It’s difficult to write anything about this tour that hasn’t already been written or said before. Such has been the toxicity of this tour it’s likely to be the defining point of the careers of most of the England side.
Forget the previous three Ashes victories, the t20 world cup triumph and the stunning scalp of India in their own backyard – this series could well be remembered more than any of those. The latest humiliation was more painful than any of the others because just as it looked as though England had finally turned a corner before spontaneously combusting in a matter that was both stunning and devastating.
Heading into lunch on day three, England, amazingly, had the upper hand. A typically sub-par batting performance was, perhaps, to be expected, with Mitchell Johnson again dominant, but England’s bowlers had finally worked their magic as they tore through Australia’s top and middle-order. Anderson and Broad harked back to the now hazy memories of the summer as they combined to leave Australia in deep trouble, Anderson finally finding the right line to bowl as he showed guts to pick himself up off the deck after being hammered by Watson and Bailey in the last test. Despite a typically gutsy counter-attack from Haddin, England had a 50 run lead, their first first innings lead of the series. And there was more good news, as Cook showed some rare fluency as England increased their lead past 100 after a solid opening stand with a patient Carberry. However, England failed to emerge from the pavilion after lunch, and managed to perform their most dramatic collapse to date. At one point, they lost three wickets for one run. And then, realising that wasn’t enough, deciding to do it again later in the very same innings. England lost their last five wickets for six runs, which is completely unacceptable in any circumstance, but when it’s considered that Nathan Lyon, a spinner who doesn’t really spin it much, was doing all the damage on a pitch that wasn’t turning, it becomes completely embarrassing.
Having allowed themselves to be bogged down throughout the series, England’s decision to go on the offensive failed outright. As a team that was built on control and cautiousness, asking these players to attack was always going to be a bit like putting a goalkeeper up front. But, the lack of any sort of brainpower is a huge cause of concern. Most of these players were brought up on twenty20 and one-day cricket, so how England have managed to knock any sort of attacking ability out of them is beyond me.
The humiliation was not yet complete though. Defending 250, England probably fancied repeating their 1st innings performance with the ball to sneak a win against the odds. However, England were woeful in the field, once again. On the morning of day four, the bowlers carved out two golden opportunities to get rid of Warner & Rogers. However, Jonny Bairstow, making his keeping debut, decided to leave a regulation catch to a diving and despairing Alastair Cook, before Cook went one better and managed to let a dolly, and then the game, slip through his fingers. Though Warner would soon throw his wicket away, Rogers punished England as he made a century, helped in no turn by Cook, whose brain had presumably fried in the Perth heat, as his decision-making nosedived, evidenced by some strange, bizarre even, bowling choices. Broad, who was steaming in early doors, was sidelined for the non-wicket taking “spin” of Joe Root. The game was probably gone anyway, but it certainly didn’t help things.
And so, England had managed to snatch embarrassment from the jaws of adequacy in the space of a day and a half. It’s difficult to see what England can do to really improve things, other than hope that someone in the batting line-up finds form. The changes certainly didn’t work for this test, with Panesar looking every inch the bowler who couldn’t find a county earlier this year and Bairstow looking every inch a man not good enough to bat or keep for England. Scott Borthwick has been mooted as a possible Panesar replacement, whilst Gary Ballance, who boasts the magic combination of being born overseas and playing for Yorkshire, is once again in the running for a place. Borthwick was a revelation for Durham last season batting at three as he scored over 1000 runs on their to the title, but his bowling isn’t there yet and there’s a chance that he’ll become another Simon Kerrigan with the Aussie batsmen baying for blood. Perhaps now is the time to finally give Ballance a chance that he deserves though. Having performed well in tour matches, Ballance is the man who can count himself genuinely unlucky to have not got his maiden cap on this tour. If he does come in, a lot could rest on his shoulders. With no other batsmen performing at all, England are down to hope and faith if they want to avoid the whitewash. It’s going to require a lot of character to do so. And frankly, character has been one thing that England have showed none of this series.