Australia wrapped up a series win inside just 12 days of cricket, leaving England playing for pride in the final two Ashes Tests, and Ian Bell believes fundamental changes to domestic cricket are required.
Critics have highlighted the county system not developing players of a sufficient quality for Test cricket, with little of the red ball game played during the summer, with T20 and 50-over cricket taking priority.
To be fair, England’s focus on the shorter formats of the game have paid off handsomely. Since their ignominious exit from the 2015 World Cup, they’ve reached a semi-final, final and of course won the 2019 World Cup.
The inquest in the wake of the series defeat has already begun, with fingers being pointed at the county system for not developing players suitable for Test cricket, and Bell feels a change is needed.
“The system is always talked about at the end of a big loss,” said Bell. “There is a major problem at the moment in that we play all our red ball cricket at the start and the end of every year and minimal games in the middle period when that’s the batting time so it’s something that needs to be looked at.
“Our centrally contracted players play minimal country cricket, so I don’t buy that’s having a massive effect for our big players, but we’re looking at producing players for Test match cricket and I don’t think it’s helping our young players.
“The surfaces and type of bowling they’re going to face is nothing like they’re going to get on an Australia tour.
“There’s been a lot of concentration on white ball cricket. You get the impression that we’re trying to please everyone. We’re trying to get the Hundred in but we’re also trying to keep county cricket the same and play as much as we can, but we’ve got T20 and 50-over cricket. The reality is something’s going to have to give at some point.”
Joe Root’s role as captain has come into question from many quarters, despite a record-breaking year with the bat.
Such has been England’s reliance on their captain, extras has been their third top runscorer in 2021. England have lost every match bar one (a rain-affected draw) in which Root didn’t score a century, and Bell feels there’s no reason to make a change.
“Joe has been unbelievable,” said Bell. “His batting in particular has carried this team. The numbers are absolutely insane how he’s dragged England through and I think he’s been unfairly criticised.
“You can argue a few tactical things but you can’t just leave that on the captain. He’s got senior players out there on the field, 11 or 12 coaches in the background, it’s not all on Joe Root. He just needs other players around him to step up to his level.”
Ultimately, so much has gone wrong for England over the last few weeks, it’s been hard to pinpoint just one area.
Stuart Broad has taken the wicket of David Warner 12 times, more than any other batter in his career. Similiarly, David Warner has lost his wicket to Stuart Broad more times than any other bowler, but, like James Anderson, was left out of the side for the first Test as Warner made 94 and Australia built a lead of nearly 300 runs.
Bell believes that while the batting hasn’t been good enough, team selection around the bowlers has also raised question marks.
“Right the way back to the first Test, there’s been so much from decision making, the batting, dropped catches, there’s so much you could discuss,” said Bell.
“When England or Australia lose an Ashes there’s a lot of emotion flying around afterwards. There’s been huge headlines at home and people’s jobs are on the line now.
“Looking at both teams, I had Australia as massive favourites and always felt if we didn’t score enough first innings runs we were always going to be struggling. I thought our bowling was okay and could get us close.
“When you look back on the series and the stats and the numbers, bar Joe Root and Dawid Malan, we’ve been nowhere close.
“Tactically I think they’ve got a few things wrong. Batting first in Brisbane was wrong, you watch the way Jimmy Anderson’s bowled in that last innings at Melbourne and you wonder why he wasn’t playing in Brisbane.
“Then Mark Wood not playing at Adelaide. You can look at rotating and resting but the series was done in 12 days. There’s no time for rotating and resting in an Ashes series.
“Also Broad to Warner early in the series was a must battle that had to happen and it allowed Warner to get off and running and get a 90 while our two senior guys were on the sidelines.”
While England have fallen way short of Australia, Bell praised the hosts’ resilience having bounced back from a number of setbacks before and throughout the series.
“There were opportunities here for England. Australia lost their captain just before the series and they dealt with that incredibly well,” said Bell. “They also lost their best bowler and their new captain in the second Test match and dealt with that really well.
“Then Jhye Richardson got a five-fer. There have been things that have gone England’s way but we haven’t been good enough with the bat to capitalise, but you have to give credit to Australia.”