0England and Wales Cricket Board logoA game of nerve?

It’s that time again — the nights are long, the air is cold, but soon the radio will fire into life and bring the sounds of Aus­trali­an sum­mer to our ears. Will Eng­land come back from the pre­vi­ous white­wash with a win (as they did in 2010-11, or will Aus­tralia com­plete a 3rd white­wash in 4 series. I for one am bet­ting it won’t be a draw!


I think this is the hard­est to pre­dict Ashes series this mil­len­ni­um — both sides have a decent num­ber of qual­ity bowl­ers, and evenly share 4 of the best bats­men in the game. Both sides also have a recent his­tory of middle order col­lapse, and a selec­tion of match res­ults that vary from bril­liant to truly pathet­ic. It seems like it might be a case of “who cracks first”.

If Eng­land get on top, as they did in 2010, the Aus­sie crowds and press will get at the green-team with a vigour only nor­mally seen in the Brit­ish press when the foot­ballers fail to mater­i­al­ise. Equally, if Aus­tralia get on top then Eng­land have a tend­ency to totally implode as they did in the 2 vis­its down under either side of their 2010 vic­tory.

Over­all the odds must be in the Australian’s favour, some­thing the book­ies agree with. They have home-soil advant­age and will no doubt pre­pare pitches that offer pace and seam with as little swing as pos­sible. Fair play to them — I’ve no doubt Eng­land will pre­pare swinging pitches in return the next time our Aus­sie friends are over here. The Ben Stokes affair (1) has also dam­aged England’s pre­par­a­tions, and there are some injury prob­lems which could prove sig­ni­fic­ant too.

I think the mar­gins between the teams are quite small, and things bey­ond human con­trol (e.g. the toss, the weath­er) could prove cru­cial. I also think that once a team gets on top there is a good chance they will stay there. The dif­fer­ence between a 3–1 vic­tory as in 2010, and a 5–0 defeat, could actu­ally be quite small. If Eng­land come away with a draw, they will retain the Ashes. This will rightly be regarded as pretty much as good as vic­tory and Eng­land will rightly get all the plaudits. Plan­ning for vic­tory shouldn’t be the hard­est job in the world, so instead — how about we think before­hand about what might hap­pen in the event of defeat.

Let’s ima­gine the Aus­sies get a bit of run of the ball, and make good use of it, and Eng­land sink to defeat in the first couple of test matches. Real­ist­ic­ally it is unlikely that they could come back from 2–0 down, so the remain­ing matches wouldn’t really tell us a great deal new. Is there a dif­fer­ence between leav­ing hav­ing lost by 3 or 4 with the team intact, and leav­ing hav­ing lost 5–0 with the cap­tain in doubt, a lead­ing bowl­er gone, and 2 of the best bats­man gone. I ask because that is what happened in 2013–14, when ques­tions were left hanging over Cap­tain Cook, Jonath­an Trott quit inter­na­tion­al crick­et, KP was pushed out, and Graeme Swann quit mid-tour. In oth­er words massive mis­man­age­ment had man­aged to snatch a much great­er defeat from the jaws of a brief embar­rass­ment. Just ima­gine the cur­rent Eng­land team but with KP, Trott and Swann still avail­able for selec­tion — a world num­ber 1 side surely?

Instead we have a young­er less exper­i­enced team, but with plenty of qual­ity and plenty of poten­tial. It is essen­tial to the future of the team that such massive fail­ures of man­age­ment are not repeated on this tour. There is no dom­in­ant coun­try in test crick­et at present, with Aus­tralia, Eng­land, India, Pakistan and South Africa all cap­able of being dom­in­ant and ruth­less, and also all cap­able of being very poor too. There is noth­ing to sep­ar­ate these 5 sides. All of them would be favour­ites in home con­di­tions to beat all of the oth­ers. This is par­tic­u­larly so in England’s case, with 2 of the best swing bowl­ers in the his­tory of the game able to win home matches with reg­u­lar­ity, even when the bats­men are strug­gling.

So, let’s hope the Eng­land man­age­ment have learned from pre­vi­ous mis­takes, and in the event of of defeat, find ways to keep the team togeth­er, lift the great tal­ent we have, and bring the Eng­land team home ready to con­tin­ue build­ing towards the future. If they can’t do that, what exactly do they do for the team?

(1) A foot­note on the Ben Stokes affair. This is a wor­ry­ing sign that Eng­land man­age­ment haven’t learned from the past. Ask your­self this — if it was the oth­er way around and a key Aus­sie play­er had assaul­ted someone in a bar would the Aus­sies have dropped that play­er? Or would they have down­played it, picked the guy any­way, and even gone on to make him vice cap­tain? If you have any doubts about the answer just ask Joe Root! It seems to me that Eng­land man­age­ment are first and fore­most inter­ested in avoid­ing catch­ing any flack from the media, rather than act­ing in the right way. Suc­cess­ful man­age­ment pub­licly sup­ports their play­er. What is said in private is no doubt very dif­fer­ent. There isn’t even any sign of man­age­ment tak­ing a grain of respons­ib­il­ity, des­pite repeated fail­ures to man­age play­ers effect­ively, be it with men­tal health (Trescothick, Trott), team rela­tions (Swann, KP), or respons­ible beha­viour (Flintoff in ped­alo-gate, Root get­ting punched in walk­about, play­ers urin­at­ing on the pitch, and now Stokes out on the lash).

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