When England came to Australia in 2010 for the Ashes, there was genuine excitement in the air.
There was actual concern at every level of Australian cricket from the team to the fans that England would take the urn back with them.
For once, the “it’s coming home” rhetoric was true as Andrew Strauss’s English side not only retained the Ashes but vanquished Australia 3-1.
But that series was a once-in-a-generation event. An enormous anomaly for the England men’s Test team in the modern era.
The current squad has already been thrashed in the first two Tests and are in disarray, looking next to no chance of winning any of the remaining three matches.
Since Mike Gatting’s team won the Ashes by the same margin in 1986-87, the ledger in Australia stands at 30 wins to those wearing baggy greens and just six to the tourists. And that includes the three wins of 2010-11.
Outside of that series, England have not won a game in Australia since they avoided a whitewash at Sydney in 2003 when Michael Vaughan compiled a brilliant 183 which is barely remembered as his century was somewhat overshadowed by Steve Waugh’s ton off the last ball of day two.
Perhaps we owe the England touring teams of the 1990s an apology – compared to the current rabble, they were world beaters. Australia’s whipping boys like Phil Tufnell, Robert Croft, John Crawley and Graeme Hick would walk straight into the 2021 side.
It appears for England to win Down Under, they need two factors to coalesce or they’re no chance.
They need to have a team that has been building for Ashes glory over at least a two-year stretch, featuring several players in their prime.
And they need Australian cricket to be at a low ebb – when Gatting’s team blasted Allan Border’s squad in the mid 1980s, the Australian team was in a slow rebuilding process after the retirements of Dennis Lillee, Rod Marsh and Greg Chappell, coupled with the sudden resignation of captain Kim Hughes and absences of several Test regulars who signed up for a rebel tour of South Africa.
A decade ago, the Australians were in a similar situation following the departures of almost an entire team of all-time greats, including Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee.
And with England’s domestic set-up moving more and more towards hyped-up white-ball leagues like The Hundred, it’s hard to see the Poms producing enough Test-quality talent to recapture the success of the 1986-87 and 2010-11 sides.
Touring teams in Australia need to beat the locals at their own game. South Africa and India have shown that in recent years but England keep making the same mistakes.
Joe Root was bullish after the First Test loss in Brisbane that he wanted England to not fall into the trap of previous touring teams. They needed to be bold, he said. Try new things, he claimed.
And then they picked their team for Adelaide with five right-arm seamers who hover around the 130km/h mark. Chris Woakes was chosen ahead of their fastest bowler, Mark Wood, in part because they were worried about their batting depth in the lower order.
After leaving Stuart Broad and James Anderson out of the series opener, they said they wanted to rest Wood in Adelaide so he will be fresh later in the series.
To paraphrase Jerry Seinfeld after George Costanza held out for less in their sitcom negotiations, this is how you rotate your best players in the bizarro world – keep them out of the important games at the start of a series so they can be more effective when the matches are less important.
The old empire dished up the same old style of team and got the same old style of result – a flogging from the colonials.
It looks like we may have to wait another couple of decades before we see England put up any sort of contest in an Ashes series in Australia.