SYDNEY. — After their most embarrassing capitulation yet in a humiliating series, it now seems almost impossible that England won’t lose this series 5-0.
Somehow, in just 24 hours, they traded a position of absolute strength, a lead of 116 runs and 10 wickets in hand, for a fourth consecutive defeat, this time by eight wickets.
Bad Ashes tours break teams, just ask England’s class of 2006-07.
Melbourne was the moment that 2013-14 overtook the “Ashes Horribilis” in England’s tour stinker stakes and now, just as then, it is time for change.
Of course, in the upper echelons of the English game, changes were going to be made already.
Hugh Morris, the highly successful Managing Director of “Team England” was replaced on Wednesday, by former Test wicket-keeper Paul Downton.
On the same day, James Whittaker takes over from Geoff Miller as national selector.
There have been more widely publicised changes on the field, too.
Jonathan Trott left after the Brisbane Test with a stress related illness and is unlikely to be seen in an England shirt in the near future.
Graeme Swann divided the cricket world with the timing of his retirement, just four days before the Melbourne Test, while Matt Prior, another bastion of this England team’s success in recent years, was dropped for that match after 60 consecutive Test.
Amongst the upheaval the time is right for a change in the department between the boardroom and the pitch: the coaching staff.
After nearly five magnificent years as head coach, it is time for Andy Flower to step aside and for England to usher in a new generation.
Flower is a proud man but will know that England’s latest collapse makes his position untenable and will surely resign in the aftermath of the Sydney Test match — win, lose, or draw.
This is a situation not just borne out of England’s four defeats but the manner and weight (381, 218 and 150 runs and eight wickets) of those four defeats.
There were whispers as early as August that this could be Flower’s final series as coach.
So successful had his reign been that there were suggestions that he’d trade his tracksuit for a blazer and head upstairs to replace Morris.
There were others who said his success allowed him a period of time with his young family before heading back into the game, in any capacity, when he pleased.
He’s Zimbabwe’s greatest player and arguably England’s finest coach — he wouldn’t (and won’t) struggle to find a job upon his return to cricket.
When these suggestions were first made, though, the landscape was rather different.
England fans were basking in the glory of a third consecutive Ashes series win, and the idea of Flower departing was unthinkable.
Even after this Ashes debacle, he’s done one hell of a job. When he took over the team were in disarray.
Peter Moores and Kevin Pietersen’s fledgling captain-coach relationship had imploded spectacularly and both had been fired. The team’s travails were on display in his first game in charge — as they were bowled out for 51 by a very average West Indies attack.
In two years Flower, in partnership with Andrew Strauss, had England top of the Test match tree and with a first international trophy in the cabinet too, thanks to success at the World T20 in 2010.
His style was thorough, disciplined and big on unity.
England’s fitness, nutrition and fielding were the best in world cricket and they laid the best plans. They won in Australia for the first time in 24 years and India for the first time in 27.
The time is right, though, and all good things must come to an end.
England have been beaten in every department by Australia — with the bat, the ball and in the field, in their fitness, their planning and the captaincy and in unity, fight and hunger.
England need a makeover and they need freshening up.
The hallmarks of Flower’s regime are now just what England don’t need.
Two months ago, the leaked 82-page dossier that revealed England’s extravagant menu requests looked like thorough, if a little over-the-top groundwork that was all part of the plan.
Now, 4-0 down and utterly humiliated, it looks pretentious, precious, and frankly preposterous.
England’s cricketers don’t look like they are enjoying the game any longer — Trott’s troubles caught up with him, while the form-dips of burnt out senior players are alarming. Flower’s support staff will no doubt go with him.
Graham Gooch’s position is undoubtedly unsustainable after two more sorry collapses in Melbourne.
England haven’t topped 400 in more than 20 innings and the days of the “Daddy Hundred” are long gone.
The replacements have been groomed for some time.
Ashley Giles is likely to replace Flower, while a Graham and a Graeme — Thorpe and Welch — are the favourites to coach the batting and bowling respectively.
England’s next Test match, after the Sydney Test, isn’t until Sri Lanka visit Lord’s in June, so concerns about the make-up of the squad can wait.
In the meantime Flower should, and most likely will, become the latest to go. — BackPageLead