The unforgettable, outrageous Ashes tour that was

· ODI: England snatch defeat from jaws of victory

Ashes whitewash. A runaway one-day series win. Three Englishman home with not a physical impairment in sight. Surely not even the most fair dinkum Aussie could have predicted this outrageous chain of events at the summer’s start.

On their worst tour ever, the cupboard of English positives is bare. There’s Ben Stokes, with a ton in Perth and a “six-fer” in Sydney, and Stuart Broad, who never wilted in the face of relentless “Hadlee-ing” from the galleries. Eoin Morgan and youngsters Jos Buttler and Chris Jordan performed well in a stronger showing in the ODIs.

And that’s it.

Johnson caught the tourists off guard and Jonathan Trott was flying home before we had even drawn breath. Exactly what part Johnson’s thunderbolts played in Trott’s departure we will never know, but this was the moment that the English boat, a vessel carrying six old seadogs with either of 20 tons or 200 wickets, was irreparably rocked.

By Christmas, Graeme Swann, who genuinely believed he had nothing left to give and made his decision with a heavy heart and the best of intentions, was gone too. The “unselectable” (© Ashley Giles) Steven Finn was sent home without an international appearance all tour.

The squad selection was terrible – they chose three out-of-form bowling behemoths and failed to cover their spinner or ‘keeper. A luckless James Anderson, a careless Kevin Pietersen and Matt Prior’s rotten form pushed a once solid team over the precipice.

Just because a relaxed atmosphere has worked for a Boof-inspired Australia, however, it won’t necessarily work for England.

Alastair Cook managed fewer runs all series than he did in Brisbane alone in 2010. More disturbing was the listlessness with which he led his troops after Christmas. Shorn of his closest generals and the ability to set the tone with the bat, Cook was tactically naive and reactive. Despite spending half the tour on the verge of tears, his pearly whites glistened when England finally won, at the ninth time of asking, in the Perth ODI. Cook needs a rest, a cup of tea and time with his family (his wife is expecting in March).

Picking up the pieces will take time and may see major upheaval. There were signs of creaking in the mid-year Ashes but now the foundations of Andy Flower’s England have been uprooted. Pre-tour strengths – intensity and attention to detail (I’m thinking of those menu demands) – now seem precious and out-dated.

If the reports of Pietersen’s departure are true, then that is the management’s greatest crime. If one must go, a coach whose side were just whitewashed is surely most vulnerable.

Somewhere along the line, England stopped enjoying their cricket. Just because a relaxed atmosphere has worked for a Boof-inspired Australia, however, it won’t necessarily work for them. After unpicking every error of selection, preparation and execution, England must plot their own path to future success.

Davey Warner and Brad Haddin’s batting and Johnson’s bowling made Australia’s cricket uncomplicated, simply by speeding things up. Johnson, inspired by his management’s backing, was devastating throughout and saved the blushes of his batsmen after their middling first innings efforts.

Cunning plans starved England’s batsmen of scoring chances, the bowling unit provided the opportunities and brilliant fielding finished them off. With first innings leads de rigeur, the batsmen set about rubbing salt into wounds.

Australia’s victory was long in the making. Darren Lehmann used the first leg of the Ashes as a reconnaissance mission, plotting England’s downfall whilst fostering an unbendable belief.
Lehmann recognised that there were two separate Ashes series in 2013 and drew a definitive line under the first, returning reinvigorated second time round.

Australia cannot arrive in South Africa assuming life will be this easy again. The dumping of George Bailey, albeit with questionable replacements, suggest such mistakes won’t be made.

Heralded as a new generation, this is not a young team and Lehmann must keep things fresh. There’s plenty still to do – Australia haven’t won a Test overseas since April 2012, seven of the Ashes side were over 30 and several have long-term physical maladies to contend with. For now, though, life is good.

As England mark a consolation win on their card, this most extraordinary summer concludes this week with some T20 fun. With a World Cup just 50 days away and a pair of experimental squads on show, there’s plenty to learn.

Win, lose or draw, with Australia’s star on the rise, the public inspired and the women’s Ashes being played alongside them, these three jamborees will be an appropriate curtain call for a summer we will never forget.

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