The time for national embarrassment and shame is gone. It’s time to get angry.
To lose the Ashes in 11 days of cricket is not unprecedented. England managed to do it in 2002-3, when Nasser Hussain was captain, but apart from inserting the Aussies in Brisbane and seeing them rack up 364 for 2 on the opening day of the series, he wasn’t blessed with much luck.
This debacle Down Under has been wholly self-inflicted. If there was any sense of honour in the officers’ mess at Lord’s, generals who have brought shame upon the regiment would offer their resignations and then reach for the revolver in the drawer.
So form an orderly queue, chaps, and draw the curtain, nurse: This is going to be painful.
First in the firing line should be England & Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison.
HAMISH BLAIR/AFP via Getty Images)
Any sporting body witless enough to shunt its primary source of talent – the county championship – into the margins is asking for trouble.
After another national disgrace in the Antipodes, the 2015 World Cup, the ECB rightly directed renewed focus and resources on improving England’s white-ball cricket. The result was Eoin Morgan lifting the World Cup four years later.
But you can’t shove four-day cricket into the long grass, and ask counties to produce Test-standard players, by scheduling most of the county championship for April and September. It’s madness.
How are batsmen going to cope with balls hooping round corners when the pitches are greener than a stag night hangover? How are spinners going to develop their craft?
If we truly value red-ball cricket and filling Test match venues – the game’s largest single source of revenue, TV rights excepted – restore the bulk of four-day cricket to midsummer NOW, and play the Hundred at weekends in funky venues big enough to attract mass audiences, like the Olympic stadium and Wembley.
Harrison may not be the trainspotter who comes up with English cricket’s garbled fixture list, but he has presided over a monument to negligence. Don’t pause to collect your coat – the cloakroom attendant will have it sent on.
Captain Joe Root’s batting is like finding a jewel in a compost heap, a blessed shaft of nimble footwork on a dance floor full of floundering.
But he has now been in charge of more Test match defeats than any England captain, and there is an obvious risk of him being dragged down by a culture of craven wretchedness.
As a fine servant, not to mention the third-highest stockpile of Test runs in a calendar year in history, Root deserves the prerogative of choosing whether to carry on as captain of a sinking ship or heading for the lifeboat. A safe distance from the carnage in Australia, it looks a simple choice.
Coach Chris Silverwood is a decent man, an honourable man, and arguably he has taken on more power than any England supremo since Raymond Illingworth in the mid-1990s.
But the seeds of this surrender were sown last winter in India by Silverwood’s rest-and-rotation roster, which turned international cricket into a Rubik’s cube of permutations, flagellations and guesswork.
Players who were bursting to play have been rested, while others who were not good enough to wear the cap survived beyond their sell-by date. Why, why, why?
The basic precept of team selection has not changed down the years. It’s simple: Pick your best 11 players.
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If they are tired, or injured, they will tell you. If they are struggling with technical issues, refer them to the battalion of coaches on tap.
But don’t bring them in and out of the side because rotation is hipster and fashionable – no, it bloody isn’t, Spoons. Rotation is for chickens on a rotisserie spit or your washing in the tumble dryer.
England won the Ashes in 2005, probably the greatest seven weeks of sport I’ve witnessed in 40 years of scribbling notes, because they only used 12 players in the whole series. This year, we’ve had 20 players who have registered Test match ducks alone, for crying out loud.
Head of England cricket Ashley Giles, another decent man, also needs to restore factory settings.
He has put a heavy accent on pastoral care for players who have spent months in Covid-proof bubbles, and he has credit in the bank for that.
But it’s time for the King of Spain (if you know, you know) to reboot: How about a bit less HR twaddle, a bit more sporting strategy?
And then there’s the elephant in the room – Ben Stokes. It would appear he’s not Superman after all, but a human being subject to the same pulses of form and inspiration as others.
Christopher Lee/Getty Images for PCA)
If Root falls on his sword, is Stokes next cab off the rank as captain?
He’s got the cricket brain, for sure – but after his time out for mental health care this year, can we realistically ask him to play Test cricket, one-dayers, Twenty20, Indian Premier League, drive the bus, check in the baggage at airports and choose from the wine list?
Something would have to give. Preferably not his mental health.
Before the Aussies return to our shores in 2023, let’s be ready for them. Let’s make sure Scott Boland doesn’t regard English batsmen as a rite of passage for six-wicket rampages when he doesn’t even have to work for them.
Let’s have Stokes as captain, after giving up one form of white-ball cricket and batting at No.3 (with Root staying at No.4), Alec Stewart in charge (if Silverwood doesn’t survive the inquest), Ben Foakes as wicketkeeper – and no more faffing about with rotation and rosters.
Before we can even think about getting even with the Aussies, it’s time to get angry.