Burnt England looking for regrowth
Andy Flower has promised further changes for the final Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground
England’s Scott Borthwick bowls during the nets session.
It is in the perception but maybe with the viewing of the Sydney Harbour Bridge fireworks that signified the arrival of 2014 the team saw a tangible sign of a line being drawn beneath an unedifying passage.
England have been beaten by a team that has played the better cricket all round but, as Alastair Cook has said, sometimes that happens.
There is a real opportunity now, though. Rarely do teams evolve for reasons other than cycles coming to an end. It is hard for selectors, captains, team directors or coaches of successful teams to cast half an eye on the future while attempting to maintain the status quo.
Team has developed
The Australian team has developed because that status quo was completely unacceptable: things had to change. The England team, on the other hand, were winners and whatever one might argue about the merits of it, had just won an Ashes series 3-0, the fifth series victory for Cook.
So it is easy to see why, even if there were signs of a plateauing and a need to freshen things up all round, there was a desire to try to squeeze the last drops from the side largely built by Andrew Strauss and Andy Flower.
That clearly has gone: you need a bushfire to generate regrowth and England have been burnt. Graeme Swann has retired and the chances of Jonathan Trott returning are minimal at best. Others from that successful era – Tim Bresnan probably and maybe Matt Prior – have or will fall by the wayside. So while such an overwhelming defeat has been hard to stomach, it also could herald exciting times ahead.
Intention to continue
Flower has already stated his firm intention to continue in the role and anyone who knows him or anything about him will recognise only integrity and honesty: he is a man of his word. Three Ashes victories, a series win in India and a World T20 title hardly constitute the total failure that many perceive.
Cook, too, should be given the chance to develop a new team around him. To have taken over from Strauss was a big challenge for a young man, especially when strong characters abound.
He may not have Michael Clarke’s intuitive gifts on the field but Clarke himself could have done with Cook’s man-management skills not so long ago. Both are learning.
The process began to some extent in Melbourne, with Swann having left and with little option but to drop Prior. Jonny Bairstow had a poor game as Prior’s replacement, and not only with the gloves: he has had several excellent matches with the bat in his short career but the jittery nature of his batting here made it hard to see he is a long-term prospect.
Swann’s replacement, Monty Panesar, also had a modest game, although Nathan Lyon notwithstanding, being expected to bowl out a Test side on little more than a third-day drop-in pitch, with a low total to defend, was asking a lot, especially when reverse swing was seen as the key to any chance England might have had on the fourth day.
Whatever else Panesar might or might not have brought to the side, he was the most accomplished spinner at their disposal. He will miss the final Test with a calf injury, however, which will mean a remarkable debut for Scott Borthwick.
Already Flower has promised further changes for the final Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground. One of these is certain to be a batting place and there is one confirmed, and probably even a second, change that will come to the attack, which could mean three debutants for the first time since Cook, Panesar and Ian Blackwell played in Nagpur in 2005-06.
Continued to open
When the squad was selected, it would have been on the basis that Joe Root continued to open with Cook and that Gary Ballance would bat at six: Cook’s bad back and Michael Carberry’s early runs put paid to that. Carberry has tried his socks off, leaving more deliveries than anyone else in the series, and is England’s second-highest run scorer after Kevin Pietersen. But in bowling round the wicket, the Australians have taken away his square cut and he has ground to a halt. Nor is he the future. Root should resume his partnership with Cook.
The nature of the pitch will play its part. Two days out it was well grassed and green, although that can change quickly. But earlier in the week, the Sydney Sixers played Melbourne Renegades in a Big Bash match at the SCG and the ball went through very nicely. Go back to Perth, and it was a mistake not to include Boyd Rankin then rather than Bresnan. Rankin is comfortably the fastest bowler England have here.
The task on this trip was to bring him up to Test match fitness and it looks now as if they will finally get to find that out. Bresnan, meanwhile, played in Melbourne because he is a skilled exponent of reverse swing but his pace was right down to unacceptably low levels. Rankin has to play.
Borthwick is a young man – 23 years old – learning an art that can take years to perfect. It may be that a pitch on which spinners play only a peripheral role will make his inclusion easier, to share duties with Root. Of relevance is that he is an accomplished batsman too.