reserve, England’s vice-captain would not have played in Brisbane. As for his future, I hope that they stick by him; it was only in January that he made a series-saving ton in New Zealand. He averages in the mid-forties and is the best ‘gloveman’ in international cricket.
The biggest selection issue for me is that of Graeme Swann. Simply, Monty Panesar is the best bowler of spin in England; therefore, he should be England’s number one spinner.
So much weight is put on Swann’s ability with the bat, his slip catching and his all-round importance to the team, yet he hasn’t scored the lower order runs he is known for.
His meek efforts with the bat more than anyone else have annoyed me. People say that he needs to protect his spinning fingers, Monty who with his extremely limited ability and fingers to protect, batted courageously for an hour with Ian Bell in Adelaide.
With Khawaja, Katich, North, Hughes and Hussey all gone from Australia’s middle order, so has Swann’s threat – so often reliant on the presence of left-handers.
As for England’s preparation, I don’t feel that they were complacent but I believe that they approached the series with the attitude that if they turned up and did their jobs they would win. It hasn’t been like that, though, and that is down to Australia’s approach.
They went away and decided that as a side, they are not good enough to turn up and rely on their games alone. They had clear plans for Cook, Trott and Pietersen with the bat and both Swann and Anderson with the ball – the spine of England’s side. Who do England have plans for? Shane Watson, George Bailey, and Michael Clarke (briefly).
Finally, where is Steven Finn? He has broken all sorts of records in terms of his wicket taking so many have spoken of him as the future of English fast-bowling. Mitchell Johnson’s series should have emphasised Finn’s importance to England; if you bowl at 90mph consistently you will take wickets.
England’s theory is that you have to build up pressure with maidens and this works if the batsmen are content to wait for the bad ball. If, however, Watson, Warner and Clarke are taking aim and willing to attack, then what’s the point? Anderson and Bresnan are totally nullified, as 82mph is a throw-down at international level if the ball isn’t moving.
Anyway, I’m tired and disappointed.
However, with two games still to play, England can still wrestle back not only pride but also a bit of momentum in the same way that Australia did with their victorious ODI series in September.
The urn may be leaving Captain Cook’s hands but the next two games can still give England much to be reassured about.
Photograph: Gareth Morgan