Tour review

Australia v England, 2013-14

George Dobell

The Australia team and backroom staff celebrate, Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 3rd day, January 5, 2014
The Australia team and backroom staff celebrate their team's 5-0 whitewash of England in the Ashes © Getty Images
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Series/Tournaments: England tour of Australia
Teams: Australia | England

Test matches (5): Australia 5, England 0
One-day internationals (5): Australia 4, England 1
Twenty20 internationals (3): Australia 3, England 0

Rarely can expectation have turned to dejection so quickly and so resoundingly. Alastair Cook's England team arrived in Australia with realistic hopes of winning a fourth straight Ashes series for the first time since 1890, but left nursing only the third 5-0 whitewash in Ashes history, following the defeats for Johnny Douglas's side in 1920-21 and Andrew Flintoff's in 2006-07.

As the series progressed and the margin between the sides grew, so questions mounted about the people, structures and systems that had previously been thought to underpin England's success. By the end, players fundamental to both that success and future plans - Jonathan Trott, Graeme Swann, Matt Prior, Joe Root and Steven Finn - had, for one reason or another, fallen by the wayside. And the position of team director Andy Flower looked as insecure as at any time in his tenure.

Less than a month after the series was over, Flower quit; four days after that, Kevin Pietersen - whose behaviour had once again been the subject of whispers - was dumped, with England's new managing director, Paul Downton, emphasising the need for a fresh "team ethic and philosophy". In the unforgiving heat of an Australian summer, England's foundations had turned to mush.

Not even Glenn McGrath could have predicted the one-sided nature of the contest. England had won five of the previous seven Ashes Tests, and lost only two of the previous 15. They had just beaten Australia 3-0 at home, extending their own unbeaten sequence in all Tests to 13 and Australia's winless run to nine, their worst since 1986. And if that result had been a touch flattering, it hardly hinted at a complete role reversal. England, after all, were at full strength, while three of Australia's most exciting young fast bowlers - Pat Cummins, James Pattinson and Mitchell Starc - would miss the entire series through injury.

But Australia turned that weakness into a strength. Their pace attack, consisting of three experienced seamers, was outstanding. Inspired by Mitchell Johnson, who in his 33rd year had finally found the accuracy to complete an armoury already blessed with sharp pace and left-arm awkwardness, they shocked England with their aggression, and suffocated them with unrelenting consistency and astute lines of attack.

Johnson was as brutal as he was influential. When the series began, some regarded him as a pantomime villain - complete with handlebar moustache - but he finished it doing a passable impression of a great fast bowler. Generating a pace rarely sustained in modern Test cricket, his slingy action, raw hostility and fitness - only James Anderson bowled more deliveries in the series, and some at a reduced pace after his rib was broken by Peter Siddle at Adelaide - gave him 37 wickets at 13.97, surpassing Frank Foster's record of 32, in 1911-12, for a left-arm fast bowler in an Ashes series. Johnson left several England batsmen shell-shocked and questioning their temperament and technique.

No Australian seamer had taken more wickets in a five-Test series. It was a performance of which Ray Lindwall, Dennis Lillee (Johnson's mentor) or McGrath would have been proud. Ryan Harris, fast and wonderfully skilled, lost little by comparison, and the frugal Siddle completed a trio that claimed 75 wickets at a cost of under 18. It seemed they could hardly deliver a poor ball, let alone a poor spell. Supported by the mean Shane Watson and the improving off-spin of Nathan Lyon, they applied such pressure that England's batting simply cracked.

Johnson was Man of the Series, but a more imaginative choice might have been a joint award with Brad Haddin. He came into the series as a 36-year-old with a reputation as a Test journeyman, and ended it with 493 runs, having recorded at least a half-century in every first innings, and rescued Australia from a succession of challenging positions. No Australian wicketkeeper nor any No. 7 had scored as many runs in a series, or passed 50 as many as six times. Others chipped in. David Warner was adept at bullying quick second innings runs and, like his opening partner Chris Rogers, who looked a freer batsman at Melbourne and Sydney following the retirement of Swann, made two hundreds (though it's fair to say that Rogers was a more popular opponent than Warner, whose snide sledging appalled England). Steven Smith made perhaps the greatest strides among Australia's batsmen, casting aside the court jester persona that had invited mockery in 2010-11 to score centuries of skill and guts at Perth and Sydney.

Australia celebrate the Ashes win, Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 3rd day, January 5, 2014
Australia celebrate after claiming the last England wicket to complete the whitewash © AFP

Michael Clarke made clear his determination with hundreds in the first two Tests, to say nothing of a verbal blast at Anderson during the dying moments at Brisbane. At last, it seemed, Australia had clasped their captain to their bosom; his tactical nous was on a different plane from Cook's. Watson was as infuriating as ever, scoring runs only when the pressure was off; George Bailey looked out of his depth, and was dropped for the tour of South Africa.

England's bowlers - in particular the admirable Stuart Broad - earned them a foothold in every game. In four of the five Tests, Australia were teetering when their fifth wicket fell, but each time Haddin engineered a fightback. Australia's first five first-innings wickets contributed only 90 more runs than England's (709 v 619), but their last five an extra 721 (1,071 v 350). And, while England's lower order were helpless against Johnson, Australia's counter-attacked against a bowling unit that grew weary, partly because they were getting no respite between innings. Just as importantly, Anderson couldn't find the swing and seam that had made him such a handful three years earlier: 24 wickets at 26 in 2010-11 became 14 at nearly 44. Though hard-working and generally tight, he was being made to wait 81 balls for each wicket. Maybe the tour was simply a bridge too far for this England side. The squad contained the bulk of the team that had won the previous three Ashes series, taken England to the top of the Test rankings in 2011, and won in India a year earlier. Several had been involved in the World Twenty20 triumph of 2010, and come within an ace of winning the Champions Trophy in June 2013.

No one in the world had faced as many deliveries in international cricket since the start of the 2010-11 Ashes as Cook (Ian Bell and Trott also featured in the top five); no seamers had bowled as many balls as Anderson and Broad, and among spinners, only Pakistan's Saeed Ajmal had bowled more than Swann. At times it showed.

Pietersen, talking before the final Test, speculated that the demands - emotional rather than physical - of back-to-back Ashes might have been a factor in England's decline. He compared their state of mind ("mentally, you are a bit fragile") after beating Australia at home with post-Olympic Games athletes: "To play an Ashes and then another Ashes, and for us being away from home, it's a tough gig."

The flaw in his argument was that the schedule was the same for both sides. But the sense was that, while England were clinging on to the vestiges of former glories, Australia were the coming force: more motivated, more hungry, more energised. It felt as if England were up against not just a team but an entire nation. Their selection did them few favours. It's true that there was some excitement at the prospect of a squad containing three giant fast bowlers. But Chris Tremlett was dropped after the First Test, Boyd Rankin played only a peripheral part in the Fifth, and Finn lost form and confidence to the extent that, having been ignored during the Tests, he flew home during the equally dispiriting one day leg, when he was ordered to take a break from the game.

Many of these problems could have been predicted. At Brisbane, Tremlett bowled exactly as he had for Surrey in the 2013 season: tidily, but without any of the menace that had made him so dangerous in 2010-11. Finn had never fully recovered his rhythm since the England coaches recommended he shorten his run-up to counter his problem of knocking over the stumps in his delivery stride. It should have been no surprise that the intensity of an Ashes series did not elicit a miracle cure. It was debatable whether Graham Onions, the best bowler in county cricket over the previous couple of years, would have fared any better, but his omission suggested an unhealthy predilection among the coaches and selectors for height above all else.

Other issues were less predictable. Trott went home suffering from what was described as "a stress-related illness", after a frenetic performance at the Gabba betrayed his mental anguish. His problems against Johnson may have been a catalyst, but Trott's issues were caused as much by long-term mental exhaustion - born largely of an unrelenting schedule - and his refusal to accept a dip in form that jarred with his perfectionist streak. It was not just that England missed his runs (in the summer he had fallen short of his own high standards, though he still reached 40 in five of his ten Ashes innings). But his dressing-room breakdown shocked and disturbed team-mates who had come to rely on his solidity. They never rediscovered their equilibrium.

They never replaced Swann, either. For so long the man who had made England's four-man attack work, he retired with immediate effect a few days after the Third Test, at Perth, and admitted that, after two elbow operations and numerous other aches and pains, he was no longer able to do what he once could. It was telling that, while his first over in Test cricket had produced two prize wickets, his last was clobbered for 22. England had built much of their summer success on the superiority of Swann over Lyon, but now Australia's off-spinner gained more bounce (which proved especially effective from round the wicket), drift and dip, and was more potent.

The timing of Swann's departure provoked murmurs about his commitment - Flower admitted he had wanted him to finish the tour - and highlighted both England's reliance on a few individuals and the hollowness of talk about succession planning. With Monty Panesar losing his way so badly that he was almost unrecognisable from the bowler who once drew comparison with Bishan Bedi, England were obliged to call up two extra spinners - James Tredwell and all-rounder Scott Borthwick, both of whom had just returned modest county figures - to replace Swann. A fading force he may have been, but he remained head and shoulders above anything else England had to offer.

Their main weakness, though, was batting: the line-up that looked so strong on paper folded as if made of the stuff. Prior, for so long a pillar, was dropped after three Tests which produced only two scores above eight (and some increasingly inept glovework); Root, supposedly the future of English batting, was omitted after four, with one score over 26. Even Cook, who became the youngest man in history to 8,000 Test runs, finished the series with questions about his technique against the quickest bowling and his sometimes passive captaincy. His poor return meant he had averaged more than 28 only once in five series against Australia; his series-defining average of 127 three years earlier felt like a distant memory. His new opening partner, Michael Carberry, kept undoing the good work by retreating into his shell.

It was a statistical horror show. While Australia managed ten centuries - equalling the record for an Ashes series - England managed only Ben Stokes's courageous 120 at Perth. While Australia recorded the four highest totals of the series, England were dismissed for under 180 on six occasions; only twice did they pass 260, and never in the first innings. While six Australians exceeded 300 runs, no England batsman did. And while five Australians averaged over 40, Stokes alone reached 30 for England. By the end of the series, England had gone 26 innings and ten months without reaching 400. It was telling that, the last time they did so, at Wellington in March 2013, Nick Compton had scored a century. But Compton was jettisoned after three bad games a few months earlier. Increasingly, it seemed your face had to fit to win the same continuity of selection as the favoured few.

Pietersen was England's top scorer (which wasn't saying a great deal), yet attracted more questions over his future. He insisted he wanted to continue, but there were rumours of further strains in his uneasy relationship with Flower. The manner of Pietersen's dismissals - one leg-side catch following another - scarcely helped, though it was hard to come by concrete evidence that his presence really was destabilising the dressing-room. Indeed, he often gave the contrary impression, encouraging younger players and helping colleagues in the nets.

But the management had other ideas. After Flower told Downton at the end of January that the split-coaching arrangement with Ashley Giles would hamper efforts to rebuild the England team, Pietersen met with Downton, the new national selector James Whitaker and Cook to discuss his own future. The discussion was brief and to the point: England would be moving on without him. In the blood-letting that followed, explanations were sought, and only partially provided: in a team meeting after Melbourne involving the players alone, Pietersen was said to have been overly critical of Flower's coaching methods; on another occasion, after his final Test innings at Sydney, he stood accused of whistling merrily in a despondent dressing-room.

But the anecdotes missed the point: England simply felt he was no longer worth the hassle. In Australia, many of the tenets of England's recent success - continuity of selection, calmness in victory or defeat - had been abandoned in the storm. By the time Rankin, Gary Ballance and Borthwick, whose leg-breaks had left him 14th in Durham's Championship bowling averages in 2013, were selected at Sydney, England had used 18 men in the series - some feat for a squad that had originally numbered 17. Australia, by contrast, retained faith with the same XI. And while the Australians caught almost everything, England's fielding slipped alarmingly, reflecting their morale. If their mistakes at Adelaide, where they squandered an opportunity to seize the initiative, were the most costly, the errors at Perth, where they missed chances a well-trained Labrador might have taken, were just embarrassing.

Darren Lehmann fully vindicated the decision by Cricket Australia to appoint him in place of Mickey Arthur a fortnight before the First Test at Nottingham in July. He created a relaxed environment for his players, and gelled surprisingly well with the image-conscious Clarke. But the England camp, under the intense leadership of Flower, appeared a joyless place. Instead of relishing the challenge, England seemed cowed by it. Unlike 2006-07, when they were whitewashed by a great Australian team, they now failed to do themselves justice against a decent but far from unbeatable side. The timid debut of Rankin spoke volumes for the tension inside the England bubble.

Like Simon Kerrigan before him, Rankin found the step up to Test cricket uncomfortably large. Such incidents raised questions about the system providing the players. The team that had taken England to No. 1 contained four men who scored hundreds on Test debut, two more who made half-centuries, and one who claimed a five wicket haul - all developed in the early years of promotion and relegation in the County Championship. But the domestic game had lost its competitive edge - weakened by young-player incentives, the growth of Twenty20 leagues, tougher work-permit criteria (which had reduced the quality and quantity of non-England-qualified players), and the withdrawal of the top players on England (or Lions) duty or even for reasons of strength and conditioning. The divide between county and international level had grown.

There were exceptions. The emergence of Stokes promised much, and suggested England might have found an all-rounder who could balance the side for a decade; he turned out to be the quickest bowler. Broad, too, shrugged off the charmless abuse of the crowds to produce a bowling performance that, in other circumstances, might have helped his side to the Ashes. It was not always an attractive series. At times, with thousands of spectators answering the call from Lehmann and sections of the Australian media to chant abuse, and with players posturing and bickering on the pitch, it was downright ugly. There were faults on both sides, though it was noticeable that, once Aleem Dar was involved as an on-pitch umpire, the worst excesses were curbed. But there was nothing to curb the pain of an England team in freefall.

Vithushan Ehantharajah writes: For England, the two limited-overs series were a depressing continuation of the Tests. By the time they registered their only international win of the tour, in the fourth one-dayer at Perth, the trip was three months old and the series already gone. Australia's subsequent 3-0 triumph in the Twenty20 matches meant they had won 12-1 across the three formats; it also meant five of those games had in effect been dead, with England playing for little more than pride. They could barely manage even that.

For coach Ashley Giles, the 4-1 loss in the one-day series was especially hard to take. England should have won the second game, at the Gabba, where James Faulkner's late hitting in a last-wicket stand of 57 allowed Australia to chase down 301. And they also blew a winning position in the fifth, at Adelaide, losing seven for 58 to fall five runs short. "We could have won 3-2," reflected Giles, who suddenly found himself being touted for the role of England team director after news that Flower had quit reached Australia towards the end of the second Twenty20 international. This was hardly the most timely job interview but, with England missing several of their biggest names, it would have been unreasonable to judge Giles on these performances alone.

There was little to shout about. Eoin Morgan's one-day haul of 282 runs - more than anyone on either side, including Australian opener Aaron Finch, who butchered hundreds at Melbourne and Perth - contained England's only century, at Brisbane. Jos Buttler, who began the series at No. 8 but seemed wasted even when he moved up a place, blasted 71 from 43 balls during the win at Perth, where Stokes's promotion to No. 3 produced an aggressive 70.

Bell rarely failed as Cook's opening partner, but fell in wasteful ways, and was run out twice. Chris Jordan bowled throughout with good pace, and was willing to take on the responsibilities of powerplay and death overs. But too many of the frontline bowlers conceded between five and six an over, and there were times - as during the Ashes - when Cook looked lost in the field. After the Sydney defeat, he hinted he might step down as one-day skipper, only to retract the idea soon after. As Giles pointed out, defeat was "not all down to the captain".

The 50-over series seemed to knock whatever wind remained out of the tourists' sails ahead of the three Twenty20 matches. In those, Australia's batsmen hit 27 sixes to England's 14, and the home bowlers - a motley collection of back-up seamers, and spinners who were either green-raw or part-time - never ceded control. Not for the first time, England's plight was encapsulated by the bowling of Jade Dernbach, who leaked nearly 13 an over, while feeling emboldened to sledge Australia's batsmen. His chuntering provided a bathetic conclusion to a pathetic tour.

Match reports for

Tour Match: Western Australia Chairman's XI v England XI at Perth, Oct 31-Nov 2, 2013

Tour Match: Australia A v England XI at Hobart, Nov 6-9, 2013

Tour Match: Cricket Australia Invitational XI v England XI at Sydney, Nov 13-16, 2013

1st Test: Australia v England at Brisbane, Nov 21-24, 2013
Report | Scorecard

Tour Match: Cricket Australia Chairman's XI v England XI at Alice Springs, Nov 29-30, 2013

2nd Test: Australia v England at Adelaide, Dec 5-9, 2013
Report | Scorecard

3rd Test: Australia v England at Perth, Dec 13-17, 2013
Report | Scorecard

4th Test: Australia v England at Melbourne, Dec 26-29, 2013
Report | Scorecard

5th Test: Australia v England at Sydney, Jan 3-5, 2014
Report | Scorecard

1st ODI: Australia v England at Melbourne, Jan 12, 2014
Report | Scorecard

Tour Match: Prime Minister's XI v England XI at Canberra, Jan 14, 2014

2nd ODI: Australia v England at Brisbane, Jan 17, 2014
Report | Scorecard

3rd ODI: Australia v England at Sydney, Jan 19, 2014
Report | Scorecard

4th ODI: Australia v England at Perth, Jan 24, 2014
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5th ODI: Australia v England at Adelaide, Jan 26, 2014
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1st T20I: Australia v England at Hobart, Jan 29, 2014
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2nd T20I: Australia v England at Melbourne, Jan 31, 2014
Report | Scorecard

3rd T20I: Australia v England at Sydney, Feb 2, 2014
Report | Scorecard

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