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  Monday, 2 December, 2002, 12:27 GMT
What is going wrong?

The inquest has begun following another failed England Ashes bid.

Poor selection, injuries and psychological inferiority have all been put forth as causative factors for the disaster Down Under.

England coach Duncan Fletcher
Fletcher again has many questions to answer

But perhaps there are deeper powers at work to explain England's crash back to earth.

1. Central contracts - are they working?

The introduction of central contracts was certainly a positive move for English cricket.

But a lack of funds and dogged resistance from the 18 county clubs has seen just 16 players given 12-month contracts. Initially, it was 11.

This compares with the 25 contracts handed out in Australia and 19 in South Africa.

Counties are loathe to hand over their best players to the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), but there seems to be confusion over exactly who runs cricket.

England will continue to struggle until selectors have full and unimpeded control over the cream of English cricket.

2. County cricket - less is more?

Everyone agrees that too much domestic cricket is played, but not even the clearest crystal ball can see that changing in the near future.

Too many first-class clubs, too many competitions and too many sub-standard cricketers have led to a general dilution of quality.

Introducing two divisions was a step in the right direction but until playing in Division One actually means something, English cricket cannot benefit from the move.

Until all the best players play in the top rung - as in football - the standard of top-level cricket in England has no chance of reaching full potential.

3. The Academy - is it learning?

It is too early to gauge the impact of the Academy just two years after its inception.

Darren Stevens
Academy member Stevens is 26 and one of only two specialist batsmen

However, the bizarre composition of the first two intakes casts serious doubts over what it can do in the future.

It was fine to headhunt Rod Marsh, but to draft mostly twenty-somethings, some with international experience and most with first-class experience, misses the point.

Marsh's successful programme Down Under took promising teenagers and moulded them from scratch.

And stacking the current crop with bowlers and just two specialist batsmen is asking for trouble down the track.

4. Fitness - are England on the level?

Injuries have beset England throughout their Ashes campaign, but who is responsible?

Strength and conditioning coach Mike Antoniades thinks England's whole approach to fitness and well-being needs an overhaul.

The Perth scoreboard
A better fitness strategy could have saved Silverwood

"The general levels of fitness in English cricket is appalling and 10-15 years behind Australia," Antoniades said.

"Australia have strength and speed experts, not just former players to get the team into shape to last a Test series.

"Players here take six to eight weeks off in the off-season and do nothing, leaving them susceptible to injuries.

"The approach to fitness in English cricket is amateurish and needs a whole new approach."

5. Mental approach - are England thinking about it too much?

Australia's supposed psychological hold over England was repeatedly trotted out during the first three Tests.

It may be that England doubt their ability to beat the world champions, but who can blame them?

Thirteen years under the hammer can do funny things to players' minds and it is not as if England play coyly against anyone else.

Nasser Hussain's men were beaten just as badly as South Africa were at home and away in the past 12 months.

Perhaps more should be said of the excellence of this Aussie team than droning on about the bruised psyche of English cricket.

Trumpeting mind games implies a semblance of equal ability between the two teams - and that is simply not the case.

Why did England lose the Ashes?

Too many injuries

Players froze

Poor captaincy

Aussies too good

Bad selection

4236 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion



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