England was outplayed

Matthew Hoggard ... the pick of the England bowlers.-AP

England's hopes of continuing its 2005 Ashes glory lies sadly in the cauldron of hostile fires of Australian Cricket. After their dominant victory in 2005, England arrived in Australia with full of hope and glory. Yet, almost before they arrived, they were doomed by poor programming and preparation.

To expect to do well in Australia with only a couple of friendly matches in conditions alien to most of the players was both arrogant and stupid. Deciding to return home after failing to qualify for the ICC Champions Trophy semi-finals compounded England's problem and they entered the first Test as probably the most ill prepared team ever to tour Australia. Poor team selections, and even more, their worrying tactics, aggravated the issue as England were rightly outplayed in all aspects of the game.

In saying this, I am not taking anything away from Australia's great victory. All aspects of their game were honed to perfection, and this was well illustrated by the manner in which they wrested control in the few times that England looked as though they had the scent of victory.

The bowlers, of course, are always the major component, and in the well-oiled Australian cricket machine, its bowling was quite superb. There was nothing wrong with Australia's batting either. Of the England bowlers, while Matthew Hoggard worried the Aussies on occasions, the rest, apart from Monty Panesar, were inconsistent.

One of the mysteries of modern cricket is why so many teams have bowling attacks that are so inaccurate in both line and length. Maintaining a good line and length is the simplest and basic fundamental of bowling. If this is achieved even limited bowling attacks can apply pressure through accuracy. England seldom did this and Australia comfortably took control time and again when England threatened.

Tactically, the England bowlers appeared na�ve and some of their field placements left me totally baffled. In this so-called era of professionalism there is an abundance of statistical evidence to show how batsmen get out and where they score their runs. England seemed to ignore this evidence and I was more often than not confused with their field placement.

What was particularly confusing was the set up of their slips cordon and how far back their wicketkeeper stood to the fast and medium pacers.

The wicketkeepers these days want to collect the ball consistently on the drop at knee level or lower. This creates two problems: a) Nicks can drop short and b) It creates major problem in setting up the slip cordon.

The farther the wicketkeeper stands back, the lesser angle the slips can achieve. I have no doubt whatsoever that the new methodology of split slips fielders is a direct result of this.

In other times, the wicketkeeper didn't look like the long stop as the first slip was his back stop, and the `keeper stood at least two yards further up to the fast bowlers. The ideal set-up then was: first slip would be no more than a yard behind the `keeper, second slip level, if not in front of the `keeper and the rest of the cordon at a 45-degree angle to the gully fielder. This configuration allows the cordon to cover a much wider area than is happening today.

The split slip cordon cost England dearly as many chances went harmlessly between the fielders. Just how crazy this set-up was, was illustrated when one of Australia's top order right-handed batsman edged through a gap that was at least two metres between the `keeper and first slip.

I was taught, as a youngster, that if a pitch was flat and favoured batting, you had to deceive the batsmen with variation. But the England bowlers generally lacked variation and the Australian batsmen were seldom deceived by flight or change of pace.

While Hoggard, Panesar and Steve Harmison had some good spells, overall the England bowlers were inconsistent in maintaining the right line and length to apply pressure.

I have always contended that the one hard thing about batting is judging the length of the ball. The ability to judge the length of the ball consistently is what makes the difference between the ordinary, the good and the great players. In this regard the Australian batsmen were vastly superior to their opponents.

I was continually amazed at how often the England batsmen played the wrong shots. This was particularly noticeable when the batsmen thrust forward or drove off the front foot to balls pitched far too short for the shot. This happened especially against the new ball bowlers and it was no surprise that many of the England batsmen were caught behind the wicket.

Australia have a fine bowling attack that gives little away. One of the most effective tactics against such bowlers is to rotate the strike by taking singles and thus stop them from exerting pressure. England showed no natural aptitude for this. Little wonder then that many of their batsmen looked like cats on a hot tin roof and they only desperately tried to survive.

I was absolutely amazed by the number of dot balls played by most of the England batsman. Alastair Cook, in making that gutsy hundred in the second innings in Perth, faced 290 balls and most of these deliveries were not scored from.

Such methods apply great pressure on the batsmen and allow the bowlers to relax. By not running the singles, the England batsmen showed a lack of mental aggression, which allowed the bowlers to apply pressure without being forced to change their tactics.

One final thought on all this — where has the square and back cut gone? It is one of the most damaging shots in cricket, but these days you seldom see it as the batsmen try to play the ball through the off side with a 45-degree bat angle as they fall away to leg, trying to impart more power to the stroke. Such a shot inevitably ends up in a catch at gully.

Interestingly, the only time I have seen Glenn McGrath being taken apart is by good square cutters such as Sachin Tendulkar.