Sports Editor's Blog: England's Ashes self-destruction is nothing new


Englands Stuart Broad was one of several senior players to come in for criticism for their performances in the opening three tests EMN-171220-110335002

The essence of the game is to tick off sayings and catchphrases spouted on air by Geoffrey Boycott, the doughtiest of cricket’s all-time list of digger-inners.

In truth, the sayings are more moans and gripes, based on Boycott’s certain belief that he would always have done better than the batsman, bowler, tea lady he is analysing, as well as the superiority of the game in his playing days.

Sticks of rhubarb, his granny’s pinny, the brain content of pork pies - they’re all covered on a standard Boycott bingo card.

But there’s a new game in town; ladies and gents I give you England useless Ashes tours of Australia bingo.

Okay so it’s not so catchy, but there are an array of equally predictable facets to tick off your card.

Accusations of whining Poms - check

Batting collapses - yep

Falling for tabloid bait - hook line and sinker

The selection and subsequent breaking down of half-fit players - all there

Snatching calamity from promising positions - house!

With all the certainty of a Boycott rant or a bad taste Australian sledge, England had already succumbed to all the familiar failings and plunged into the usual bear traps by the time they sank to their inevitable fate in Perth.

Aside from losing to the most braying of opponents, it’s the predictability of it all which makes it so irritating.

The knuckle-headed comments by certain players in the build-up to this year’s series seemed more classless than usual.

Perhaps it’s just my memory filter; maybe it’s always this dumb. Maybe we get what we deserve on that front.

It would be unfair on the likes of David Warner to expect lucidity and eloquent comment, and the Aussie public perhaps expect all of their pacemen to parrot the spitting hostility of Lillee and Thompson to the standard formula.

But to compare a few games of cricket as war, garnished with barely-disguised threats was about as big as it was clever.

You get the sense that wind-ups and wisecracking has been tipping into genuine antipathy and bad blood on both sides for years.

A dismal signal to send out to young cricketers happy to ape their heroes.

But going on record to complain about the level of Aussie sledging seemed an odd tactic - and in Jimmy Anderson’s case the most brass-necked of pot and kettle calling.

The home players and fans need no more incentive to up the name-calling and baiting a notch than the sure knowledge it’s hitting home.

And they certainly don’t need a second invitation to cart out the whingeing Poms barb - a retort about as pot-kettle-black as Anderson’s remarks.

And if the telling tales to teacher wasn’t embarrassing enough, there were the daily revelations of night-time misdemeanours to further distract the tourists from their cricket.

At times they became so blatant and so badly-timed it made me wonder whether it was all some deliberate strategy based on reverse psychology.

Lulling the Aussies into believing England’s shambolic tour management mirrored the state of the batting - forever on the verge of collapse.

And then there was the squad selection of half-fit and inexperienced players for the most physically and mentally challenging tour of all.

It’s something England selectors seem routinely hellbent on every time we tour down under.

Routinely half of the original First XI will fall ill or go down injured by the time we’ve reached the second Test.

And I haven’t even got to Ben Stokes.

But aside from all of these completely avoidable traps, the most annoying aspect this year has been - despite the usual self-inflicted wounds - how close England came to positive results.

At many times during the opening salvos of the 10-wicket defeat in Brisbane, England were on top, only to let the Australians off the hook with both bat and ball, allowing the dam of pressure to finally tell in the second innings.

A dozy few days in Adelaide were followed by some excellent ones - albeit by the time the mountain was already too high to climb.

And grim experience would have had every England fan fearing the brilliant start given by Bairstow and Malan in Perth would eventually be blunted by a dismal collapse.

The Australians are far from a great side, and beatable, but calamitous sessions here and there robbed England every time.

As predictable and sure as a Boycott forward defensive.