English cricket should be sending a present to the MCG groundsman, as it was his delivery of a docile, flat deck that ensured the Ashes defeat was 4-0 and not a 5-0 whitewash.
The 4-0 victory was wrapped up on the fifth day of the fifth Test at the SCG in Sydney, with the series ending in farcical scenes that summed up England’s tour. Umpire Kumar Dharmasena raised his finger to an appeal for caught behind from Josh Hazlewood, which left England batsman James Anderson in a state of confused bewilderment.
Anderson was convinced he had not hit the ball; replays suggested he had not, but England were out of reviews and Australia were able to celebrate their victory.
A 4-0 margin of victory does not flatter Australia in any way, 5-0 would not have flattered them either, as they bowled and batted better than England.
Their seam attack of Hazlewood, Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins carried a massive threat, with the extra pace they were able to deliver asking far greater questions than those posed by James Anderson and Stuart Broad who for all their skills, are not express pace.
In the batting department, the top three Series run scorers – Steven Smith, Shaun Marsh and David Warner – were all Australian, with the former’s total of 687 runs over 300 more than the top England batter in Dawid Malan.
While Malan was a ray of hope, England’s reliance on captain Joe Root was brutally exposed. Root’s series total of 378 could and should have been more. He was unable to complete his innings on the final day in Sydney, having been struck down overnight by a bout of gastroenteritis, but his five half centuries in the series reinforced his importance to the side.
What England have to do is find a supporting cast capable of backing up their captain.
Anderson and Broad have a couple more years in them, but beyond that the bowling cupboard, the sidelined Ben Stokes aside, looks bare and a concerted effort needs to be made to find bowlers capable of hitting 90mph on a regular basis. The structure of English county cricket is not conducive to that type of bowling, when on spring and autumn wickets where the County season is heavily weighted to, a man who can nip the ball around off the seam at 70mph is of greater value than a bowler who can hit the deck hard and fast but be unable to extract life out of the wicket.
The same comment applies to spinners, with the cream of the crop – and there are some talented bowlers out there – left on the sidelines in favour of seamers who will get exaggerated movement out of green wickets.
The batting division is also a worry, with James Vince and Mark Stoneman posing as many questions as answers with their Ashes performances. If there were a raft of options banging down the door those two would be looking over their shoulders, but that is not the case.
The Ashes are now in Australian hands and it’s about getting the preparation right for when Australia get to England in 2019. Smith’s side look better equipped to compete in English conditions than England did in Australian conditions, which could make for a classic series. England have to be ready.