England got it all wrong

Andrew Flintoff didn't get his field placements right.-AP

You don't have to be a biomechanic, a computer wizard, a crack statistician, a tactical analyst, a physical instructor, or any of the so-called support staff now travelling with the English cricket team to analyse what went wrong with the team's Ashes defence. All that you need is someone with good old-fashioned nous and a knowledge of the fundamentals of bowling and batting.

Never in all the years that I have been involved in cricket have I seen so many batsmen misjudge the line and length of the ball or bowlers so awfully wrong with the basics of their art. The batsmen have generally wanted to push forward to every delivery, and doing so they fell victims to deliveries that deviated.

The second innings of the fourth Test in Melbourne was a classic example of mass suicide by the top order. The first six batsmen were all out trying to drive balls that were too short for playing the shot. Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen were bowled while attempting ambitious drives against Stuart Clark, while Ian Bell and Andrew Flintoff were both lbw trying to drive. Andrew Strauss was caught behind attempting to drive while Paul Collingwood was caught at short cover tryiing to drive Brett Lee.

These were fundamentally poor shot selections by the batsmen who were frustrated at not being able to rotate the strike to ease the pressure. Running the singles was either not thought of or was considered impossible by the English batsmen. They all wanted to go for the big shots and seldom, if ever, played with soft hands.

This happened all through the series and I was absolutely amazed that nothing was done to remedy it.

No doubt, England got a couple of good scores, but that was only on pitches that were perfect for batting. When the ball did a bit, and this happened more than it should have on Australian Test strips, the England batsmen never looked like scoring.

Getting the basics of the game right is the basis for success. Whether in bowling, batting or fielding, England were found wanting. Perhaps the most notable thing about their batting, apart from poor judgement of length was their appalling footwork, particularly around the off stump. They seldom moved their feet outside the off stump to cover good deliveries and paid a heavy penalty. The Australian bowlers concentrated on an outside the off stump line and the English batsmen showed no skills whatsoever in countering them.

Bowling wide of off stump is a difficult line for the right-hand bowlers operating against right-hand batsmen. Inevitably, this leads to deliveries that are short enough to be cut. But England do not have a batsman in the top order who can play the cut shot with good technique or authority. Because of this, the Australian bowlers were never under pressure. And adding to England's woes was the fact that they seldom batted with mental aggression or hustled the fielders into error.

Big scores are obtained by batsmen who are mentally alert and aggressive even when the bowling is tight. Andrew Symonds and Matthew Hayden demonstrated this brilliantly when they got together after Australia were 84 for five and in serious trouble on a seaming wicket in Melbourne. Both Symonds and Hayden did not try to belt their way out of trouble but hustled the fielders by rotating the strike and thereby forced the pressure back on the England bowlers. It worked brilliantly as England lost their bowling plot and Symonds and Hayden took the game away from them.

When I look back on this series, I am convinced that England just didn't play enough cricket before they arrived in Australia for such an important series. The only way a team can give off its best against a tough opposition is with match practice. England looked totally underdone from the moment they arrived in Australia and any improvement they seemed to have made was only marginal.

Any Test bowler, no matter what style he chooses, is worth his position in the side only if he can bowl an immaculate line and length. Only Matthew Hoggard looked capable of reaching that standard.

I don't think I have ever seen a series where the bowling of a team was so inconsistent. The pity for England is that quite a few of the pitches were conducive to bowling but unfortunately they didn't have enough bowlers who could hit the right spot. How could England achieve this if their bowlers do not bowl enough overs per season?

The marked difference between the two bowling attacks was that the Australian pacemen bowled a fuller length and hit the line and length of uncertainty on a regular basis.

We also saw some weird field placements by England. I am not sure who devises such tactics, whether it is Duncan Fletcher, Andrew Flintoff or some faceless tactician. At one stage, with the new ball only a few overs old, the field for Hayden consisted of one fielder on the edge of the pitch, near the batsman at the bowler's end, a short wide mid-off and a short cover. It was a crazy field, particularly when most of the batsmen were being dismissed lbw, bowled or caught behind. It made no sense.

While I am obviously pleased with Australia's victory I am also worried about what is going on in English cricket. If the way this England team played and the tactics it used are commonplace in English cricket, then Test cricket is in jeopardy. Particularly when you see the falling standards of Test cricket worldwide.

The young batsmen such as Strauss, Cook and Bell are all products of the English centres of excellence. If the faulty techniques I saw in these youngsters are examples of the coaching methods of these centres, England have much to worry about.