There might have been more troubled England tours of Australia, since there have been almost 50 of them. At present, however, nobody is bothering to do the research for fear that it may be an utter waste of time.
The 2013-14 instalment, which began with such optimistic fervour three months ago, was undermined twice more two days before the second one-day international to foment what is by now a familiar state of chaos. Steve Finn, the 24-year-old fast bowler who should be approaching the peak of his career, became the third member of the original party to leave for home early.
Finn has technical issues with his action which have deteriorated in his time here and made it impossible for him to be considered for selection. Nobody appears to have any answers.
Meanwhile Kevin Pietersen, whose shadow looms over all, was named in the preliminary squad of 30 for the World Twenty20 in Bangladesh in March. But Ashley Giles, the limited-overs coach, pointedly declined to speculate on whether he would play for England again in any format. When asked if Pietersen would resume his international career, Giles said: “I don’t know, we have to take stock. We have picked a 30-man squad, nobody is guaranteed ever of playing.”
With Mitchell Johnson returning after a break for Australia at the ground where his startling renaissance began last November, it is possible to think only the worst. Johnson took nine wickets in the first Test and went on to finish with 37 in the series at 13.97 runs each. The tourists’ best hope may lie in the possibility that the left-arm paceman has been weakened by shaving off the moustache that somehow aggravated his menace.
England’s carefully devised one-day strategy, which took them to the Champions Trophy final only six months ago and should have won it, is looking decidedly anachronistic again. Their lack of urgency at the top of the order (as well as form) is placing an unnecessary burden on a lively and innovative middle order.
Finn’s departure was not entirely unexpected after his travails in the nets. He has lacked any sort of pace and rhythm, and it seems England knew they were taking a gamble in picking him for the tour following an indifferent summer, when he was dropped after the first home Ashes Test – although he did play in the ODIs and T20 matches in September.
He was also named in the preliminary World Twenty20 squad but, barring a sporting miracle, it is impossible to think he will be picked in the final 15 early next month, especially as he will have two weeks away from the game.
“He’s got technical issues and the more troublesome they become, the worse the battle with them becomes. Of course it’s going to affect you mentally,” said Giles. “You start second-guessing what it is, what’s the start point, what is the end point, where am I going in my career?”
Finn’s Middlesex colleague James Harris revealed that Finn had spoken to Johnson, who had to go back to the drawing board after being dropped for the Ashes tour of England last summer. “I think the same thing can happen,” said Harris. “Johnson’s gone from being completely off the radar to one of the hardest bowlers in the world to face. Finny’s in that category, he’ll be back.”
Finn follows Jonathan Trott, who had a chronic stress-related illness, and Graeme Swann, who suddenly retired, in leaving this tour. There may be more to come. Pietersen continues to dominate affairs from afar. Had he not been on that list of 30, it would certainly have meant the finish of his career with England.
While it was much easier simply to name him without making any commitment, it is also probably true that no firm decision about Pietersen or anybody else has yet been made. Andy Flower, the head coach who is now at home in England, said the Ashes defeat represented the end of an era. Ultimately, that has to equate to the end of careers. Giles was offering no guarantees because they were not his to give.
“We had to pick a 30 for the ICC and we’ve got a T20 series against Australia coming up that Kev’s not involved in anyway,” he said. “But I reiterate we need to take a fresh look. The Ashes is still quite raw. It ended just a week ago, though a lot seems to have happened. It’s not long in a cricketing life so we’ve got to take our time.”
England have lost seven in a row against Australia and appear to be closing in rapidly on the 10 straight defeats they suffered twice before, in 1993 and 2001. Eke out a win on Friday and things might change but England have won only one ODI at The Gabba, 15 years ago. Lose and this tour is going only one way.