England At Its Lowest Ebb
By Orin Davidson
As the upcoming Ashes Down Under draws closer, England’s hopes for success sink faster than the ticking hands of the clock.
August 2005 seems so very far away these days, it might appear like a dream to fans and officials of the England and Wales County Board.
At the conclusion of the fifth Test then, the entire English sports population celebrated winning the Ashes trophy for the first time in 18 years.
Since then they have not had a single day to feel good about anything.
The defeats and injuries are piling up with such regularity it seems the two are engaged in a macabre race to land the heaviest blows to England’s psyche.
Not once has the full team which gave the country its biggest cricket triumph in many decades, appeared together almost one year later.
On occasions England have been close to full strength, but the results were not reflective of the team’s so called new found strength.
Instead of making them seem like the world’s second best team about to overtake the longstanding world number one, the performances in Pakistan, India and now against Pakistan have destroyed all their confidence in the run-up to the Ashes return series at year’s end.
That confidence is further undermined by the realization that the man who was their biggest singular influence in that memorable triumph over Australia has been ruled out for the return clash.
Some pundits rate Michael Vaughn as one of the world’s best captains whose leadership and creativity have turned England’s fortunes on its head in the last two years. He is also a world class batsman, but leads the list of non starters for this vital Ashes return clash.
But his nagging knee injury of the last four years, have put his career in jeopardy, and who knows, England might very likely be headed for a stint in the lower reaches of the world rankings.
The signs were very evident in the embarrassment they are absorbing at the hands of Sri Lanka right in their backyard.
Of course England is also without accomplished all-rounder, Andrew Flintoff - ankle problem, as well as Simon Jones- knee problem and Ashley Giles – hip and groin problem.
With the exception of Flintoff, the others were the only ones missing from the lineup when Sri Lanka soundly whipped them in the third Test match to square the series four weeks ago at Trent Bridge.
On the surface it was a surprise result considering the way the home team dominated the previous two Tests.
But England were coming up against Mutthia Muralitharan, who has a history of destructive results against them in the past.
And without the experience of Vaughn in the middle, they were laid to waste by the off spinner’s wizardry.
Yet England’s thrashing in the one-dayers for which they are on the verge of a first whitewash in any form of the game by Sri Lanka, must not be attributed to Vaughn’s and Flintoff’s absence.
Their despicable performances so far are an indication of their weakness in the limited overs form of the game.
A narrow series win for Sri Lanka would be acceptable in the circumstances but not a 4-0 whipping going on 5-0.
And that weakness will be exploited when the Australians receive them at the end of the year.
By then Flintoff might be back in action and Giles ready again, but without Vaughn and Jones they would be dead meat for the blood thirsty Aussies.
It is no secret Australia have a vengeful streak and no one would be naïve enough to believe the effects of their defeat last summer, have already worn off.
At the time Australia were at the height of their powerful reign on top of the world rankings and came in for plenty of stick as a result.
For all their thrashings of the World XI, West Indies, South Africa and Bangladesh in the interim, Australia is far from satisfied. They will be going all out to make England pay at a time when their injury problems could not be more severe.
Vengeance is a common occurrence in the world cricket where champion teams are concerned.
When two-time World Cup winners West Indies were upset by India in the 1983 final, it was such a blow to their well being, they drubbed the new title holders 5-0 in the subsequent one-day series immediately after.
Australia who are enjoying a similar winning streak are sure to feel the same way. Hence England would be well advised to include mercy prayer sessions as part of their preparation.
Already Glenn McGrath who has not played since the Ashes loss, has stated his readiness to get back into the fray.
Opener Justin Langer has publicly crowed about the benefit Vaughn’s absence will provide his team while former Aussie captain Steve Waugh began his version of mental disintegration by slamming England as a team without the will to win.
It is clear they all have the common objective of seeing England crushed to the ground.
And if Sri Lanka is doing it right there in England, it leaves little to the imagination the fate awaiting them in the slaughter house Down Under.
Hopefully, that fate will not be that dreadful, the International Cricket Council (ICC) will be forced to summon the United Nations for rescue assistance.
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