England avoid ghosts of whitewashes past
A draw at the MCG was hardly the resounding result Joe Root's side craved but it reflects an improved outlook from nightmare 06-07 and 13-14 tours
Chris Stocks is a freelance cricket writer based in London. He is a regular contributor to the Guardian, Daily Mail, Independent and London Evening Standard.
England’s disappointment at missing out on a consolation victory in Melbourne will be tempered by relief that they have avoided yet another whitewash in Australia.
The fourth Magellan Ashes Test petered out into a predictable draw on the final day at the MCG.
However, that was enough for England to dodge the nightmare scenario of a third 5-0 away defeat in four Ashes tours.
That is a significant achievement given where they were after the desolation of defeat in Perth a couple of weeks ago, when the clean sweep by Australia seemed inevitable.
Celebrating mediocrity is not something England will want to get in the habit of.
The alternative, though, was almost unthinkable given the two previous Ashes whitewashes in 2006-07 and 2013-14 led to serious bloodletting that, to borrow a phrase from Nathan Lyon, ended careers.
Both coaches who oversaw those shambolic tours lost their jobs. Duncan Fletcher did limp on into the 2007 World Cup that followed his team’s Ashes humiliation but he was gone once England followed that up with yet another poor showing at a global 50-over event.
Eight years later, Andy Flower went immediately after the 2013-14 Ashes nadir. Not even the fact the Zimbabwean was the most successful England coach of his generation and a man who actually engineered his team’s Ashes win in Australia in 2010-11 could save him.
Then there are the players who fall by the wayside when the brutal post-whitewash autopsies are conducted.
Kevin Pietersen was the headline sacrificial lamb four years ago, England’s best batsman at the time blackballed because he didn’t fit in the change-room.
But Tim Bresnan, Michael Carberry, Monty Panesar, Chris Tremlett and one-cap wonders Boyd Rankin and Scott Borthwick, who both made their debuts in Sydney, have also never played for England again following that ill-fated tour.
Then there was Graeme Swann, who retired mid-series, Jonathan Trott, who came back briefly in 2015, and wicketkeeper Matt Prior, falling by the wayside the following English summer, who effectively had their careers ended by the whitewash.
Back in 2006-07, Geraint Jones, wicketkeeper during England’s fabled 2005 home Ashes win, Chris Read, his replacement mid-tour, Ashley Giles, another hero of 2005, and Saj Mahmood were all never seen in an England shirt again.
Discounting Prior and Trott, that’s an entire XI who were exiled across both those tours.
So, the fact the worst this current series can get for England is a 4-0 defeat is no small achievement – especially for those players who have badly underperformed.
Alastair Cook and Stuart Broad have both answered questions over their own futures with fine performances at the MCG. Questions do remain over the positions of James Vince, who despite a half-decent series is not looking like the long-term answer for England at No3, and Moeen Ali, who will be lucky to be picked for the final Test at the SCG after a horror tour so far.
But captain Joe Root is happy to have avoided the indignity of another clean sweep having been part of the squad that were steamrollered by Australia four years ago.
“Of course we didn’t want it to be a whitewash,” said Root. “But we came into this game fully excited about winning and making sure the main focus of this group was to win this week, go to Sydney and win there.
“It wasn’t hard to get the guys in the right frame of mind for that. They had a lot of disappointment coming away from Perth and you could see by the way they went about training that they were desperate to prove a lot of people wrong and make sure we get something good out of this tour.”
One draw won’t stop serious questions being asked of this England team. Yet they could do themselves a lot of good if they follow up this improved display with another in Sydney.
Former England captain Michael Vaughan told cricket.com.au: “This has been a great week for the England team – they’ve shown a lot of pride, courage and inner strength to show they want to fight.
“You’ve got to remember there’s been no Mitchell Starc and this pitch suited England’s style. Let’s wait and see in Sydney when Starc will come back in, the pitch might have a bit more pace.
“I expect this sort of performance again next week when conditions might not be all in their favour. We’ll see how they go when Australia are at full-strength again. But it’s been an encouraging week.”
2017-18 International Fixtures
Magellan Ashes Series
Australia Test squad: Steve Smith (c), David Warner (vc), Ashton Agar, Cameron Bancroft, Usman Khawaja, Peter Handscomb, Shaun Marsh, Mitchell Marsh, Tim Paine (wk), Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood, Jackson Bird.
England Test squad: Joe Root (c), James Anderson (vc), Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jake Ball, Gary Ballance, Stuart Broad, Alastair Cook, Mason Crane, Tom Curran, Ben Foakes, Dawid Malan, Craig Overton, Ben Stokes, Mark Stoneman, James Vince, Chris Woakes.
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. Tickets
Fifth Test SCG, January 4-8 (Pink Test). Scorecard
Gillette ODI Series v England
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
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