England’s humiliating surrender of the Ashes to Australia exposed not only a gulf in class between the two old rivals but also laid bare, in brutally emphatic fashion, the deep-seated problems in English Test cricket.
The faint hope of a turnaround in their fortunes in this series ended with them being scuttled out for 68 in their second innings and 14-run loss in Melbourne.
Australia have an insurmountable 3-0 lead after winning the opening Test in Brisbane by nine wickets and the second match in Adelaide by 275 runs.
It has been an abysmal 12 months in red-ball cricket for England, who lost four series in a year for the first time — the crushing in Australia following home losses to New Zealand and India, and a defeat at the start of the year in India. Never before have England lost nine Test matches in a calendar year.
Ashes triumph ‘what dreams are made of’: captain Cummins
For all the micro-debates that will rage about coach Chris Silverwood, selection decisions, tactical approaches, Joe Root’s captaincy and the limitations of specific players, the big picture is the one that will surely be on the agenda for the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).
Former England captain Michael Vaughan has no doubt that Test match cricket has slipped down the priorities in English cricket.
“They’ve not been focused enough on the Test match team. The focus has been on the white-ball team, and it delivered a World Cup. But we’re not a good enough cricketing nation to take our eye off the ball of Test match cricket. We can’t just arrive and play,” he told Australia’s Fox Cricket.
Another former captain, Michael Atherton, believes that the structure of English cricket is to blame for the shocking results.
Botham ’embarrassed’ by England’s Ashes capitulation
“Beyond questions of individual responsibility which cannot be avoided, it may be that this latest hammering brings pressure to bear upon systemic change,” Atherton wrote in The Times.
“The hollowing out of English first-class cricket, pushed to the margins of the season and sacrificed at the altar of one-day cricket, has resulted in a domestic standard that is routinely revealed to be sub-standard when players come to this part of the world. Over five Tests, an Ashes series is partly a referendum on respective systems, and the result of this years is clear,” he added.
Root finds himself in an unenviable position with two Tests remaining to be played and the team’s confidence already at rock bottom.
But the Yorkshireman also hinted at where the post-tour inquest is likely to focus.
Australia retains Ashes with win over England
“That [the domestic structure] is a long conversation that should probably be had at another time,” he said before insisting the best players available had been selected for the tour.
Root acknowledged though that county cricket is not providing enough of a challenging testing ground for players expected to move into the pressure of the Ashes arena.
“With where the game is in our country right now, the only place you can really learn is in the hardest environment for what is a young batting group.
“They are having to learn here in the harshest environments. Maybe you look back at 2015 and the reset that happened in white-ball cricket, and maybe that’s something that needs to be happening in our red-ball game.”
With so many commercial interests tied up in the one-day game, T20 and the new Hundred competition, finding the space and resources for such a reset will be easier said than done.
“There’s a lot of glitz and glamour and money being thrown around in the white-ball game, but the Test game is the most important format for cricketers, so I think it should be given that attention,” said former England batsman Jonathan Trott.
“Younger players need to be coached how to bat time and build an innings, not just how many you can score off 10 balls.”