Magellan Ashes 2017-18
England, don't mention the positives!
Former skipper reflects on Ashes defeat and how England can regain the urn in 2019 and in Australia in 2021-22
9 January 2018, 01:57 PM AEST
For Steve Smith and his team, this emphatic series win has appeared to be a walk in the park and a gentle one at that. But things that look easy in sport never are and this dominant performance from Smith himself, from his bowlers and those others that contributed at key times, is no more than the product of good planning, hard work, ruthlessness and talent in any order.
Even before this fifth and final Test was over, with the situation abundantly clear that England were not going to win even a consolation Test (which finally ruined my pre-tour prediction of 3-1 Australia!), the visitors were looking at what needs to be done in the intervening four years before the next Ashes Down Under to be more competitive.
At the end of day four in Sydney Paul Farbrace, Trevor Bayliss’s number two, was rolled out in front of the media and to his absolute credit virtually refused to talk about the positives. Those dreaded positives!
If there is one thing that bugs me about post-match presentations, it's when a team has been soundly trounced and the captain or appointed spokesman feels that now is a good time to talk about the positives. It’s not. They know, everyone watching knows, that there is very little positive in losing a game of cricket by a distance. Yes, if it has been a close match, a contest, a true tussle, then look back and share everyone’s enjoyment of such things and rue the fact you have come second by a whisker. But if the margins are as big as they have been in this series then just hold your hand up and say "We were not good enough".
When I led (a loose term!) England to a second 5-0 defeat at the hands of the West Indies on the 1986 tour of the Caribbean, the number one calypso tune at the time was a complaint against the politics of Trinidad with a title that was apt enough - "Captain, the ship is sinking". It and I were soon linked and my words at the end of the Antigua Test, where we actually almost held out for a draw, were simply "the ship has well and truly sunk".
That is what Farbrace acknowledged. Yes, of course, there have been some notable individual performances by England players but not nearly enough. And when a side has at no stage in a five-match series had its nose ahead of the opposition, apart from a few hours in Melbourne when they found that even a sizeable lead on that pitch was not going to lead to a victory, it is avoiding the main point of competitive sport, let alone international sport, to start talking about positives when you have come second in a two-horse race. Not to mention that the race was actually won weeks ago!
Farbrace is an admirably honest fellow, an avuncular character in a supposedly cut-throat world. He and Bayliss like to run a relaxed ship and are both liked and respected for it, but there are times for an arm around a shoulder and times for a sterner, more direct approach. His speciality is the arm around the shoulder and he seldom appears flustered, at least not in public.
Most of the time you see him on television or speaking to the written press, it is a sign that things have not gone well that day and that there is no player deemed eligible to explain away the team's failings. Such was the case a couple of days ago and to his credit there was absolute acknowledgement that the way the series had gone did not need or allow him to venture that it had been anything like an even contest.
It is not necessarily his remit to decide what has to change over the next four years, whether or not England are able to wrest the little urn back again in 2019 on home soil, but it is as obvious to him as to any ardent commentator, pundit, journalist or fan, that the process of preparation for 2021-22 has to start now.
Where are the pacemen going to come from? Where are the batsmen with the skill and the character to come to Australia and make not just promising starts but big runs to set up chances to actually win games? Of the current tour party it is highly likely that three senior players in Alastair Cook, Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad, three men who will not particularly enjoy reading their overall tour stats, will not be back again. Indeed, who is likely to be back in four years’ time?
One would back Joe Root, whether still captain or not and whose character shone through as battled both his guts and the bowling on the final day, Jonny Bairstow and maybe Dawid Malan. For the likes of Tom Curran and Mason Crane it will be about how they progress in the meantime. For everyone else there will be question marks over age, fitness or just ability and they will all have points to prove.
The 2019 series will still be a target for more of this squad, and Jimmy Anderson was also right to plead that it is not time for a total re-think yet. Another of my bugbears is the knee jerk call for scything changes to a team after a series loss. If that theory had value then my career would have been a lot shorter after our encounters with the West Indies in the eighties and some other very good cricketers, including Sir Ian Botham, could have been cast aside for simply lesser players in the mistaken belief that change in itself would improve things.
The best players in any country are exactly that. When things go badly they feel the pain of loss and they lick their wounds and they come back again with revenge in their hearts. Resilience and strength of mind are all part of the make up of the best sportsmen and, of course, they have been the cornerstones of Cook’s life.
With conditions back in dear old Blighty likely to even things up again, and they will be cited often in the build-up to 2019, those senior players will feel they will get their chance for revenge. Broad, for one, will be itching to get back to the 'green and pleasant land' that is England, but sadly won’t be able to return to the scene of his 8-15 because Trent Bridge is not scheduled to hold an Ashes Test next year.
Whatever happens in two years' time, Farbrace’s concerns about 2021-22 remain and with the ECB launching its new Twenty20 League in 2020, one wonders how focussed everyone will be on the Ashes.
2017-18 International Fixtures
Gillette ODI Series v England
Australia ODI squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Pat Cummins, Aaron Finch, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine, Jhye Richardson, Mitchell Starc, Marcus Stoinis, Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa.
England ODI squad: Eoin Morgan (c), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Tom Curran, Alex Hales, Dawid Malan, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, David Willey, Chris Woakes, Mark Wood.
First ODI MCG, January 14. Tickets
Second ODI Gabba, January 19. Tickets
Third ODI SCG, January 21. Tickets
Fourth ODI Adelaide Oval, January 26. Tickets
Fifth ODI Perth Stadium, January 28. Tickets
Prime Minister's XI
PM's XI v England Manuka Oval, February 2. Tickets
Gillette T20 trans-Tasman Tri-Series
England T20 squad: Eoin Morgan (c), Sam Billings, Jos Buttler, Tom Curran, Liam Dawson, Alex Hales, Chris Jordan, Dawid Malan, Liam Plunkett, Adil Rashid, Joe Root, Jason Roy, Ben Stokes, James Vince, David Willey, Mark Wood.
First T20I Australia v NZ, SCG, February 3. Tickets
Second T20I Australia v England, Blundstone Arena, February 7. Tickets
Third T20I Australia v England, MCG, February 10. Tickets
Fourth T20I NZ v England, Wellington, February 14
Fifth T20I NZ v Australia, Eden Park, February 16
Sixth T20I NZ v England, Seddon Park, February 18
Final TBC, Eden Park, February 21
2017-18 International Results
Magellan Ashes Series
First Test Australia won by 10 wickets. Scorecard
Second Test Australia won by 120 runs (Day-Night). Scorecard
Third Test Australia won by an innings and 41 runs. Scorecard
Fourth Test Match drawn. Scorecard
Fifth Test Australia win by an innings and 123 runs. Scorecard