Oh England, my England! Why do you put me through the wringer so? You competed well in the first Test in Brisbane before falling away. And then you batted and bowled like numbskulls in the first innings at Adelaide before performing rather more competently with both willow and leather in the second. Well, some of you did. Alas, you fell short, sliding to defeat after you had offered us a glimpse of hope, if not realistic expectation, entering the fifth and final day of a memorable Test match.
But here’s the rub. Because I predicted that you would win the Ashes 3-1 most people thought I was barking mad. And there you are now losing the series 2-0 after only two Tests. With a fast, bouncy Perth pitch to come, you could be 3-0 down in double-quick time and staring down the barrel of a 5-0 whitewash for the third time in four Ashes series Down Under.
Yet it could all have been so different. In fact, conceivably, you could be winning the series 2-0 rather than the other way around. Having batted first at Brisbane, you were very handily placed at 246-4 on an attritional pitch before some diabolical shot selection meant you were dismissed for 302. Even then, you had Australia on the ropes at 76-4 and then again at 209-7, but you couldn’t keep them there.
What can I say about Adelaide? Hindsight may suggest you should have batted first, but I don’t blame you for sticking the Aussies in. You were let down by some feckless bowling in that crucial first session of the match when the conditions were crying out for the ball to be pitched up. Yet your seam bowlers kept banging the ball in short. In the first 14 overs, only one delivery would have hit the stumps. And did you know that, throughout that first day, the Australia’s batsmen scored a collective total of just 11 runs in the “V” between mid-on and mid-off? That tells you a lot about the lengths you bowled. Still, you skittled the Aussies in the second innings with some wonderful swing bowling (in helpful conditions, it should be said), but not before you had conceded a whopping 215-run lead after some brainless batting.
I repeat, it could all have been so different! Messrs Starc, Cummins and Hazlewood are admittedly a pacey unit, but they have scarcely blown you away, as some people predicted they would. They certainly aren’t Thommo and Lillee, that’s for sure. Or Mitchell Johnson, come to that. Nathan Lyon has unquestionably out-bowled Moeen Ali, but then we thought he probably would. And yes – strip away Warner and Smith, and the Aussie top six are distinctly vulnerable.
Margins can be minuscule in international sport. And you can help yourselves get on the right side of those margins by eradicating crass shots and bowling in the right areas on a more consistent basis. It may sound simple, but it’s basic stuff. Please do yourselves justice.