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Ashes: England’s best chance of winning in Australia is to stop obsessing about winning in Australia

·4-min read
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  • Chris Silverwood
    English Test and county cricketer (born 1975)
  • Joe Root
    Joe Root
    English cricketer (born 1990)

When Chris Silverwood applied to be England Head Coach in 2019, he did so on an Ashes ticket.

Fresh from a draw in England that meant Australia retained the Urn, with the next series two years away, Silverwood’s vision for the Ashes won him the job over Gary Kirsten, the highly-regarded South African who, by all accounts, botched the interview process, believing the job was already his.

Silverwood, along with his captain Joe Root, has spent those two years talking a lot about the Ashes, and coming up with a “blueprint” for winning Down Under. It all started pretty well. In New Zealand and South Africa, they blooded new players, most of them in their early twenties, they thought could succeed in Australia. They won four series in a row, and made a stunning start to the tour of India this year with victory in Chennai.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Since then, they have played 13 Tests, losing nine, drawing two (they were on the wrong end of both), and winning one. The Ashes are over after just 12 days. The whole premise Silverwood got the job on lies in tatters. He seems the likeliest first casualty.

The over-obsession with the Ashes is a major reason for this. In Sri Lanka and India, England rested and rotated so players would be fresh for the challenges at the end of 2021, in the World Cup and, most importantly, the Ashes. It was in the second half of that gruelling, heavily-bubbled tour – members of the England camp still shudder when talking about the two Tests in Ahmedabad – that the policy became too muddled.

India in India is just as challenging as Australia in Australia, and England needed to be at full strength to compete. A raft of senior players were messed around, and held back for white-ball cricket.

The winning habit was lost. That was exacerbated when those who had been at the IPL were home in time but rested for the series against New Zealand in June, which was duly lost. By the time the best available players were on the park against India in August, it was too late. There were some notable absentees, but England were all over the shop, except when Root was at the crease.

Rest and rotation was well-intentioned, but poorly executed. England were resting players for the Ashes and, along the way, were chewed up and spat out by even better teams – the ones that competed for the World Test Championship final. Many of those who they poured so many caps into – take Dom Sibley, Ollie Pope, Zak Crawley – either did not make the plane or are playing peripheral roles.

Michael Atherton said this week that England felt as far away from winning the Ashes Down Under as ever. It is hard to disagree. Since a superb England team flogged a very average Australian bowling attack in 2010/11, they have played 13 Tests in the country - 12 have been lost, the outlier drawn.

Root served up some half-baked, shell-shocked thoughts in the immediate aftermath of the defeat at Melbourne about needing a red-ball “reset” like the one masterminded by Andrew Strauss and Eoin Morgan in 2015, which led to a World Cup win four years’ later.

He is right, but quite what this would involve is up for debate, but a few ideas worth floating are Test players sitting out the IPL, a little more love and respect from administrators for the County Championship, and a return of the North-South series for the best of the rest in red-ball cricket.

How about an Ashes reset, too? Perhaps England’s best chance of winning the Ashes in Australia is to stop worrying so much about winning the Ashes in Australia. Yes, we all want these generational achievements and unforgettable moments. It remains the pinnacle for most players and fans, but there is plenty of other cricket to win in the meantime, and it does a disservice to the challenge of every other series. Let’s build a functional Test team that wins anywhere – they did not win at home this summer, remember – and worry about the rest thereafter.

Stop appointing coaches based on the Ashes, or picking players because they might thrive in Australian conditions (but not others). The media have to play our part in this reset too; in hindsight, it probably was not the best idea for the ECB to help the BBC with the podcast Project Ashes. That was a lovely bit of production and insight, but it contained some lines from ECB bods, not least Performance Director Mo Bobat, that sounded on the cringeworthy side of bullish then, and look downright ridiculous now.

And perhaps we should reassess what constitutes success in Australia? Just winning a game, let alone a live one, would be nice! Defeatist? Maybe. Realist? Certainly. Let’s walk before we try running.

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