Is England's 2013/14 Ashes Worse Than the 2006/07 Series?
With their impending defeat in Perth about to confirm England's surrender of the Ashes before Christmas, the time is perhaps right to look back to the last series they lost Down Under—that traumatic 5-0 whitewash in 2006/07.
In that series, England were destroyed by a ruthless Baggy Green outfit in a fitting farewell for old masters Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Justin Langer.
How does that defeat stack up against this one even with two matches left to play, starting on Boxing Day in Melbourne?
Let’s take a look, and try to find an effective way to measure them against each other.
All stats courtesy of ESPNCricinfo.
On both occasions England travelled to Australia as holders of the Ashes, looking to make a successful defence of the urn and return home with it still in their possession.
In 2006/07, the tourists had been expected to have some problems against an Australia side desperate to make amends for their Ashes defeat in 2005.
Playing Australia is always a difficult proposition and England were at the very least expected to show some fight and not simply meekly surrender.
This time around, England once again came in holding the Ashes, seeking their fourth consecutive series victory over the Australians.
They were especially confident after the summer of 2013, when they beat the Baggy Green 3-0 at home with only a few alarms.
Combined with uncertainty about Australia’s batting order and the inconsistency of their bowlers, England had been expected to at the very least retain the urn, if not win it outright.
From that point of view, therefore, the 2013/14 series has been worse.
Worse: 2013/14 series
When it came to the composition of England’s 2006/07 Ashes squad, things were difficult from the beginning.
The appointment of Andrew Flintoff as captain was criticised in some quarters, as despite his influence on the team it was unclear whether his batting and bowling would suffer.
The squad itself also contained a number of problems, especially the inclusion of Ashley Giles despite his struggles with a serious hip injury that had kept him off the field for much of the year.
In addition, it was also unclear as to whether Geraint Jones or Chris Read would keep wicket, with the former handed the gloves initially before they were transferred to the latter.
Finally, the exclusion of Monty Panesar as England’s specialist spinner was widely criticised, especially when he returned to the team and immediately took five wickets in Perth.
This time around, England’s prospects looked far better with the squad they had selected, despite some issues.
In particular, there was the issue of who would bat at No. 6, whether it would be Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow or Ben Stokes.
In addition, it was unclear who the third seam bowler would be from the possible choices of Steven Finn, Chris Tremlett or Boyd Rankin, especially with Tim Bresnan struggling with an early injury.
However, compared to the shambles of 2006/07, these were regarded as minor problems and not likely to have too much impact on England’s defence of the urn.
Worse: 2006/07 series
Quality of Opposition
Looking at their opponents in 2006/07, England might have felt quietly confident about their chances of success Down Under.
Beaten in 2005, the Australians were derided as “Dad’s Army” given their age and the lack of any younger players coming through.
However, the wise old professionals saw that series as their final chance for the Baggy Green to dominate England, win the Ashes back and prove that 2005 was just a blip.
The team included names like Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist; a formidable combination of players.
Despite their age, the Australians were still a top-quality opposition in the 2006/07 series, and while their time as the world’s No. 1 team was coming to an end, they were still up for the fight.
This time around, things were supposed to be a little easier for England.
The Baggy Green no longer had superstar batsmen or bowlers to call on, with only really Michael Clarke regarded as a world class operator with the bat in his hand.
In addition, the much-derided Mitchell Johnson returned, with memories of his 2010/11 series fresh in many peoples’ memories.
Before the series, a direct comparison on paper between England and Australia’s teams would have found the tourists coming out on top.
Worse: 2006/07 series
Moving on to the specifics of England’s game, starting with the performance of the batsmen in both series.
In the 2006/07 series, there were some encouraging signs from the tourists despite the fact that they were far behind Australia.
Three players—Kevin Pietersen, Paul Collingwood and Alastair Cook—scored centuries, while three—Pietersen, Collingwood and Ian Bell—averaged over 30 for the series.
Collingwood and Pietersen contributed the highlight for England with the bat in Adelaide, as they put on 310 to help England declare on 551-6.
The tourists may have contrived to lose that game, but it showed that their players had a real desire to score big runs and they were capable of doing so.
Unfortunately, things have been much, much worse in the 2013/14 Ashes when it comes to England’s batting.
So far in three Tests, no player has scored a century and no one averages more than Joe Root’s 34.75.
Their batsmen have simply thrown their wickets away with poor shots and reckless aggression, and have paid the price in the series.
Worse: 2013/14 series
Now for the bowlers, where things do not look particularly good in either series for the men charged with taking 20 Australian wickets in every game.
In 2006/07, no bowler averaged less than 37 with the ball, with Steve Harmison and James Anderson proving to be particularly expensive.
Sajid Mahmood was also a notable member of the squad for this tour, insomuch as he never played for his country in Tests again after taking just five wickets in three games and conceded his runs at 5.14 per over.
This time around, things have been more encouraging but also just as disappointing from the bowling unit.
The good news is that Stuart Broad and Chris Tremlett both average 30 or less for their wickets, with Broad in particular looking impressive.
The bad news is the deterioration in the forms of Anderson and Graeme Swann, who were both expected to be England’s match-winners in this series.
Both average over 50 and have taken just 14 wickets between them, a highly disappointing return from a pair of which much was expected.
As such, due to the expectations being greater and their records being better, the 2013/14 series has been worse for the bowlers, simply because they have not delivered as expected.
Worse: 2013/14 series
Finally, let’s take a look at the fielding from England in both series and see which has been worse.
Either way, it’s still not pretty.
In 2006/07, a demoralised England looked very ragged in the field for much of the time, missing run-out chances, dropping catches and betraying the poor morale in the squad.
In this series, it has been much the same, with players shelling routine chances, run-outs being missed and runs being leaked all over the ground.
It all sounds horribly familiar, so we’ll call this one a draw.
Based on our findings, the 2006/07 series was worse in two factors: selection and quality of opposition.
The 2013/14 series has been worse in three factors: expectations, batting and bowling.
Fielding has been poor in both, so it was called a draw.
What does this all mean?
The next two Tests could be very long indeed for England’s fans and players, and they could well find themselves on the end of another 5-0 whitewash.