It was, perhaps, only a matter of time. In 2013, the England cricket team flattered to deceive: barely holding on to draw the series with New Zealand in New Zealand; beating the Kiwis soundly—but without much conviction—when they came to England; and then defeating Australia during the English summer, but in a scoreline (3–0) that everyone knew could have been reversed if Australia had had better luck and (after being trounced by England in 2010–11 and India in 2012–13) remembered what it was like to win.
Well, Australia not only rediscovered that winning feeling in beating England in all four of the Test matches they have played so far—thus regaining the Ashes—but gave England such a hiding that it’s hard to believe that this is virtually the same English side that did unto the Indians in 2011 what the Indians did to the Australians.
Fans of the England side (and I, Martin, count myself among the unhappy few) are scratching their heads trying to comprehend how it is that a team that has had some of the most dominant players of the last five years could have come apart so quickly. Theories abound: the players are jaded, they play too much cricket, the England set-up is too intense and it isn’t fun anymore; the England team was never as good as it thought it was and the Australians weren’t as bad as they thought they were; England can’t play pace bowling, and the maverick fast bowler Mitchell Johnson finally got his groove back, which entailed scaring the batsmen s*itless; England had no serious game-plan and forgot that they win through attrition and not flamboyance.
There’s probably a bit of truth in all of these theories. Jonathan Trott‘s departure at the end of the second Test match with a stress-related illness was a harbinger that all was not right with the psychology of the team. Graeme Swann‘s abrupt retirement at the end of the third Test match, and his confession that he’d thought about leaving on a high at the end of the England’s summer, was a sign that the team were unprepared and over-confident. The prospects for other long-time members of the team look in doubt, although their would-be replacements have underperformed as well.
A somewhat chilly comfort can be found in the fact that England have been here before. At the end of 2006, having beaten a strong Australian team in England in 2005 and regained the Ashes after 18 years, the English team visited Australia. They, too, went with a certain swagger and cockiness, and they too failed to win a game. The team returned to England with their tails between their legs and changes were made that would ultimately catapult England to number one in the world (albeit briefly). Hard as it may be to stomach now for this England fan, this drubbing might be the best thing to happen to the team.
And, who knows? Maybe Mitchell Johnson will forget how to bowl again. On the evidence of the clip below, every batsman will be pleased should that happen.