Is the England cricket team on an upward trend?

England’s Test series win away to world number one side South Africa is about as rare as they come these days.

Not since 2012 had England won a Test series away from home, and to do it against South Africa has led to all sorts of glamourous predictions for the future of England’s Test side.

Firstly, are England actually any good?

They have a top quality bowling attack, with Stuart Broad and James Anderson leading the line and Steven Finn, Ben Stokes plus Moeen Ali’s improving off-spin to call upon.

But their batting has long been a concern and still remains the gremlin in their line-up. Only captain Alastair Cook and number four Joe Root can truly be considered world-class, and there is a gaping hole beside Cook for the second opener’s spot.

Alex Hales is the most recent of eight men tasked with cementing a place alongside Cook but he has struggled for runs as his lazy technique outside off stump repeatedly sees him edge behind.

After a solid opening Test, Nick Compton has faded in his comeback series, while James Taylor’s fielding has been more impressive than his batting so far.

However, the lower order looks very promising with Stokes, Jonny Bairstow and Ali all capable of scoring fluently should the top order fail – which it regularly does.

The other problem for England is that they’ve beaten a South African side stripped of premier bowlers Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander.

Steyn is the best pacer in the world and scared England in Durban before his shoulder injury, while Philander provides accuracy and stifles the flow of runs. It would have been a much tougher series for England had those two been fit.

Add to that South Africa’s dismal thrashing in India and England should really have been expected to beat them.

There are problems internally too, with the team bereft of a suitable leader.

Hashim Amla started the series as skipper but was guilty of some embarrassing captaincy when Stokes plundered 258 in Cape Town and immediately stepped down after realising his ineptitude in a role he never really wanted.

That left AB de Villiers in charge and he is also reluctant to hold on to it any longer, especially with his potential Test retirement looming after this series.

Amidst the gloom, two shining lights for the Proteas have been Dean Elgar and Kagiso Rabada.

Elgar has shown himself to be a gritty competitor, in the same mould as a Mike Hussey or a Chris Rogers. His ability to repel Broad and Anderson was noteworthy but he did look vulnerable to the rising ball, especially when facing the bounce of Finn.

In Rabada, they have a young paceman of serious potential. At just 20 years old he already bowls at 90mph and has consistently threatened England’s batsmen on this tour with a sharp line and length.

Imagine Steyn, Rabada and Philander all steaming in and South Africa will be back in business very soon.

So, in answer to this blog’s title, yes, England are on an upward trend.

They have winnable battles with Pakistan and Sri Lanka this summer before a daunting trip to the sub-continent where they face India after a brief sojourn to Bangladesh.

Given their deficiencies against Pakistan in the UAE, they may struggle again with the same sort of slow, low, turning pitches they will encounter next winter.

But, for the moment, they have the best bowler in Test cricket – Stuart Broad. Number five, James Anderson, isn’t bad either.

Joe Root is also handily placed at number two in the Test batsman’s rankings, while the team as a whole remain sixth behind South Africa, India, Australia, Pakistan and New Zealand.

That will surely improve come the end of 2016 and into the Bangladesh tour, but it is against India – who are set to replace South Africa in top spot – where the yardstick lies.

The real upward trend will be set if England can gain a positive result in that series.

Then we’ll see whether all the hype surrounding the likes of Stokes and Broad can be justified.

Right now, there’s a lot to be cheery about if you’re an English cricket fan. Here’s hoping there’s plenty more where that came from.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89 and WordPress: neilwalton089
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2015 Ashes preview

The 2015 Ashes starts tomorrow in Cardiff as underdogs England look to claim their fourth successive home Ashes triumph and snatch the famous urn from holders Australia.

Given both teams’ recent form, the Aussies will win 5-0 and that will be all she wrote. Or will it?

With Australia packing plenty of pace into their attack, England can expect some short stuff but they will find the likes of Mitchell Johnson and Mitchell Starc easier to play on England’s slower pitches.

Add the likely omission of star Ashes performer Peter Siddle from the visitors’ starting XI and England will be breathing a little easier.

Elsewhere, bookies odds of 2/5 for an Australia series victory look especially stingy given the historical Ashes records.

Of the 68 Ashes series, 32 have been won by Australia, while England have snared 31 winning four of the last six. It’s not a clear cut Australian win after all.

England

England’s situation has improved markedly since their 5-0 humiliation in the 2013-14 series.

There is continuity and renewed confidence amongst their batting line-up, with the long-vilified Alastair Cook returning to something near his best form in recent series against the West Indies and New Zealand.

Adam Lyth is his likeliest opening partner, while Joe Root has rapidly improved – he looks England’s most fluid runscorer at present.

England’s middle order is more fragile, Root aside, as Ian Bell and Gary Ballance have struggled for runs recently while Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler provide plenty of threat but little dependability.

The hosts have also reinforced their bowling unit, with ever-presents James Anderson and Stuart Broad leading a line which is bolstered by the express pace and steepling bounce of Mark Wood.

Wood is a tricky customer as not only do opposing batsmen have to contend with his 90mph snorters he also likes to vary the angle and length of his run-ups – tactics more commonly seen in shorter formats of the game.

Perhaps the main weakness of their attack is Moeen Ali, who has struggled to fill the spinning boots of Graeme Swann, often proving expensive. Ben Stokes will also concede many boundary balls but showed signs of greater control against New Zealand.

Australia

Arguably, the form of Steve Smith is Australia’s most potent weapon.

Since October, the right-hander has scored 1,226 runs at an average of 102.17, notching five centuries and five fifties.

His first-innings average of 89.64 places him second on the all-time list behind Don Bradman. England be wary.

Smith will almost certainly bat at three behind the aggression of opener David Warner, while Michael Clarke will provide formidable company at five provided he remains injury-free.

Australia coach Darren Lehmann also faces a tough decision over which wicketkeeper to pick.

The decline of Brad Haddin is well documented, but he consistently peaks for Ashes series and could fight off a strong claim to the gloves from Peter Nevill, who has been in good knick with the bat in Australia’s brief warm-up games.

Following on from a trend they set a decade ago, Australia bat deep into the line-up with the ability to transform scores of 150-7 into a 300+ score. Just ask the West Indies what that felt like a few months ago.

And, after the tail wags, the bowlers can rip through any batting line-up as Johnson, Starc and new recruit Josh Hazlewood get stuck in with the new cherry.

Like England, spin is their weakness with Nathan Lyon looking every bit as vulnerable as Moeen Ali amongst both sides’ star contingent of seamers.

So, the moral of this preview is not to believe the early predictions. Both sides look a match for each other but perhaps Australia carry the greater confidence into the series.

That could well translate into an early series lead, but can we write off England after their recent improvement? Definitely not.

This could be one doozy of an Ashes series.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89 and WordPress: neilwalton089

2015 Cricket World Cup Blog 3 – Could England win the World Cup?

Could England win the World Cup?

It’s a question that could be laughed off as ludicrous, optimistic or perhaps even imbecilic.

However, in just five days the World Cup will begin and so too will England’s campaign – against red-hot favourites and hosts Australia.

Given how hyped the build-up is towards any English sporting team in close proximity to a major tournament, is it too much to suggest that England could win the Cricket World Cup?

On paper at least, England have a chance.

Coach Peter Moores is starting to shape his side into a balanced, professional unit with both strength in-depth and the correct mix of emerging talent and established stars.

The most exciting of the talented players in England’s squad is Jos Buttler.

Buttler’s ability to play shots across 360 degrees mirrors the style of AB de Villiers, who is by far the world’s leading batsman at present.

Yet Buttler has a formidable journey to take if he is to morph into a cricketer capable of the destruction that de Villiers can wreak at will.

Not only that, his wicketkeeping skills must improve if he is to emulate de Villiers later in his career.

Aside from Buttler, England’s coaching staff will be hopeful of a polished display from opener Moeen Ali, who looks the perfect foil for Ian Bell, a player most at home when quietly accumulating runs at the top of the order.

Moeen is not a batsman of maniacal aggression, but his timing of the ball is majestic.

The Worcestershire man has also drastically improved his spin bowling and is the leading long-term candidate to replace Graeme Swann in all forms of the game.

England’s celebrated bowling unit is also worthy of attention, with James Anderson spearheading an attack comprising of Stuart Broad, Steven Finn, Chris Woakes and Chris Jordan.

Throughout the winter ODIs against Sri Lanka, Australia and India, the bowlers outperformed the batsman in what has become an established trend over the past few seasons.

Worryingly for England it is a trend that extends to all forms of the game.

When Alastair Cook, a batsman who struggled for runs for a long period of time, departed as England captain it was Eoin Morgan who took over the reins.

Morgan’s own form at that time was patchy, but his batting record when captaining England previously was far better than when he wasn’t.

However, Morgan’s form has continued to decline into his tenure as permanent ODI captain.

After hitting 121 against Australia in the first match of a tri-series also involving India, Morgan was then dismissed for two ducks against their arch-rivals and only managed two runs against India, before another dismal duck during the defeat to Pakistan in England’s final warm-up game.

Despite Morgan’s scratchy form, he remains one of England’s most dangerous batsmen and could in the future form a mouthwatering alliance with the likes of Buttler if he remains in charge.

Morgan and Buttler are both ‘finishers’, meaning they can accelerate their scoring to win their side a match when chasing a total in excess of 300 runs.

Too often, though, they have been found out – particularly when chasing such lofty totals – and the World Cup will provide plenty of giddy run chases if England are to go deep into the latter stages.

If England were to be successful Down Under, plenty of work needs to be done on the mentality of the batsmen when chasing large totals – a fear of such run chases also seems to plague the England batsmen.

England’s middle order also needs to score runs faster, in greater volume and with a prudent balance of orthodox and unorthodox shot selection.

Perhaps they have been hindered by the ECB central contracts and the subsequent lack of experience in T20 cricket such as the IPL, where players such as de Villiers and MS Dhoni have both honed and revolutionised the skill set of a modern batsman.

World Cup victory may therefore be out of England’s reach, for now.

Looking at their squad, their recent performances and their ‘flair’ players they could reasonably expect to make the quarter-finals, but any result beyond that would be seen as a shock.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

2015 Cricket World Cup Blog 2 – Top 10 bowlers

Cricket, as every bowler knows, is very much a batsman’s game.

Bowlers are afforded a disproportionate share of the limelight, especially in the batsman-friendly Twenty20 arena, but could that be about to change?

At the upcoming World Cup, which starts next Friday, spectators will have the chance to cast their eyes over some toe-crunching yorkers, devious slower balls, doosras, sliders and of course, some good old-fashioned chin music.

Part of the skill of being a bowler in the modern game is the art of deception. If a bowler can deceive a batsman with a well-concealed variation, half the battle is won.

So, with all these things in mind, who are the top 10 bowlers to watch out for in Australia and New Zealand this February?

  1. James Faulkner – Australia – left-arm pace
  • Key stat: Took 19 wickets in 14 ODIs during 2014

Under normal circumstances, this crafty Aussie pacer would occupy a spot in my top three bowlers at the 2015 World Cup. However, a side strain has thrown Faulkner’s participation into doubt. There is a chance he may overcome the niggling injury to bat for the home side, but his chances of bowling are slim. His fans will be lamenting his luck as his superb variations have made him Australia’s go-to man in the ‘death overs’ with the back-of-the-hand slower ball his most impressive, and deceptive, weapon. He will be sorely missed if he cannot recover in time.

  1. Vernon Philander – South Africa – seamer
  • Key stat: Conceded just 4.84 runs an over in 2014

Very much underrated in some corners of the cricketing world, Philander will line up Down Under as one of the Proteas’ most valued assets. His economy is outstanding and the unsung seamer also has the knack of picking up key wickets – often by frustrating batsmen with his line and length, making him the perfect foil for the terrifying pace duo of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel.

  1. Matt Henry – New Zealand – right-arm fast
  • Key stat: Averaged over three wickets per ODI in 2014

New Zealand have unearthed a gem in Matt Henry. The 23-year-old destroyed Pakistan in their ODI series in December, claiming 13 wickets at a measly average of 16.30 apiece. Henry is still relatively new to ODI cricket, competing in eight games, but his career wicket tally of 21 suggests he has the ability to strike quickly and regularly. His lack of fame could see him surprise many teams and looks set to be the World Cup’s dark horse bowler.

  1. Shakib Al-Hasan – Bangladesh – left-arm spin
  • Key stat: Took 21 ODI wickets with a 3.72 economy in 2014

Shakib is a proven limited-overs performer and is consequently coveted by many T20 franchises across the world. Those lucky enough to secure his signature can count on his accurate spin, frugal economy and habit of picking up wickets in the middle overs. His bowling alone would see him picked in most teams but his batting is aggressive, making him the top-ranked all-rounder in all three forms of the game.

  1. Ravi Ashwin – India – off-spin
  • Key stat: Took 23 ODI wickets in 17 matches through 2014

Tall, clever and hugely effective, Ashwin will lead India’s spin attack Down Under. Using variations both subtle and tricky, he has become one of the leading spinners in world cricket. However, his temperament can sometimes be questioned, particularly when he is attacked by batsmen looking to unsettle him, and that will prove to be his biggest challenge at the World Cup.

  1. Mohammed Shami – India – seamer
  • Key stat: Joint-highest ODI wicket taker in 2014 with 38 scalps

Shami enters the World Cup as one of India’s breakthrough trio of pacemen. Alongside Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Varun Aaron he is beginning to dispel the myth that Indian pace bowlers lack bite. Shami enjoyed an excellent 2014, taking 38 ODI wickets, but his economy of 6.16 is in danger of undermining his good work Down Under if he cannot limit the runs he concedes.

  1. Dale Steyn – South Africa – right-arm fast
  • Key stat: Claimed 22 ODI wickets in 2014

The sight of Dale Steyn charging in to bowl at over 90mph is arguably the scariest in cricket and South Africa will reap the rewards on the fast, bouncy Antipodean pitches. Steyn is especially useful in the death overs, where fierce yorkers and off-cutters help him to keep the run rate down. He will form a lethal opening attack with Morne Morkel, but his individual brilliance alone could help South Africa to World Cup victory come March.

  1. Lasith Malinga – Sri Lanka – right-arm fast
  • Key stat: Took 29 wickets (one every 27 balls) in 2014

‘Malinga the slinger’ is a harsh nickname for such a talented player, but Malinga’s unique action continues to fool the world’s best batsmen. Armed with 90mph pace and a fiendishly deceptive slower-ball, Malinga regularly picks up wickets in large numbers, including two five-wicket hauls in 2014 alone. Look out for his eye-watering yorkers, which decimated the lesser teams in 2011.

  1. Mitchell Johnson – Australia – left-arm fast
  • Key stat: Claimed a 4.80 economy in 2014

Part of Mitchell Johnson’s appeal is that he tends to aim for batsmen’s heads rather than the stumps but, then again, how else would he be considered the world’s most feared pace bowler? He has managed to ditch his reputation as a wayward paceman, and is now seen as one of the most accurate around. Add that to his ability to reach speeds of up to 95mph and Australia might just have a World Cup-winning bowler on their hands.

  1. Ajantha Mendis – Sri Lanka – right-arm spin
  • Key stat: Took 38 ODI wickets at 21.63 in 2014

Mendis has become the great mystery of modern spin bowling. His mastery of variation balls has helped his deception to such an extent that nobody is sure whether he’s an off-spin or a leg-spin bowler. As a batsman, that uncertainty must be a gruesome thought and his collection of 38 victims during 2014 shows just how effective he is. The one criticism that surrounds his magical bowling is that he tends to be quite expensive – he had an economy of 5.76 in 2014 – but his awesome strike rate of 22.5 goes a long way to excuse that profligacy.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

2015 Cricket World Cup Blog 1 – Top 10 batsmen

With a little over three weeks until the 2015 Cricket World Cup begins, Australia and New Zealand are preparing to host what has the potential to be the best World Cup in cricketing history.

World cricket is flush with batting innovators, big-hitters and majestic shotmakers.

To some spectators, the World Cup and its 50-over format is seen as antiquated and endangered when compared to the vibrant universe of Twenty20 cricket.

However, ODI cricket is not being given the credit it deserves, and here’s why. Watch out for the following ten batsmen who are set to light up the 2015 World Cup.

  1. Joe Root – England – middle order
  • Key stat: Scored three ODI centuries in 2014

Many see Joe Root as a future England Test captain, but at the moment he’s quite content plundering runs for England in every format of the game. Root has become so important for England that he very often finds himself to be England’s saviour when his colleagues have faltered. Root is a steady accumulator of runs, and the antipodean pitches will suit him in February.

  1. Chris Gayle – West Indies – opener
  • Key stat: Hit more sixes than fours in ODIs last year

Perhaps the most destructive opening batsman in the world, Gayle is back in the West Indies side after their recent pay dispute. His presence looks sure to lift a side controversially shorn of Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo at this World Cup. Gayle will continually look to make a fast start but is in danger of being caught out by the fast and bouncy pitches Down Under, with his main weakness being the short ball. If he can survive that, he will score both quickly and colossally.

  1. Steve Smith – Australia – middle order
  • Key stat: Boasts a 49.18 average in 12 ODIs last season

Steve Smith has taken well to Test captaincy, scoring four centuries at an average of 128.16 in the recent series against India. He should be confident of transferring that form into the World Cup when he will have the chance to score big runs on home soil. For Australia, the problem lies in where to place Smith in a middle order that is brimming with runs, which is a nice problem to have.

  1. Kane Williamson – New Zealand – number three
  • Key stat: Compiled a 70.00 average in 12 ODIs during 2014

New Zealand’s latest batting talent has finally broken through, for good. Kane Williamson enjoyed a superb 2014 in ODI cricket, striking seven half-centuries in just 12 innings. He forms a profitable partnership with Ross Taylor in the top order and can also send down some useful off-spin. Williamson has carried his 2014 form into 2015, having scored 103 off 107 balls against Sri Lanka this week.

  1. Hashim Amla – South Africa – opener
  • Key stat: Hit 892 runs in ODI cricket in 2014

In normal circumstances, Hashim Amla’s unbeaten 153 against the West Indies would have made all the headlines, but he was upstaged by AB de Villiers’ record-braking innings. His 2014 form, where he recorded five centuries and a 52.47 average, has progressed into 2015 and he will look to create a solid base for the South African innings before AB, David Miller and co light the bonfires.

  1. Virat Kohli – India – top order
  • Key stat: Scored 1,054 runs off 1,058 balls in ODIs last season

Ignoring a lippy attitude and some questionable on-field manners, Virat Kohli has emerged as India’s ‘Mr Reliable’. His run-a-ball record in ODI cricket during 2014 is a by-product of some devastating T20 displays, and the pin-up boy of Indian cricket is now churning out the runs in all forms of the game. His excellent fielding adds another string to his bow – and it is in that department where India need to focus on most if they are to retain their title.

  1. Angelo Mathews – Sri Lanka – middle order
  • Key stat: Second-highest ODI runscorer in 2014 with 1,244 runs

One of the most underrated cricketers in modern times, Mathews has quickly established himself as the leading middle order batsman in ODI cricket. His ability to accelerate an innings in both clinical and efficient style is a skill keenly sought when ambitions of World Cup glory are harboured. His place in the team is as an all-rounder, but if he can replicate the form which saw him amass a tally of 1,244 runs last season he could finally gain the recognition he deserves.

  1. Rohit Sharma – India – opener
  • Key stat: Registered the world-record innings in ODIs with 264 against Sri Lanka last November

When a batsman possesses the elegance and talent to emulate the great Sachin Tendulkar, huge expectation comes with it, and Rohit Sharma has finally lived up to it. His mammoth total of 264 against Sri Lanka was a world-record in 50-over cricket, and a recent knock of 138 has confirmed the Indian opener’s super form ahead of the World Cup.

  1. Kumar Sangakkara – Sri Lanka – number three
  • Key stat: Top ODI runscorer in 2014 with 1,256 runs

Ever-dependable, rock-solid and almost impossible to dismiss, Sangakkara has confirmed his presence in the pantheon of all-time cricket greats. Having scored four centuries and eight fifties in 2014, he arrives at the World Cup in excellent knick and will again be the cornerstone of the Sri Lankan innings. Can he finally add a World Cup title to his illustrious career?

  1. AB de Villiers – South Africa – number three
  • Key stat: Scored the fastest ODI 50 and 100 in history, making 149 off 44 balls last Sunday.

There is no batsman more mesmeric than AB de Villiers when he swings at full cry. A master innovator, creating shots that previously seemed impossible, he has crafted a new way of hitting; a new way of scoring big totals quickly. That was best evidenced by his thunderous 149 from 44 balls against the West Indies this week, scoring the fastest 50 and the fastest 100 in ODI history along the way. I reckon he’s seeing the ball well, don’t you?

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

Peter Moores – The right man for English cricket?

Peter Moores was announced yesterday evening as the man chosen to replace Andy Flower as the next coach of the England cricket team.

There had been plenty of speculation that Ashley Giles – the man who led England’s feeble attempt at regaining the World Twenty20 crown – was about to succeed Flower.

However, in a largely unsurprising call following Moores’ public statement of interest in the position, the ECB has elected to give Moores a second stint as coach.

His first stint ran from 2007-09 during which he had coached England to a record of just six losses in 22 Tests.

Despite that good form, England’s record during his reign in one-day internationals was less impressive as they won just 14 of the 33 matches completed.

Moores’ tenure ended after a bust-up with Kevin Pietersen and the 51-year old’s appointment would now suggest that an already improbable return to the England set-up for the Surrey batsman is becoming less likely.

The fact that Moores had previously been England coach has led some to criticise the move in the Press and on social media, but arguments of a lack of progression – or rather, regression – shown by the appointment are wide of the mark.

Moores is widely heralded in English cricket as a world-class coach, with some in cricketing spheres naming him as the best coach in England.

He leaves his post as Lancashire coach where he won the 2011 County Championship and where he has quietly gone about his work until this opportunity came about.

As opportunities go, this was one that both the ECB and Moores did not miss.

The ECB have had a fabulous track-record in appointing recent head coaches and so it is just as well that they have avoided choosing Ashley Giles.

Giles had neatly positioned himself as ODI and T20 coach, without much justification, and his critics’ worst fears came to fruition in March when he oversaw a disastrous World Twenty20 tournament in Bangladesh, the low point of which was a pitiful loss to the Netherlands.

The former England left-arm spinner may well coach England again in the future but he will urgently need to sharpen his skills and assess what he should do differently if that day ever comes about.

Other candidates had included Stephen Fleming, Gary Kirsten and Tom Moody but, after the latter two ruled themselves out of the running, Fleming was overlooked as the ECB highlighted a shortlist of Moores, Giles and Mike Newell.

So it seems that Moores is not only the right choice for England, but was the outstanding candidate for the role.

At the top of Moores’ list of priorities will be constructing a side which capitalises on the exciting emerging talents of Ben Stokes, Sam Robson and Moeen Ali while also ensuring that England mount a serious challenge in ODI and T20 cricket.

Limited-overs cricket, some feel, could be the defining measurement of Moores’ reign.

England have been noticeably poor since their World Twenty20 victory in 2010, but have been at their worst in late 2013 and early 2014 when heavy defeats to Australia in both the ODI and T20 series were followed by a disappointing loss to the West Indies.

There is also a distinct lack of quality in the bowling department across all formats, with Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad the only players worthy of a world-class tag.

With these current deficiencies it appears that Moores has a hefty workload ahead of him as England strive to improve after a succession of dismal displays.

If Moores can turn around England’s fortunes across all three formats and lead them to better performances while strengthening their standing in world cricket then his reign might be considered a success.

Anything else and his critics’ doubts, including those of a certain big-hitting batsman, would have been substantiated – and more importantly England will still be in decline.

  • You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

England melt in Ashes obliteration

Before the 2013/14 Ashes series started, much of the build-up surrounded the scoreline by which England would win the series.

Sir Ian Botham was in typically boisterous mood, predicting a 5-0 whitewash for the visitors against an Australian side who, without attracting attention, deserved more respect than they had been afforded.

The warning signs were there during the summer. England’s 3-0 victory managed to sufficiently paper over the cracks of some flaky performances – and the foolhardy had not even noticed there were cracks in the first place.

Perhaps the most common theme of England’s summer Ashes campaign was that of the bowlers rescuing their side after some flatulent displays from the batsmen placed the team in precarious positions on more than one occasion.

Too many times England were reduced to 30-3 as captain Alastair Cook’s weakness outside off stump was badly exposed and Joe Root’s inexperience gravely exploited.

Australian seamer Ryan Harris was made to look world-class by some imprudent strokeplay, while Peter Siddle dismissed Kevin Pietersen more times than English fans care to remember.

On the face of it, Botham’s prediction was mischievous and unduly confident but few could have foreseen a dismantling of such gigantic proportions that would see his 5-0 prophecy inverted in Australia’s favour.

England started the series well and probably shaded the first day, reducing Australia to 132-6. Where the tide began to turn however, was when England were skittled for 136 to concede a first-innings deficit of 159 runs.

The two Australian innings had finished and started on the same day, such was the level of England’s collapse.

It was a collapse masterminded by the resurgent Mitchell Johnson, who terrorised England’s batsmen with vicious pace, bounce and accuracy.

The latter quality had always been Johnson’s nemesis. Too often he had the tendency to drift wide – at times embarrassingly so – and he was consequently taunted by the Barmy Army.

However, in this series he made them watch with great pain as he continued a rejuvenation which had begun in April in India. Playing for Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League, he delivered a string of highly impressive bowling performances.

He had finally been able to rid himself of the inconsistency which had plagued his game and was showing great control of line and length in partnership with his more renowned pace and bounce.

Johnson was suddenly the cricketer England feared he would one day become, but when the two sides met in Brisbane for the opening Test the visitors were hopelessly underprepared – and they never recovered.

The left-armer succeeded in mangling numerous English innings throughout the series, stripping batsmen such as Jonathan Trott – who later flew home due to mental health problems – and Matt Prior of their confidence and rampaging through the tailend with a cruel ease.

Johnson took 37 wickets during the series – two more than Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad combined – complete with three five-wicket hauls and having snared 15 more wickets than Ryan Harris, who with 22 also had a superb series.

While it’s easy to focus on the brutality of Johnson’s form, England’s dire batting should also be spotlighted.

The previous Ashes tour was an incredible one for England as they routinely pulverised the Australian attack. They even broke records, memorably when they scored 517-1 in the second innings of the first Test in 2010.

Cook (235*) and Trott (135*) were the men chiefly responsible, while Andrew Strauss weighed in with a century himself.

How that form changed in just three years. In the 2010/11 series, England were scoring centuries almost at will. In the 2013/14 series, they mustered just one – Ben Stokes’ 120 at Perth.

Stokes, competing in his debut Test series, was by far the brightest light of England’s gloomy tour. He scored 279 runs at an average of 34.87, which was just 15 runs less than the reckless Kevin Pietersen despite playing four of the five Tests.

Australia were better than England in every department, but especially so at the crease.

The top six series runscorers were all Australian, while David Warner’s tally of 523 runs was only four runs short of the combined tally of his counterparts Alastair Cook and Michael Carberry.

Australia also notched ten centuries against England’s one, which is the most telling statistic of all.

Much credit should go to Australia coach Darren Lehmann, who has transformed the fortunes of a side who had lost seven of their last nine Tests before Brisbane.

He has crafted a new generation of cut-throat cricket, instilled a winning mentality into his side and constructed a batting line-up capable of scoring fifties right down to numbers nine and ten.

That depth of batting was perfectly illustrated by Brad Haddin and Johnson. Haddin, in particular, was a constant hindrance. He scored 493 runs at an average of 61.62 and counter-attacked at crucial times.

Just when England were looking to bowl Australia out for around 200, up popped Haddin with a typically aggressive half-century to further demoralise the English attack.

Lehmann will also be pleased that from Haddin down to Nathan Lyon at 11, Australia’s tailenders plundered 874 runs between them.

When matched against England’s top three runscorers Kevin Pietersen (294); Michael Carberry (281) and Ben Stokes (279), Australia’s tailenders outscored them by 20 runs – a truly harrowing statistic for England coach Andy Flower to ponder.

Flower will be pondering plenty after this series, for as worrying as England’s reliance on their bowlers is their lack of emerging talent.

So far only Root and Stokes have made plausible claims to a regular starting spot, but the likes of Carberry and Jonny Bairstow have not flattered themselves in a dismal situation wherein a run of confident displays could have cemented their Test berth.

The fact that Graeme Swann, England’s second-most prolific Test spinner after Derek Underwood, retired after three Tests of this tour also turns attention towards England’s spin talents.

Scott Borthwick did himself no harm by taking 3-33 in the Sydney Test, but Monty Panesar has had a damaging tour having taken just three wickets in the four innings he has bowled.

Flower and Cook have a massive rebuilding process to go through and must analyse the gory details of the series, extracting any positives they can.  England’s golden era is over, but after this Ashes obliteration Australia’s is only just beginning.

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