Stuart Broad (left) and Ben Stokes (right) were the only bright spots for England Down Under © Getty Images
By Shrikant Shankar
England had a completely disastrous Ashes 2013-14 campaign losing the five-match series 0-5 against Australia. To say that England had arrived Down Under as the favourites is an understatement. Prior to the series, they had the better players on paper and also had won the previous Ashes in 2013 3-0. All hands directed at a closely fought series, with England coming out on top just about. Nobody would have expected a whitewash.
Big centuries would have been expected from Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell. But only one century was scored by an England batsman compared to six different centurions from Australia. And if anyone would have put any sort of money on Ben Stokes being England’s first and only centurion in the series, then they would have got some extraordinary odds and would have become quite rich by now. The all-rounder did not even make his Test debut for England prior to the second Test in Adelaide.
Stokes bowled with pace, heart and passion throughout the series. He gave away a few runs, but that is a result of the bowler trying to bowl a fuller length in search of wickets. While batting, he was the only player who looked comfortable against Mitchell Johnson’s extreme pace. He finished as England’s third-highest run-scorer with 279 runs. He was only 15 runs behind Pietersen’s tally of 294 runs, which was England’s highest in the series. This is after playing one match and two innings lesser and coming in at No 6, compared to Pietersen’s more famed No 4 position.
Apart from Stokes and Broad, no other England player can actually claim that they gave it their all.
Cook was a massive failure with the bat. The man tipped to break Sachin Tendulkar’s records in Test cricket, just found out that the journey at the top is not going to be as straightforward as people may make it seem. He scored a total of 766 runs in the 2010-11 Ashes series in Australia. He was the left-handed Don Bradman. In the 2013-14 series, Cook only managed 246 runs — that is staggeringly 56 runs lesser than what he scored in one Brisbane Test (67 and 235 not out) alone the last time out. His captaincy also has come under heavy scrutiny from many former players, especially from legendary Australian spinner, Shane Warne.
Bell too had a dour series scoring only 235 runs. Overall, the England batting was in shambles during the series. For the first time in Ashes history, England were bowled out in all 10 innings from the five matches. England could not make it to 200 on six occasions. They made 200-plus twice and had two scores over 300 runs. Totals like these will not win Test matches. It could not get more abject than that. The lower-order and the tail were blown away by Johnson and co. so technically, England had no resistance.
The bowling was also not up to standards. They had Australia five down for not many runs in the first innings of each and every Test, only to see Brad Haddin score at least half-centuries in each of those innings and change the momentum of the series. That showed that the bowling attack began with concentration and enthusiasm, but got tired and uninterested in the end. James Anderson was nowhere close to his best and could not build up pressure of any kind for large periods. He was the leading wicket-taker in the 2010-11 series with 24 wickets, but this time around, he took a mere 14 wickets.
Stuart Broad was one bowler who can come away from this holding his head up high. If not for Ryan Harris’s five-wicket haul in the last innings of the series, Broad would have been the second-highest wicket taker in the series behind Johnson’s 37 wickets. Broad took a total of 21 wickets. In fact, Broad started the series with a six-wicket haul in the first innings in Brisbane. Stokes too impressed with the ball. He picked up a six-wicket haul in the first innings of the fifth Test in Sydney. Stokes ended with 15 wickets in the series. Not bad for a debut series with both bat and ball, especially when his team were completely underperforming from all ends.
Graeme Swann retired from international cricket after the third Test in Perth. He too had a poor series as he picked up only seven wickets in five matches. Cook lost faith in Monty Panesar and only included him in the second and fourth Ashes Tests. Leg-spinner Scott Borthwick was picked only for the fifth Test and for good reason. He can bowl a bit, field quite well and bat a bit. Panesar is a very good bowler, but can’t do any of the other stuff. Tim Bresnan took five wickets, Chris Tremlett took four wickets and Boyd Rankin to one wicket. Hardly vintage England.
So, apart from Stokes and Broad, no other England player can actually claim that they gave it their all. England’s batting in the series has been woeful. Overall, the batting and bowling in the series has been a total failure and only two lights have come from it. A lot needs to be done in the meantime and the England players need to do a lot better with the bat. Stokes is a genuine all-rounder and Broad can bat a bit. Whatever happens, one thing is for certain — the only way for the England team is up. As what can be worse than losing 0-5 in an Ashes series?
(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)