England’s hopes of hanging on to the Ashes urn Down Under have disappeared after Australia took a decisive 3-0 series lead on day five in Perth.
Here, we look at how and why the defence has evaporated with two Tests still to play.
The moment Ben Stokes was arrested over a late-night incident in Bristol the entire tenor of the Ashes shifted. Stokes was more than England’s vice-captain, more than their fourth seamer and more than than their most effective counter-attacking batsman. He was the side’s heart and soul and the pivot around which the rest of the side balanced.
The precise details are yet to be established by police but at the least he fell short of the highest professional standards in the midst of an international series against the West Indies.
Jonny Bairstow took a loose view of the management’s subsequent warnings over behaviour when he bizarrely, but apparently playfully, greeted Australia opener Cameron Bancroft with a bar-room headbutt.
By the time Lions batsman Ben Duckett poured a drink on Jimmy Anderson’s head in the same Perth bar, the tour was more derailed off the pitch than on it.
Cut to the quick
England proved in 2010-11 that a raw pace barrage was not essential to victory in Australia, but the greater weight of evidence suggests it is certainly pretty handy.
Australia’s seamers are uniformly quicker than their counterparts, with others waiting in the wings, and in the absence of sustained movement through the air the touring attack has looked pedestrian and repetitive.
James Anderson and Stuart Board are champion bowlers but have not threatened the top order consistently, while it is hard to imagine a youngster of Craig Overton’s physical dimensions being allowed to settle for 80mph nibblers were he taught in Sydney rather than Somerset.
A successful tour for England always required a major showing from their captain, Joe Root. Widely accepted as the class act in a hastily-assembled top six, he has mustered just 176 runs in six innings.
His opposite number and peer on most pundits’ ‘best in the world’ lists, Steve Smith, topped that in a single knock at the WACA. While Smith has been imperious and immovable, Root is beginning to face questions about whether the captaincy of a side in transition is too much to place on his shoulders.
Draining spells in the field cannot have helped him at the crease and his failures have fuelled the Australian surge.
Moeen missing in action
Moeen Ali was England’s go-to man in the domestic summer, a match-winning presence in the lower order and an increasingly reliable attacking spinner against South Africa and the West Indies.
What Root would have given to harness some of that in Brisbane and beyond. A side strain and a cut spinning finger saw him struggle for meaningful practice before the series and he has never really found his feet since.
Unable to match Nathan Lyon for threat or control, his bowling has hit a nadir, while he is yet to add any meaningful runs.
As well as being short on express pace, England’s bowling attack boarded the plane without a full-time bowling coach. To make up for their lower speeds, flawless planning and the ability to adapt on the hoof would have been key.
Instead, their long-standing pace mentor Ottis Gibson left to take charge of South Africa and his replacement, Chris Silverwood, is not due to start until the new year.
Filling the gap, for the first two Tests at least, was former New Zealand quick Shane Bond. He did not know his charges well enough to present a ready-made game plan, did not boast a stellar personal record in Australia and was gone after Adelaide, with Paul Collingwood effectively adding the burden to his existing duties. When the tale is told of this tour, this will look a costly oversight.