How you’ve hurt me. I’ve followed you around this country, from beautiful city to blue coast. It began with a sense of justified expectation in Brisbane but I head to Sydney with the faintest hope you can restore an ounce of your battered pride. The Ashes are gone, and with them my fingernails – the sight of you batting this summer has seen them gnawed down to the quick. I’m not actually sure they’ll ever grow back.
It’s been a funny old year, hasn’t it? You were unbeaten in Tests until November, you won the Ashes and you got to the final of the Champions Trophy. Along the way you served up a mixed bag – there were highs – Prior in Auckland, Broady at Durham and all of you at Lord’s spring to mind; there were lows, too – that collapse in the Champions Trophy Final was a sign of things to come. You probably shouldn’t have relieved yourself on the Oval outfield, either…
But, alas, I’ll always remember 2013 with a bitter taste in my mouth as a result of what has happened from November 21st onwards. You’ve been walloped, lads. You don’t need me to tell you that you’ve been out-batted, out-bowled and out-fielded. But you’ve also been out-caught, out-thought and out-fought. Your batting has been about as steady as the world economy circa 2008 and you’ve rarely had the stomach for the battle. Wickets have been gifted to, not earned by, your opponents who, it must be added, have looked a class act.
I’m disgruntled, I’m forlorn, and you’ve started to send me grey, but I’m not giving up on you yet. I know how quickly things can change – just ask Michael Clarke. He couldn’t buy a win earlier this year and now look at him. I’ve put a list of New Year’s resolutions together for you. Follow these, and the urn will surely be yours when 2015 comes.
1) Persevere with Alastair Cook as captain. At times, most notably last Sunday morning, Cook has looked clueless in the field. Shorn of Swann and Prior, two of his most trusted lieutenants, he was slow in his decision-making and caught between attack and defence. He doesn’t look a natural but will be back stronger. He’s a good man and a better cricketer and this, after all, is the first series he’s lost as captain. Michael Clarke was winless in 2013 until Brisbane. How quickly things can turn around. Besides, who else is there?
2) Ian Bell to number three. I supported Joe Root’s promotion to first drop but must admit I was wrong. The runs have dried up a little for the plucky Yorkshireman as Australia has cut off his scoring shots effectively. Now, with Michael Carberry likely to be dropped to accommodate Gary Ballance in Sydney, Root’s yoyo-ing will continue as he returns to the top of the order. They need to find a position for the youngster and stick with it. This opens the door for Ian Bell to make the number three slot his own.
3) Drop Monty. This shouldn’t be too hard for you. Australia’s 9-570, England’s general inability to take wickets and Graeme Swann also misfiring in Adelaide masked a poor Panesar performance. In Melbourne, Cook had no faith in Monty to win him the match and even turned to Joe Root first. His action disintegrated and when he tried to flight it he was too full and when bowling flat was too short. He eventually got Rogers, but didn’t celebrate, and when Monty isn’t whooping, jumping and high-fiving every man, woman and child within a square mile, you know something is up. It’s time Scott Borthwick’s leggies are given a chance.
4) Don’t hold an inquest. As England did in 2006/07 and Australia did in 2010/11, the temptation is to hold an inquest and make wholesale changes to the structure of the sport in the country. England don’t need that. They were very successful very recently and nothing, bar results, has changed since then. A review will suffice.
5) Selectors, please follow county form. Had you done so, Chris Tremlett would not have been near this tour, Jonny Bairstow would not have been back-up ‘keeper and Panesar wouldn’t have been anywhere near Australia. If you had watched the championship, Graham Onions certainly wouldn’t be playing for the Dolphins in South Africa.
6) Give Jonny Bairstow a chance to keep wicket. When Bairstow fluffed a couple of chances on Sunday morning, the knives came out immediately. Matt Prior’s poor form was forgotten and calls for his return immediate. Bairstow is not yet an international class ‘keeper (Prior wasn’t either when he first came into the side) but he’s a hard-worker and fast-learner. First and foremost, he needs to keep wicket. Whether that’s for England, Yorkshire, the Lions or whoever, I don’t care – he just needs to don the gloves.
7) Ditch the dietary requirements. Looked and sounded clever at the time, but really this was the height of pretentiousness, pathetically precious and frankly preposterous. The food must be good, though, the batters seem in a desperate hurry to get back to the changing room!
8) Remember the Barmies. Some of this mad bunch have spent their life’s savings traveling to the other side of the world to watch this sorry mess. You owe them big time. When you step onto the field in Sydney, they’ll be singing Jerusalem and you should listen. They’ve had to ditch much of their usual repertoire and been forced to resort to some (admittedly brilliant) gallows humour. They’ll be back, louder than ever and deserve something to shout about.
9) Find that smile. You don’t look like you’ve enjoyed your cricket much over the last few weeks, boys. Lighten up, remember it’s only a game and find that smile again. The shackles are off in Sydney, things can’t get any worse. Many of you are talented, young and hungry kids with big futures ahead – seize your chance!
10) Have a bit of time off. You don’t play Test cricket again until Sri Lanka’s visit in June. Some of you are off to the West Indies to play some ODIs, but those with the chance, unwind, relax, spend time with your families and remind yourself of why you love the game. If you’re missing it, as so many of your fans will be, that’s a good sign.
Best of luck in Sydney boys.
Will Macpherson writes for Back Page Lead.