Where did it go wrong for England during The Ashes?

England were unable to win The Ashes on home soil for the first time since 2001, albeit they managed to salvage a respectable draw through winning the 5th Test at The Oval. However, in home conditions against a fragile Australian batting line-up, the hosts would have expected to regain the urn after a humiliating 4-0 defeat down under 2017-18. Playfinder will review some of the key reasons why Joe Root’s side were unable to complete a famous double this summer, after being crowned World Champions in such thrilling circumstances at Lord’s during July.

Batting deficiencies

The glaringly obvious reason. England were no where near good enough with the bat, with only one man, Ben Stokes, averaging above 40 during the series. It has been England’s Achilles’ heel long before Trevor Bayliss took over in 2015. Yet England’s inability to dig-in and play the conditions is worrying at best. At times, the hosts showed they did have both the patience and technique to combat the likes of Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. Rory Burns impressed and looks to have cemented his place at the top of the order with some gutsy knocks. Joe Denly showed some promising signs, albeit intertwined with some worrying dismissals – with his 94 in the 2nd innings at The Oval arguably prolonging his Test career. However Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow, Jos Buttler and Joe Root all under-performed.

The England captain will be hugely frustrated with how he batted. He failed to convert 50 into 100 four more times throughout the series, and scored 0 on three separate occasions. It is purely down to inconsistency. Each batsmen mentioned, bar Jason Roy, have shown they are capable of scoring runs in the Test match arena, but do so sparingly, often giving the batting line-up an extremely fragile feel.

How many times have we seen batting collapses? It has almost become the norm. Bowled out for 67 at Headingley, skittled for 85 against Ireland just prior to The Ashes. During the tour of the West Indies in January, England managed to score just 77 in the first innings of the 1st Test. With all due respect, the Irish and Windies seam attacks are far less potent than the Australian quicks that were so brilliant during this series. It can almost, almost be excused failing so appallingly during one innings against this Aussie attack. After all it does contain the number one ranked Test bowler in Cummins. But as we’ve seen, the 67 all out was not a one-off, so what is the long-standing cause of our troubles?

One Day influence

Make no mistake about it, Trevor Bayliss was appointed England head coach in May 2015 to revitalise our ODI side. After becoming the laughing stock of the tournament during the previous World Cup, change was needed. Nobody could have foreseen what was about to happen though, with England playing a brand of cricket that has changed the one-day game forever. It was an remarkable job Bayliss did for England, taking the side to no.1 in the world and capturing the games premier prize. However, when there is such a heavy focus on the one day side, naturally the Test team will be hampered – especially when many of the side play both formats. Admittedly, the scheduling did not help Root’s men. After preparing meticulously for months during their World Cup conquest, it was obviously not going to be straight-forward to adapt back to the longer format of the game, pretty much overnight. Especially with the lack of red-ball cricket being played. One Test against Ireland is hardly the ideal preparation.

The impact was glaringly obvious, with so many dismissals put down to England playing their ‘natural game’, which is nonsense. With the quality of bowling on display from both sides, you can’t try to hit one ball an over to the boundary. How many times did we see English batsmen going hard at the ball outside off-stump? The traditional form of Test batting appears to be slowly diminishing. The ‘textbook’ method of playing the ball late, under the eyes with soft hands is becoming a thing of the past.

Did England need to make wholesale changes from the one-day side? Are the likes of Jason Roy, Jonny Bairstow and Jos Buttler good enough to play the longer format? It will be interesting to see what direction the new England coach takes the side in, with emerging talent in the form of Ollie Pope, Zak Crawley, Dom Sibley and Daniel Bell-Drummond all waiting in the wings. It certainly appears time to experiment with some younger blood – who have made their name in four-day cricket – when England depart for their tour of New Zealand in November.

Australia’s bowling attack

It’s been mentioned before in this piece, but the Australia bowling attack deserve more recognition as they were truly outstanding. Pat Cummins was immense, bowling a staggering 210 overs yet looking as fresh in his last over as he did during his first. It was relentless pace, accuracy and skill as he took 29 wickets during the series, 6 more than any other bowler. He proved to everyone just why he is rated the number one bowler in the world, but he was backed up superbly at the other end.

Josh Hazlewood really came alive in this series after disappointing in England last time out. He too showcased his skills, bowling a Glenn McGrath-esque line and length. On surfaces that generally offered a bit to the bowler, Hazlewood was duly rewarded for his consistency. Overall Australia’s bowling unit were probably slightly more consistent than England’s, whilst containing more depth with Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Marsh all performing admirably when called on.

Nathan Lyon then offered little release at the other end bowling his off-spin. He looked dangerous throughout the series, although his influence did wane as England found a successful method to combat Lyon after he picked up 9 wickets in the first Test. Probably the best attack in world cricket – although England’s is not far behind – produced performances that were undoubtedly a huge factor in Australia retaining the urn.

Steve Smith

Even the most ardent of England fans can admit, we were witnessing greatness. Steve Smith represented an irremovable figure throughout the series, displaying powers of concentration and skill that many argue has not been seen since Sir Don Bradman. Averaging 110 throughout the series, which included three 100’s – one of which Smith double-up hitting 211 at Old Trafford – effectively ended England’s hope of regaining the urn.

Was it down to pure genius? Or were England’s plans not devised well enough? On review, I would suggest it is the former. England tried everything from unleashing Archer with the short ball, to bowling round the wicket, to hiding the ball outside off-stump. It was only during the 5th and final Test than any resemblance of a plan came to fruition. With Stuart Broad bowling straight to Smith as he shuffled across his stumps in trademark style, Stokes managed to take a fine catch at leg-slip with the Australian looking to work the ball down to fine-leg. Success.

In truth, Smith was the difference between the sides. Take away his runs, or even half of them, and England likely run out winners. It is no coincidence that the one Test he missed, the Aussies succumbed to a one-wicket defeat. Although it did take one of the great Ashes innings from Ben Stokes to gain victory for the hosts. Perhaps if Sam Curran, who troubled Smith, was selected earlier during the series there may have been a different outcome. Although we may just have to accept, Steve Smith is an absolute run machine that proved too good for England in the series.

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Feature Image: "The Ashes Trent Bridge 2015" by Airwolfhound