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Last Updated: Monday, 18 December 2006, 11:10 GMT
Where did it all go wrong?

By Oliver Brett

From the euphoric high of September 2005 when the Ashes were won on home soil, England are back in the dog-house after relinquishing the urn in Australia.

For a team who value the Ashes above all else, how did England's defence of the series go so badly?

SELECTION ISSUES

You could not really argue against the make-up of the tour squad, except for the inclusion of Marcus Trescothick, who was soon on the plane home because of his stress-related illness.

Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Paul Collingwood reflect
Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Paul Collingwood reflect

But once in Australia, some very odd things happened when it came to picking the starting XI for the Tests.

Wicket-keeper Chris Read was dropped altogether and Monty Panesar, the best spinner unearthed by England in a generation, was kept out of the series until Perth. They were two mystifying decisions.

In their place, back came Ashley Giles and Geraint Jones, two players tagged as "Duncan's favourites" because of their close relationship with coach Fletcher.

Let's deal with Jones v Read first.

Fletcher, worried that Read "did not handle pressure situations well" said before the warm-up games that Jones would be the man to take the gloves in the Ashes.

But although Read was not at his best in the Champions Trophy, he coped admirably when recalled to the Test side against Pakistan during the summer.

At Headingley, in his first Test for more than two years, he hit 38 and 55 - the latter innings absolutely crucial to setting up the victory that clinched the series.

606 VIEW
BBC Sport's Oliver Brett

Jones, on the other hand, may be reasonably competent with the gloves these days but his batting has been getting steadily worse.

In 11 Tests this year, he has just two scores over 20 and his pair in Perth summed up his decline.

As for Panesar, Fletcher felt moved to call Monty the "best finger spinner in world cricket" following his fine performances against Pakistan.

But he could not get in the starting side in Brisbane or Adelaide, because of a perceived need to have a better batsman at number eight.

This meant Giles, having not played a Test for a year because of injury, was in the side.

Chris Read and Monty Panesar
Cruelly, and wrongly ignored: Chris Read and Monty Panesar

Predictably, the Warwickshire man contributed neither meaningful runs nor wickets and when Panesar did finally play, he took eight wickets in one game.

Suddenly every amateur selector in every pub in Britain had proof that they could pick a team better than Fletcher.

But captain Andrew Flintoff was equally to blame for Panesar's belated arrival on the scene.

It was Fletcher and Flintoff who between them picked the starting XIs for the Test matches and Flintoff who handed the 11 names to the match referee before each coin toss.

INJURIES AND UNAVAILABILITY

Michael Vaughan was unavailable following knee surgery and, although Flintoff made no serious errors as captain, England missed Vaughan's cool hand on the tiller.

It did not help matters, however, that Vaughan made occasional appearances at nets sessions. Flintoff needed space to do his thing.

Simon Jones was the bowler who caused Australia more problems than anyone else in the 2005 Ashes and he also missed the series with injury.

The third hammer blow came when Trescothick, England's most experienced batsman, flew back from Australia nine days before the first Test.

A BADLY PREPARED UNIT

The international cricket calendar is stuffed with too many fixtures according to some observers and England's team are arguably the worst off.

The desire of the England and Wales Cricket Board to host seven home Tests and countless one-day internationals every summer means there is not enough time to recuperate from past winter tours and prepare for the next ones.

This year, the situation was made worse by the ICC Champions Trophy in India filling the October window.

Ironically, all this to-ing and fro-ing means players like Steve Harmison spend so much time recovering from injuries or adjusting from one time zone to another that they don't get enough actual cricket under their belt when a new series starts.

If the Ashes is to remain a biennial event, then some thought should be given to reducing it to a four-Test series and allowing more time for preparation.

SEE ALSO
England crash to Adelaide defeat
05 Dec 06 |  England
Fletcher position to be reviewed
18 Dec 06 |  England


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