Source: Getty Images

Back to the Drawing-board – The Ashes lost again

  • +1

The only problem with taking a root-and-branch overhaul of England’s cricket is a looming World Cup next month in New Zealand.

So there is no time for a detailed review of what went wrong and how it can be put right. The same players who suffered a winless series in Australia – in itself a great rarity – move on to the next tournament with ten days of strict confinement to look forward to. Their first opponents on 9 March will almost inevitably be Australia.

The tour results are shown below in brief

The A Team couldn’t turn up Trumps

The situation looks all the worse for the A team’s equally fruitless part in the tour. It was an imaginative step to take them along so they could show their abilities alongside the first choices.

The squad included many of the leading young uncapped hopefuls, plus a few older heads and an assortment of first-team players added to the strength (variously Anya Shrubsole, Sarah Glenn, Maia Bouchier and Tash Farrant). Georgia Elwiss, the one highly experienced player, captained the side.

When they batted relatively well (150-4 in the the second T20), the Aussie openers saw the target off without loss. The senior players rarely exploited the chance of operating at this less exalted level to show they really deserved to return hotfoot to the First XI – Bouchier did make a 50 in the last game.

Given the First XI’s hardships, it needed match-turning performances in these other games to force the management to alter its view of the best team available. That didn’t happen till the last ODI in Melbourne, where an A-team player asked to stay on was at last given a chance. As is all too often the way in cricket, Emma Lamb, belatedly brought in to replace the under-performing Lauren Winfield-Hill, lasted two balls and failed to score.

What did Keightley hope to gain from this experiment? Giving a player a single match to prove herself is unkind to her and unprofitable to team-building. If she was worth her place, she should have been introduced at least one game earlier, preferably two.

So there was interchange between the two sides, as many had hoped. But it had no influence on the results.

The First XI

The biggest disappointment came with the batting. Once more, players who had recently taken other attacks apart (West Indies, India, New Zealand) found Australian bowlers too demanding. Only two of them averaged over 30, Heather Knight (63) and Nat Sciver (34). But Knight’s figures were distorted by her one great innings, detailed below.

You could argue that the bowling suffered directly from the batting failures. England batted first three times, Australia twice. But that can’t overlook the poverty of the bowling returns. The one shining exception was Katherine Brunt, the one player who, in more prosperous times, wouldn’t have been called on to produce the rabbit from the hat so often. She averaged 13, nobody else under 30, and four front-line operators over 50. That marks out the dominance of the Australian batters.

The T20s were over almost before they began, only one completed thanks to rain. Danni Wyatt proved her worth with a 70, but no-one else made a major mark. As for the bowlers, Sophie Ecclestone took a wicket.

The test had its captivating sessions, highlighted by one of the great test innings by Heather Knight (168* in 427 minutes), but it was essentially a match-saving operation, a win remained just out of reach. Though Brunt and Sciver took seven wickets between them, an Australian total of 337 put an England win beyond reach. Shrubsole, Ecclestone and Kate Cross all proved expensive.

Like so many before it, the test ended in a draw. Once more the call went up for 5-day matches, but as in last year’s England-India test, rain intervened. With four dry days both these games would surely have provided a decisive result.

The third and last ODI in Melbourne encapsulated the England difficulties. Tammy Beaumont (50) and Sciver (46) both made decent scores, but couldn’t accelerate the pace as they wished. The rest of the batting was limp in the extreme. Only the new recruit, Charlie Dean, reached double figures (18*).

A total of 7 fours and 2 sixes were squeezed out of suffocating bowling. A run-rate of 3.29 wasn’t going to worry the opposition; they cleared the target at over 4.5.

Where do we go from here?

It took Australia precious little time to hold on to the trophy. As we look forward, we can wonder what route the ECB will take to ensure a palpable rise in standards, steep enough to give the Australians a real challenge next time.

The last time England lost an Ashes series, Mark Robinson paid with his job. He is now a successful head coach at Warwickshire CCC. Will Lisa Keightley follow in his footsteps? Probably not; she’s still relatively new in post. But if she were to fail a second time, she might have to pay the ultimate price.

Then who next?

It is remarkable how consistently England’s batting fails against these opponents. Players with excellent records against other teams find the proverbial feather in their hands, not a trusty willow.

Their tour record has been hugely disappointing.

Keightley’s own performance will now come under the microscope. It takes special qualities from a coach to inspire a team that is under the cosh. With the Ashes already conceded, will the ECB find the team’s demeanour in the last match all they had hoped for? Resilience is vital when the tide is against you.

Will Keightley’s selections be found wanting? The ECB may agree that her options were severely limited. With the lack of vibrant competition coming for the second team, she couldn’t easily shuffle her cards to pick an optimum eleven. In the last ODI, with the series already a lost cause, she did produce a new-look team, replacing Lauren Winfield-Hill with Emma Lamb, and re-introducing Freya Davies and Farrant. Too little, too late?

Here’s a list of some of the obstacles that lay in the players’ path: a pandemic; consequent lack of match practice; quarantine confinement; lousy weather more redolent of England; an outstanding opponent.

These are reminiscent of the West Indians’ fate when they came to Derby for a series in 2020. But England had so many more support facilities available to to them, and still they came away winless from the tour.

Results

England Team:

Match 1 (T20)
England 169-4
Australia 170-1

Match 2 (T20 abandoned)
England 25-0

Match 3 (T20 abandoned)

Match 4 (Test)
Australia 337-9 declared and 216-7
England 297 and 245-7

Match 5 (ODI)
Australia 205-9
England 178

Match 6 (ODI)
England 129
Australia 131-5

Match 7 (ODI)
England 163
Australia 164-2

Overall Points
Australia 12
England 4

England A Team:

Match 1 (T20)
England 129
Australia 133-7

Match 2 (T20)
England 150-4
Australia 151-0

Match 3 (abandoned)
England 158-7
Australia 3-0

Match 4 (ODI)
Australia 261-9
England 219

Match 5 (ODI)
England 132
Australia 138-2

Match 6 (ODI)
Australia 263-8
England 211