I want to be crystal clear about this. There are no excuses for England’s performances on this Ashes tour. But there are reasons why things have turned out as they have.
Before I chart them, I must make clear that this is not an easy column to write. I’m sure most people will know the feeling when the job’s not going well, and you’re feeling a bit flat emotionally. Well, imagine having to assess why.
Both the energy and the mood in the camp is low. At the start of the tour, I said, partly tongue in cheek, that our preparation was at best average. Unfortunately, the truth in that statement has come to pass. Australia is one of the hardest places to win in Test cricket — look at the percentage of previous England victories here. To do so, everything needs to go in your favour.
Stuart Broad has reflected on where things have gone wrong for England on the Ashes tour
Broad has only played in one Test so far and has admitted it is frustrating to be left out
Unfortunately our displays have reflected our preparation. Imagine Tiger Woods rocking up at the Masters having not played for four months, spending time in a bio-secure bubble and then seeing his entire practice rained off. He hasn’t played a single round of golf, yet he’s still expecting to win. Would you bet on him in those circumstances? No, you wouldn’t.
Part of the reason things feel so down within our camp is that while Australia are a good cricket team, they are not the best we have faced here and I still feel that, without Covid, an opportunity existed to do something special.
However, the reality is we turned up undercooked while Marcus Harris, Marnus Labuschagne, Travis Head, Cameron Green, Alex Carey, Nathan Lyon, Scott Boland and Jhye Richardson were playing state cricket. Yes, like us, Australia had players at the Twenty20 World Cup until mid-November. But was it a level playing field? Not really.
Nevertheless, should we have done better? Absolutely. So we are frustrated with ourselves. It’s not like we’ve played amazing cricket for 18 months, then come into the Ashes and failed. We’ve been making the same mistakes for a long time. Both at home and abroad.
Yes, at times we have bowled well, and the Hawk-Eye data will tell you that we’ve pitched the ball in the same areas as Australia. But that is not what Test cricket is about.
Over three matches, they have been better in every department. They’ve scored more runs, taken their catches, and bowled us out cheaply. They have thumped us in that regard. They scored more than 400 twice in the first two matches and then 267 in the third Test, which we didn’t manage in two innings.
We also lost two vital tosses in Adelaide and Melbourne. They were massive. I’ve never seen so much thatchy grass on a pitch than that at the MCG — enough to make bowlers drool and batsmen weep.
Broad says England’s preparations, where matches were lost due to rain, hindered them
England have also lost two key tosses which has helped Australia to control matches
I saw Shane Warne walking out to the middle on the first morning when the groundsman Matthew Page was marking the crease. ‘Matt, a quick game is a good game,’ he shouted over to him.
As a wobble-seam bowler, I feel as though I missed out on two of the best wobble-seam pitches in Australia. Only playing once has made this a very disappointing trip, one that has not met my personal expectations.
The biggest frustration is losing the Ashes, being 3-0 down and feeling like I’ve not really done anything. Not being able, as an experienced player, to influence a series while it’s live is tough.
But that is top-flight sport, and I am not the only one who will feel this way. Ollie Pope and Jonny Bairstow, guys who have played one or two games will feel the same, and it’s part and parcel of touring.
Has it affected my hunger to play Test cricket? No. Looking at things pragmatically, I would argue that I won’t get a better chance to take wickets than at Brisbane and Melbourne. But I must be ready for my next opportunity, whether that be in Sydney, Hobart or beyond.
There is a long time between now and the tour of the Caribbean in March and I have never been one to make emotional decisions. So I’m not going to make any spur of the moment calls on my future. I feel fit, I’ve come back from the calf injury feeling strong and I’m taking wickets in the nets. That’s all I can do given the lack of tour games and the tight schedule.
This tour has taken its toll on all of us. Without sounding like making excuses, we may be at the end of our mental tether with Covid.
We are the only team that has played solid international cricket throughout the pandemic and our multi-format guys had already done 50 days in a bubble before they turned up here.
We spent day two of the Boxing Day Test match testing for Covid and having guys moving out of their hotel rooms, away from their families, so they were no longer classed as close contacts.
When you are faffing about with external stuff like that, it drags your focus away from where it needs to be.
Broad and England are now preparing for the fourth Test, which starts in the coming week
Now, preparation for the fourth Test is taking place with no head coach, no bowling coach, no spin coach, and no fitness coach in position.
On the back of the current score line, questions have been raised about the squad chosen for the Ashes. But I can categorically say that these are the best players in the country. There is high quality within this group. I see it daily.
There has also been talk of the domestic game undergoing a reset to try to prepare the Test team better.
How many times can you change the schedule? To be clear, County Championship cricket is very different to a Test match and the art of selection is picking the players you believe have the temperament, character and technique to cope with the top level.
Head coach Chris Silverwood (second left) is isolating after contact with a Covid case
The biggest examples of that from an England perspective would be Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan. If you were picking a team on county performances, they wouldn’t have made the cut, but boy could they play fast bowling.
I don’t think changes to the county structure will make a difference. The players are there, you just have to pick them out.
And the thing about this Covid period is that we’ve had big squads wherever we have gone. We had between 30-40 players here at the start of the Ashes. In that scenario, no one should be missed.
The cream of county cricket came to Australia this winter and there are people underneath this current England team like Ben Foakes and Saqib Mahmood who will have successful international careers.
For me and my current team-mates, it just wasn’t to be this time.