England ponder painful performance
The final moments of the Ashes series could not have been more symbolic in summing up England's plight in what has been a nightmare tour Down Under. While the victorious Australian team gleefully collected all the awards and sprayed champagne at the Sydney Oval, England's captain Joe Root, suffering from a stomach illness, was asleep in the dressing room.
As Michael Etheridge put it in the Sun: "This was the Ashes campaign that never woke up. The sick dog of England was a no match for the rampaging, confident Australian machine."
It was hard not to feel some sympathy for Root. For the past six weeks the Yorkshireman had been at the helm of a disastrous series for England. Then, at the final reckoning, he is stricken with illness, a combination of gastroenteritis and dehydration, and wakes up in hospital, unable to resume his innings.
He bravely returns to the sweltering cauldron of the Sydney Oval, goes out to bat and grimly hangs on -- until lunch. But his body is so weak he is unable to continue his innings and at the final rites he is asleep in the dressing room.
Former England captain Mike Atherton observed in the Times; "When he [Root] stirred he would have loved to be able to say this Ashes series had just been a bad dream."
Australian captain Steve Smith, who enjoyed a magnificent series, praised Root's efforts to keep battling away on the final day.
"He showed real courage to come out and bat… You could see he was struggling," said Smith " He is a tough character so he must have been in a pretty bad way not to come out after the break."
Vice captain Jimmy Anderson, standing in for his skipper in those painful after-match speeches, admitted: "All the guys in the dressing room are hurting." He added, not entirely convincingly, "it doesn't feel completely disastrous."
It was not quite as bad as the 5-0 whitewash on their last excursion Down Under when they were totally abject. This time around you could see England were really trying their best. But from the opening Test in Brisbane a simple fact soon became very clear -- Australia were much the better side in every department, and by some margin.
The respective batting and bowling averages make very uncomfortable reading for England.
Topping England's batting averages was Root with 47.25, Alistair Cook 47.00 and Dawid Malan, arguably England's sole success story, on 42.55. The next highest was Jonny Bairstow with 34.00.
Contrast that with the Australian batsmen -- Smith 137.40, MR Marsh 106.66, SE Marsh 74.16 and David Warner 63.00. Six Australian batsmen had a higher average than England's best. Smith also struck his fastest and slowest ever centuries in this series, with the slowest probably being the most impressive.
The bowling figures offer no respite for England either. All four Australian front line bowlers -- Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins and Nathan Lyon took 21 wickets or more. For England, Jimmy Andersen managed a creditable 17, but after that it was Chris Broad 11 Chris Woakes 10 and the sadly out of form Moeen Ali with just five.
Even if the England batting had improved with a few big innings, the outcome would probably have been much the same as the bowling attack never looked capable of getting Australia out twice in a match.
Newspaper reaction in England to their team's poor showing was not as extreme as in the past, partly reflecting that they were resigned to the fact that Root's team were in for a hammering right from the start. "England's Ashes Ends With A Familiar Whimper" was the Independent newspaper's view on things. The Sun went for "Crash and Urn" while the Daily Mirror settled for "Crashes to Ashes''.
As for the Australian newspapers, one headline just about said it all with the Sydney Daily Telegraph proclaiming "Job Done!", and it most certainly was.
The dilemma facing England is that the team they have fielded in this series are probably the best players they have got, apart from the absent Ben Stokes. There are few obvious replacements begging to leap in and show what they can do.
Understandably coach Trevor Bayliss has come under fire, but insists he will be staying on until his contract ends in 2019. As The Guardian pointed out, if Bayliss was a football manager he would have been sacked by now. But nobody really believes that a new coach would have made much difference to England's miserable performances.
England's selectors showed a reluctance to make many changes for the upcoming New Zealand series beginning in March. Lancashire batsman Liam Livingstone is the only new face in the 16-man squad, while seamer Chris Wood is now fit to play. Vince, Moen and Stoneman are somewhat fortunate to be retained, but it's only a two-Test series and hardly worth making huge changes at this stage. Stokes is also in the squad but his participation is dependent on the outcome of the "Bristol incident".
England still desperately need a genuinely quick fast bowler and an effective spinner, but where are they going to come from? English county cricket, with its emphasis on seam bowlers, hardly encourages spinners or speedsters.
One of the few crumbs of comfort England can take is that it wasn't quite a bad as their humiliation in Australia last time. Observing that the team maintained a creditable amount of energy and enthusiasm to the bitter end, Vic Marks commented in The Guardian: "Four years ago the white towel was thrown in. We have not seen that this time."