|Player:||A Flintoff, MW Gatting, AF Giles, JM Anderson, MS Panesar, IT Botham, G Boycott, MP Vaughan, ME Trescothick, SP Jones, N Hussain, Nasir Ahmed|
England cricket chiefs on Friday ordered a far-reaching probe into why Andrew Flintoff's side were humiliated in the Ashes series in Australia.
Within hours of the Australians wrapping up a 5-0 series victory, the first Ashes whitewash in 86 years, David Collier, the chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), had ordered a "comprehensive review" of what went wrong Down Under. The ECB's Director of England cricket, John Carr, has been ordered to report back next month, ahead of the World Cup in the West Indies in March. "The performance in the Ashes series has been a great disappointment and a number of lessons must be learned," Collier admitted. "This review will be comprehensive and broad-ranging with the clear objective of regaining the Ashes in 2009 and significantly improving England's results in one-day international cricket in the next four-year cycle." Mike Gatting, who 20 years ago was the last England captain to lead an Ashes-winning team in Australia, was one of several ex-players who felt Flintoff's men had suffered from a lack of proper match practice ahead of the first Test in Brisbane. Before that encounter, England had played just two games against Australian states, one where they fielded 14 players in what seemed like an admission they didn't have enough warm-up fixtures - and a solitary one-dayer. "That's the only thing I can put my finger on. They're good players, but they weren't ready," Gatting said. After England lost 4-1 in Australia four years ago, chairman of selectors David Graveney insisted that never again would the team leave for an Ashes tour with injured players. Yet the likes of all-rounder Flintoff (ankle) as well as left-arm spinner Ashley Giles (hip) and pace bowler James Anderson (back) were included even though they had only recently returned from long-term injuries. Flintoff, for whom the selectors could justly argue there was no obvious replacement, was then given the added burden of captaincy. But the decision to play Giles instead of Panesar for the first two Tests received widespread condemnation long before England were 2-0 down. Ian Botham said the advent of central contracts for leading England players meant, rather than playing too much as had been the case in the past, there was now a risk that they weren't playing enough. "We've gone a little bit too much towards what the players want, rather than what we know is good for the players," said the legendary England all-rounder. "I don't think some of the bowlers bowled enough, that's why we were under-cooked and under-prepared." Former England opener Geoff Boycott said the team's mental resolve had been of most concern to him. "Whenever the questions were asked of England, they have faltered and have not been mentally strong enough or technically good enough to hold the Australians at bay," he told BBC Radio Five Live. Before the series started England knew they would be without Ashes-winning captain Michael Vaughan and reverse-swing specialist Simon Jones, two key members of the 2005 side, with knee injuries. Then, at the beginning of the tour, experienced opening batsman Marcus Trescothick pulled out because of a stress-related illness. Nasser Hussain, England's captain in Australia four years ago, said the vast support staff accompanying those who did tour had led to a worrying lack of self-reliance. "You see England with big buses, security guards, 45 backroom staff, all pampered. Warney (Shane Warne) is carrying his bag on his back with his shirt hanging out - they do it themselves." It may be that England would have lost 5-0 in any event to a great Australia team but, even so, the feeling persists they did not give themselves the best chance of success. Fans hoping for an upturn in fortunes during the one-day format World Cup may be disappointed, however. England have won just seven of their last 27 limited overs internationals - and one of those was against minnows Ireland.