Ben Stokes showed ability with both bat and ball during an otherwise disastrous Ashes series for England
There’s little left to be said about England’s 5-0 drubbing down under this winter that hasn’t been already mentioned, nonetheless here are my individual grades for the players that participated in one of the most embarrassing capitulations the three lions have ever experienced against the old enemy, Australia.
Alistair Cook (c) – F
The England skipper struggled both with the bat and with his leadership of an increasingly decimated squad, drawing criticism of his captaincy from English and Australian players past and present. Averaging just 24 with the bat Cook failed to scale the heights he achieved in his record breaking 2010/11 tour and didn’t record a century although he did manage to reach 50 on three occasions. However his inability to make the ‘daddy hundreds’ preached by his mentor and idol Graham Gooch contributed to his sides inability to pass 400 on the tour, resulting in mediocre totals that placed undue stress on a depleted and dispirited bowling unit. Cook will likely keep his position as captain although it’s debatable whether that’s more because of the faith the ECB has in him or a lack of viable alternatives in the current set-up.
Michael Carberry – D
Given the opportunity to grab the second openers spot alongside Cook the 33-year old Carberry failed to stamp his authority on opposing bowlers at international level in the same way he does for his county side, Hampshire. Carberry often got bogged down after starting his innings fluently and appeared to fall into the same mode of playing for survival that caused the selectors to controversially discard Nick Compton in 2013 despite the Somerset man notching two centuries. Unfortunately one fifty in ten innings is not test standard and when you factor in his costly drop of Brad Haddin in Adelaide it was a tour to forget for Carberry and it would be a surprise to see him in England whites again.
Jonathan Trott – F
While it’s incredibly sad that Trott is suffering from a stress related illness and I do wish him a speedy recovery there’s no glossing over the fact that in the one test he did play Mitchell Johnson exposed a major technical flaw in his game. With time not on his side (Trott turns 33 in April) and his illness still fresh it would seem that his international career is over, much as Marcus Trescothick’s was after he failed to complete an Ashes tour with similar issues.
Kevin Pietersen – C-
It was a disappointing tour for KP, who failed to hit a century after scoring heavily in Australia on his previous two visits. Two fifties and an average south of 30 is a poor haul for a player of Pietersen’s undoubted class and if England are to return to winning ways they’ll need their South African-born talisman at the heart of the batting order. Former captain Michael Vaughan has suggested Pietersen should be restored to a position of authority such as vice-captain, which isn’t a terrible idea as it could re-engage the former skipper and encourage him to continue in the side during a transitional period.
Ian Bell – D
After a fantastic home series in which Bell struck three tons the Warwickshire batsman struggled to make much of an impact in Oz, limping along to 235 runs at an average of just 26.11. Eventually promoted to number three for the Sydney test Bell has the pedigree and technique to be England’s medium to long term answer at the position should Trott not return, and despite his poor showing this winter it would be harsh to shoulder too much blame on the 31-year old following his man of the series performance back in England.
Joe Root – C-
After such a promising start to his test career Root came crashing back to earth by averaging just 27.42 with the bat over four test matches. A surprise casualty for the fifth and final game the decision to omit Root instead of Carberry raised eyebrows as the Yorkshireman is England’s most talented young batsman by quite some margin. Hopefully the decision was made to benefit Root and afford him some rest after a busy year in which he represented the three lions in all three formats as opposed to simply dropping him over a lack of form. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Root also offers a handy option with the ball and although he failed to take a wicket in his 32 overs his economy rate of barely over three was far superior to specialist spinners such as Graeme Swann, Monty Panesar and Scott Borthwick.
Gary Ballance – N/A
While it’s unfair to read too much into Ballance’s test debut at the SCG the pure fact of it is he struggled in both innings. It’s important to note that none of his teammates fared any better and in truth Ballance was thrown into a desperately dire situation. His technique looks solid if not watertight, and after an impressive first class season for Yorkshire in 2013 Ballance has probably earned the right to begin the English test summer at five in the order. However he’ll have to make sure he scores runs for his county in the early part of the Championship season if he’s to ward off other challengers including the likes of James Taylor and Sam Robson.
Ben Stokes – B+
The brightest light to emerge from this dark tour, Stokes demonstrated somewhat out of the blue that he has the raw talent and mental capacity to fill the all-rounders role for England for years to come. His ton in Perth on a deteriorating pitch was England’s only one of the series and his final average of 34.87 with the bat eclipsed his mark of 32.80 with the ball. Capable of hitting speeds in excess of 90 miles per hour Stokes has the pace and accuracy to trouble even the best of batsman, as shown by him dismissing Australian captain Michael Clarke on two occasions. A six wicket haul in the final test could be the first of many for the Durham man and while expectations should be tempered Stokes has every chance of evolving into a Flintoff-esque talisman for his country.
Matt Prior – D-
England’s longtime wicket-keeper batsman was dropped for the final two test matches of the series after underwhelming showings in the first three tests with both the bat and gloves. An average of 17.83 was well below Prior’s career mark of 40 plus and two missed stumpings in Perth sealed his fate for the rest of the Ashes. Fortunately for Prior his axing may have been a blessing in disguise as his replacement Jonny Bairstow was even worse in both departments and as a result you’d figure Prior will regain his place for the Sri Lanka series in the summer.
Jonny Bairstow – F
Speaking of the flame haired gloveman, Bairstow did nothing to press his case for future England consideration. After a string of disappointing performances Bairstow may have blown his chance at a test career, either as a batsman or wicket-keeper. He’s young enough that he can force his way back into consideration down the line but it would take an exceptional campaign for Yorkshire for the selectors to even think about giving him another opportunity within the next twelve months.
Stuart Broad – B+
Broad was England’s only truly consistent threat with the ball and his six wickets on the series first day in Brisbane should have sent England on their way to a commanding first innings lead. However the inability of his teammates to press home the advantage and their subsequent capitulation with the bat saw his efforts go to waste. It’s perhaps also flown slightly under the radar that Broad managed to stay healthy for an entire five match series, something that he has often failed to do in the past. His batting was also a positive, with his average of 19.37 higher than the likes of Prior, Ballance, Bairstow and Trott.
Tim Bresnan – D+
Poor Timmy was probably rushed back into the team earlier than his body would have liked and the results were predictably poor. A batting average under ten and a bowling average over 40 belied his all-rounder status and Bresnan’s reputation as Englannd’s ‘lucky charm’ is now a distant memory. Bresnan is better than he showed during this series and while it would be folly for the selectors to completely dismiss him from their plans it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they’ll move on from the barrel chested Yorkshireman and opt to try out younger models.
Graeme Swann – F
Bowling average of exactly 80? Check. Economy rate a shade under four runs per over? Check. Batting average under eight? Check. Mid-series shock retirement? Check. It wasn’t exactly a vintage series from Swann and the 2008-2012 model will be greatly missed by England as they attempt to replace him but with his elbow clearly bothering him and declining results over the past eighteen months the time had come for the off-spinner to call it day. Whether or not he was right to do so midway through a series in which the team needed all the veteran leadership it could muster is up for debate but the real shame is that it took so long for his country to recognise his talent in the first place.
Scott Borthwick – N/A
The second of England’s three debutantes in Sydney, anyone who had money on the leg-spinner to make his test debut in Australia before this series is probably rolling in money right now. Borthwick looked far from the finished product with the ball and the number of full tosses and half trackers he sent down was alarming and he hardly excelled with the bat either, making just five runs in his two innings despite a Championship season in which he passed 1,000 runs for the first time. The spin bowling cupboard for England is bare following Swannn’s retirement so Borthwick can earn first crack at the opening if he performs well for Durham before the Sri Lanka series. That’s easier said than done, though, with English wickets (Durham’s in particular) offering little to no assistance to spin bowlers during April and May.
James Anderson – C-
This grade may seem a little high but after the batsmen repeatedly let the bowling attack down it seems a little unfair to punish Anderson, who delivered a team high 190.3 overs. Despite a bowling average of 43.92 the Burnley Express held Australia to 3.22 runs per over, an economy rate that led all of England’s specialist bowlers on the tour. Anderson’s statistics haven’t been great since his heroics at Trent Bridge during the summer but he’s continued to toil away with far fewer runs to play with than in the past. Factor in the unforgiving pitches and lack of swing movement with the Kookubura ball and the raw stats aren’t quite so bad as they first appear.
Chris Tremlett – C-
The tall paceman only played in one test on the tour, the opening game in Brisbane. Tremlett was slightly unlucky to be dropped thereafter as his four wickets at an average of 30 represented a respectable haul and his average was better than anyone on the team bar Broad and Borthwick. Another member of the squad who’s fighting age, there’s almost no chance Tremlett will make another England XI thanks in large part to his declining pace and unreliable fitness.
Boyd Rankin – N/A
Irishman Rankin failed to make an impact in his only appearance of the series in Sydney, twice pulling up with muscle cramps in the first innings before recovering to take his first test wicket in the second dig. The main disappointment with Rankin wasn’t his lack of wickets but his lack of pace and bounce, attributes which led to him being selected for the tour in the first place. There’s every chance he could become a one cap wonder with a host of fast bowlers in the wings and Steven Finn likely to be given an extended run alongside Anderson and Broad during the summer.
Monty Panesar – F
Panesar’s off-field problems seem insignificant compared to his on-field struggles after he took just three wickets across two test matches at an average of 85.66. While a run in with a night club bouncer can be overlooked if you’re taking bundles of wickets it becomes more of an issue if the opposition are carting you all over the park and unfortunately for Panesar it appears he’s well and truly lost his mojo with the ball. He’s had an up and down career full of fielding mishaps, ill-timed dives and over exuberant celebrations but it finally looks as if Monty Panesar is done as a test match cricketer.