Outplayed, outperformed and obliterated

Another Mitchell Johnson wicket, another England failure, an all too familiar sight. It’s not even Christmas, and the Ashes are effectively over, as Australia unsurprisingly wrapped up a rampant series victory this morning with their third consecutive demolition of a demoralised England side. The Ashes are gone, the success of the summer seems a long time ago, and it is most certainly back to the drawing board for Andy Flower, Alastair Cook and the rest of the England set-up.

For all but the odd session, England have been ruthlessly outplayed, failing in the batting department and struggling with the ball against a team which had failed to record victory in their past nine tests. Yet this time England simply gift-wrapped the Ashes for Australia, as they meekly surrendered to their hosts; Christmas most certainly came early for the Australians. Take nothing away from though, however atrocious England may have been, the hosts were equally excellent, playing positive, aggressive cricket which the tourists simply could not match.

Five Australian batsman have struck hundreds, with senior players such as Captain Michael Clarke and Shane Watson leading by example, whilst in contrast only an excellent century from Ben Stokes shows a glimmer of hope for England. Whereas Australia’s senior batsmen have shone, England’s have faltered, with Cook and Kevin Pietersen enduring miserable series, whilst Jonathan Trott’s tour was cut short due to his stress-related condition.

The formidable England bowling attack which has devastated so many teams over recent years also failed, with James Anderson and Graeme Swann appearing as a mere shadow of their former-selves, whilst only Stuart Broad performed as desired. Instead it was the Australian pacemen who wreaked havoc, and none more so than the enigmatic Johnson, the chief instigator of England’s downfall who has brutally dismantled England’s batting on numerous occasions.

Yet it is in the role of wicketkeeper that the disparity between the two sides has been most evident. Twelve months ago Matt Prior was recognised as the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the world, but since then the man who has so often acted as England’s saviour, has endured a woeful run of form. In contrast Australia’s Brad Haddin has been simply magnificent this series, compiling a trio of beautiful innings to help take the Ashes back into Australian hands.

England passed 500 four times when they were last in Australia, this series they have succumbed for miserable totals of 136, 172 and 251 in their first innings. That quite simply is the root of the problems. The side has not posted 400 in any of their past 12 innings, and the batting failures which had haunted the Australians, are now causing misery in the English camp. A 5-0 whitewash looks on the cards.

However, in truth we should not be unduly surprised, England have been poor for the past twelve months, only scraping an away series draw against a distinctly average New Zealand side last winter, before narrowly securing victory in the return series. In the summer, England’s 3-0 Ashes victory may well have flattered them, and now they are suffering. Australia have performed admirably, playing exceptional cricket, but they are by no means an outstanding team. England have simply made them look so much better than in the past, and have to a large extent been the architects of their own downfall.

The careers of a number of senior players may well be coming to their close, with the likes of Swann, Pietersen, Trott, Prior and Anderson probably unlikely to be around in four years’ time when we next return to Australia. England now face a rebuilding process, much as the Australians have undergone, but for now the Ashes has gone. In truth, we should not be too surprised, we should have seen it coming.

Sports Editor