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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 March 2008, 15:01 GMT
Low-point for English cricket
By Oliver Brett

From the moment the first champagne cork spiralled high into the azure sky over London on that fateful September day in 2005, England's cricket has been plummeting in the opposite direction.

Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard
End of an era? Harmison and Hoggard share 456 Test wickets

Back then, an Ashes series had been won for the first time since 1986-87 and the feeling was that it was England's turn to dominate international cricket for the remainder of the decade.

One should not necessarily rebuke England's cricket authorities for holding the open-topped bus celebrations.

But that very bus, and the joyous faces that stood on it, now stand in dismal contrast to England's failings in the national summer sport since then.

And, as England line up for the must-win second Test against New Zealand on Thursday, the team has changed almost beyond recognition.

Most significantly, of the five bowlers who bowled out Australia time and again that summer of 2005, not one will line up in windy Wellington.

Simon Jones has been unable to play for his country since, Andrew Flintoff has also been plagued by injuries and Ashley Giles has retired.

ENGLAND'S TEST SERIES SINCE 2005 ASHES SUMMER
v Pakistan (away): Lost 2-0
v India (away): Drew 1-1
v Sri Lanka (home): Drew 1-1
v Pakistan (home): Won 3-0
v Australia (away): Lost 5-0
v W Indies (home): Won 3-0
v India (home): Lost 1-0
v Sri Lanka (away): Lost 1-0

Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard are currently both fit.

But coach Peter Moores, under huge pressure to start delivering Test victories, has - in consultation with co-selectors Michael Vaughan and James Whitaker - axed both.

It is the first time either has been dropped from the Test side on grounds of form since the summer of 2005.

So if this is a watershed moment for English cricket, what has gone wrong since the Ashes success?

INJURIES AND REPLACEMENTS

Though Flintoff was man of the series in the 2005 Ashes, many felt Jones provided the X factor that made England's five-man bowling attack so irresistible.

The current absence of both men is clearly a severe blow.

Though fit now, Vaughan's knee has also troubled him, and that led to a chaotic merry-go-round with the captaincy at one stage.

Liam Plunkett
One youngster gambled on without success was Liam Plunkett

Flintoff and Strauss both got a go, and the captaincy of the one-day side eventually passed to Paul Collingwood.

That cannot have helped create the stability needed to engender a successful team, and the absence of another senior player in Marcus Trescothick - whose personal problems have kept him out since the end of the 2006 summer - has unbalanced the team further.

The class of Ashes '05 was thought to be young enough to stay in gainful employment until the '09 defence. Instead the opportunities afforded to new players came quicker than expected.

While some (such as Monty Panesar, Ryan Sidebottom and Alastair Cook) have swum smoothly in the volatile waters of international cricket, others (Sajid Mahmood and Liam Plunkett) have sunk with barely a trace.

Thus the ready-made replacements for sudden injuries - particularly within the bowling attack - have failed to materialise, and instead England have had to go back to the likes of James Anderson, a bowler who at one point seemed destined to be a one-day specialist.

THE LOSS OF TROY COOLEY

While England were still in the process of losing the first Test in Brisbane in November 2006 - which would of course presage the infamous 5-0 whitewash to Australia - many were bemoaning the absence of Cooley.

The Australian, previously employed by the ECB as the national team bowling coach, had been viewed as one of the critical ingredients in the success against the same opposition two summers earlier.

But contract extension talks between him and the ECB broke down, and he moved back to his mother country in December 2005.

Some felt England's senior players themselves should have demanded his continued presence.

Harmison, who started the Ashes series with that wide to Justin Langer, and ended it by announcing his retirement from one-day cricket, particularly missed Cooley.

His replacement, Kevin Shine, never got Harmison back on radar, Allan Donald did his best in a brief ECB contract in the summer of 2007, and the latest bowling coach Ottis Gibson has failed to make this enigmatic performer hit his straps.

WHY WAS HOGGARD DROPPED?

While Harmison's axing was largely expected, the decision to do away with Hoggard is more severe.

Only five England men have taken more wickets than him in Test cricket, and until injury problems in 2007 he had been the most dependable of workhorses.

REPLY TO AGGERS' BLOG
deepak nair

Even in the first Test against Sri Lanka in Kandy last December, he took four quick wickets on the first morning - and his first really poor performance in five-day cricket was probably the Hamilton defeat.

But Moores may feel the need to fashion his own side, rather than make do with personnel who happen to have strong CVs.

The coach will also look back to the Lord's Test against a strong India side last summer - when England were only deprived victory by the rain - as an indicator that they can win big matches without the stars of yesteryear.

In that match, Sidebottom, Anderson, Panesar and Chris Tremlett conspired effectively with the ball (Hoggard and Harmison were both injured).

FROM FLETCHER TO MOORES

Duncan Fletcher had taken England from laughing-stock has-beens in 1999 to an almost unbeatable Test unit in 2005.

But he was accused of almost ignoring the one-day game, and he - rather than his captain at the time Flintoff - was deemed the guilty party during the 2006-07 Ashes debacle.

Andrew Flintoff and Duncan Fletcher
Flintoff and Fletcher ran a chaotic team at the 06-07 Ashes

Fletcher's expected resignation after the calamitous World Cup campaign in 2007 led to the start of the Moores era.

But whereas the scowls of the Zimbabwean have been replaced by an almost Utopian sense of optimism from the former Sussex coach, Moores has not exactly proved an unqualified success.

Hastily appointed so that a coach would be in place for the visit of West Indies in May 2007, Moores has been compared in some quarters to England's hapless former football coach Steve McClaren.

He had not been involved in international cricket at all when given the job, and the ECB chose to ignore candidates - such as Tom Moody and Dav Whatmore - who knew all about it.

TOO MUCH CRICKET? THE SHEER GRIND OF THE CIRCUIT

Whenever England fail in the opening Test of an overseas series, the question is asked: Were they under-prepared? The answer is always yes and no.

They often are under-prepared in the sense that they would not have played enough warm-up matches in the relevant conditions. But that argument contradicts the theory that these players are playing too much anyway.

England's summer season is played at a time when most other international cricketers are enjoying a nice chunk of time off, or as of this summer paying off their mortgages with some Indian Premier League action.

When it ends there is usually a mandatory ICC tournament to take in - the World Twenty20 or the Champions League - and then the winter tours.

There's barely time to draw breath, and in fact England's warm-up schedule in New Zealand - two matches before the one-day series, and two more matches before the Tests - was more thorough than many other teams would face.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

If England lose at Wellington, they will then be even lower on confidence when New Zealand and South Africa land on British shores in the summer.

But if they win, they might still sneak a series win and establish some momentum ahead of the summer, when Flintoff is due to strengthen the side.

As for Hoggard, his career is surely not finished. At 31, he has a handful of summers left in him and there are few other players of his ilk demanding selection.

Harmison, however, will have fewer England fans championing his selection and if he cannot retain his England contract come October he will have to play out his days for Durham.



SEE ALSO
Swann launches defence of Moores
10 Mar 08 |  England
Vaughan vows to lift confidence
09 Mar 08 |  England
England in New Zealand 2008
03 Mar 08 |  Cricket


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