A hiding England really deserved

England has lacked the purpose needed to press home any advantage. Too many frailties have emerged; poor tactics, absurd selections and wanton bowling, writes Peter Roebuck.

England's defeat in Melbourne has left it facing the worst drubbing it has suffered except in peacetime. Warwick Armstrong's side won eight successive Ashes Tests in 1920-21 and 1921. England had suffered grievously in the Great War and was hard pressed to raise a side but everyone wanted to play cricket, not least as proof that the carnage was over. England did not expect to win. Just to play a traditional game against old friends was enough. Eventually England recovered from its torment, another generation emerged and within a few years the Ashes had changed hands.

Donald Bradman's Invincibles were almost as ruthless after the Second World War as a young side strengthened by strapping fast bowlers trounced an ageing opponent. It has always seemed unfair to rank these teams as the best Australia has fielded.

Neither was properly tested. Even the players had other things on their mind. Keith Miller famously scoffed at the idea that cricketers were under pressure, pointing out that a pilot with a German fighter on his tail had more to worry about than any sportsman.

Otherwise Test series between these rivals have mostly been hard fought. Sometimes they were the stuff of legend. Mostly relations have been cordial. Until the last 20 years respect has been mutual and the cricket has been competitive and appreciated by numerous supporters in both countries.

Unfortunately the current series has been a profound disappointment. Hoping to enjoy the holiday of a lifetime, thousands of English cricket lovers spent precious money on tickets, travel and accommodation. To their dismay they were forced to suffer as their spineless representatives lost in three days at the MCG. They had been told about Dad's Army and the bright prospects of their side and felt cheated.

No sympathy need be felt for England as it moves from calamity to calamity. Hubris always heralds a fall. Buoyed by their success in 2005, England's coach and selectors lost focus. Far from demanding more from an outfit soon to be confronted by wrathful Australians, they sat back, allowed players to dictate terms. Injured players were sent to India for the Champion's Trophy, an international event treated with thinly disguised disdain. Why bother with a pettifogging one-day tournament when "the most eagerly awaited series in the history of the game" was a few weeks away? Andrew Flintoff did not bowl, Ashley Giles wheeled away in the nets. Meanwhile Ricky Ponting and company took the Champions Trophy back with them. Australians expect to win. Englishmen hope to win.

Much the same poverty of thought has ruined England's already slim chances down under. Far from going directly from India to Australia to prepare for a rugged tour, the players popped home for a wasted week. The arrogance was numbing. Far from hardening their minds and games with proper matches against the States, they asked to play exhibition games thereby insulting their bemused hosts. England had been fatally weakened by laziness and self-indulgence. Inevitably the malaise spread to the field.

Unsurprisingly the Australians have eaten them alive. England has lacked the purpose needed to press home any advantage. Too many frailties have emerged; poor tactics, absurd selections, wanton bowling. Admittedly bad luck has played a part, with injuries, tosses and umpiring errors, but it smells vulnerability as a shark does blood. England has deserved its hiding. Now all the Queen's men must go home and Humpty Dumpty must try to put them back together again.