Aside from the inevitable pre-Ashes optimism, history has told us that to get hopes high for Ashes series’ in Australia would be an unwise train of thought – but surely nobody expected this?
On Tuesday, the humiliation was complete. Bowled out for 68, Australia won the Boxing Day Test at the MCG by an innings and 14 runs and take an unassailable 3-0 lead in the series. The urn is staying firmly Down Under.
Now, the post-mortem begins. England fans, as they should, want solutions to their most prized cricketing side. Ahead of the final two Tests – as Joe Root and his side try and avoid a 5-0 whitewash – here are the critical questions which need to be answered in 2022.
Australia completed a humiliating innings victory against England to retain the Ashes
Joe Root’s side have been humbled Down Under and are in need of a complete revamp
SHOULD JOE ROOT STEP DOWN AS CAPTAIN?
Naturally, the buck stops with the leadership team after such a humiliating few weeks.
What is slightly more unusual is that England captain Joe Root – whose captaincy credentials are rightly being questioned – is unequivocally been England’s best player. And for quite some time.
He is their only consistently world-class batsman and, amid the losses, has had the best year of his career with his 1,708 runs in 2021 the second-best annual tally in the history of Test cricket.
Root’s place in the team is in no doubt. What is slightly more hazy is his future as skipper.
Joe Root’s place in the team is in no doubt – but his future as captain most certainly is
While he is technically England’s most successful Test captain with 27 wins to his name since he took over from Alistair Cook in February 2017, he has been criticised for some of his decisions while out in the field.
Queries have included a lack of aggression in his field placements, staleness in his inventiveness to find wickets with his bowling order and a lack of clarity in his team selections.
However, an even more obvious question is: if not Root, who?
Rory Burns, who came to the fore as a very impressive captain at Surrey, has just been dropped as a result of a torrid year with the bat.
Ben Stokes is not a contender for the captaincy after he took a break from the game this year
Ben Stokes has only just returned to the squad after some time out to prioritise his mental wellbeing – and then you are into the bowlers in terms of only guaranteed starters.
As such, Root should stay on as captain. Not necessarily because his leadership shows signs of a resurgence, but because there is simply no-one else appropriate at this time.
ARE CHRIS SILVERWOOD’S DAYS IN CHARGE NUMBERED?
Since beating a poor Sri Lanka side in January, England have won one of their last 12 Tests.
That, simply put, is nowhere near good enough.
Head coach Chris Silverwood (right) has overseen a torrid 2021 for the England Test team
In that time, head coach Chris Silverwood has been granted more powers, with the removal of national selector Ed Smith.
That has coincided with a terrible run of form. A series loss to New Zealand, 2-1 down in the incomplete series against India and now this Ashes humiliation.
He has been accused, contrary to his predecessor Trevor Bayliss, of being too soft with his players.
In addition, the muddled selection process – embodied in the three Tests Down Under – shows that that may need a revamp straight away.
His comments that there were ‘positives to take’ after the Ashes was lost has drawn criticism
Yet is Silverwood the man to steady the ship? Again, the question may not be why he deserves to remain but rather… is there anyone obvious waiting in the wings to replace him?
HAS JOS BUTTLER REACHED THE END OF HIS TEST CAREER?
A destructive, world-class batter in the white-ball game, it’s time for Jos Buttler to focus all his attention on the one-day format.
He has hit just two Test centuries despite his undoubted talent with the bat.
In addition, his stature as a Test wicket-keeper has been called into question, following some unacceptable dropped catches in the second Test in Adelaide.
With alternatives available this time – such as Jonny Bairstow and the forgotten Ben Foakes – this question seems like a simple one for England to address.
It’s time for wicket-keeper Jos Buttler to focus all his attention on the one-day format
HOW DO WE FIX ENGLAND’S BATTING PROBLEM?
This, ladies and gents, is the million-dollar question.
Aside from Root, and perhaps Dawid Malan, every single player in the top-six could be dropped.
Openers Burns and Haseeb Hameed have had a torrid time in Australia. Burns has been dropped – but should be given a second chance – while Hameed’s talent needs to equate to big scores sooner rather than later.
Openers Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed have had a torrid time in Australia so far
Zak Crawley was, in his defence, brought in for the Melbourne debacle undercooked and without match practice. He also deserves opportunities to impress, as does Dan Lawrence who has been on the fringes.
In the middle-order, Ollie Pope needs to show signs of his ability away from his home pitch of The Oval, while is Bairstow still a realistic option for the future?
All in all, this is the main issue to address in 2022.