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Drinking culture, fat shaming and a tactical disaster: England's Ashes nightmare revealed

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18th January, 2022
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An England Ashes player refused a skin-fold test to gauge body fat on the grounds he was being fat-shamed, while a drinking culture and shambolic preparation were also revealed in a scathing post-tour report on Tuesday.

The staggering report in the UK Telegraph was summed up by a quote attributed to an unnamed player: “Honestly, everyone has got a story about how shambolic it has been.”

It painted a picture of a team divided from the start, when it was split into two by the T20 World Cup, and subsequently worn down by a lack of pre-Test practice opportunities, quarantine, bubble life and failure.

Ben Stokes and Joe Root.

Ben Stokes walks off the field with Joe Root at stumps on day four of the second Ashes Test. (Photo by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images)

The paper said a drinking culture emerged under relaxed rules while players and staff struggled to focus on the task they had come Down Under for.

“The bubble made everything harder when it came to organising nets and matches for those in Queensland,” wrote Nick Hoult.

“England’s only warm-up game descended into farce at the Ian Healy Oval, a nice club ground but lacking facilities for international sport. The scoreboard failed, the team analyst could only film for one day before giving up due to a lack of technical support and what was supposed to be a first-class fixture descended into middle practice with players batting three or even four times.”

England got their selection badly wrong from the start in Brisbane, leaving out James Anderson and Stuart Broad and batting first on a green top.

But England were doomed as much for culture and fitness as the often puzzling team selections there for the watching world to see.

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“As Silverwood reflected on the tour he wondered if he had been too soft on the players. Certainly the cosiness of the set-up has been a major talking point,” wrote Hoult.

“One player refused to take part in the skin-fold test – a gauge of body fat – and, when pressed, accused England of trying to fat shame him. The test was never carried out.

“Fitness levels clearly dipped for some players, who started the tour in good shape but appeared to let that side drift as the tour went on. [Ollie] Robinson’s conditioning was an issue from the first Test, when he spent time off the field, but became a recurring theme in every game.

“When England had the chance for a day off in Hobart, Robinson went and played golf even though he was troubled by a shoulder problem that threatened his chances of playing, with Craig Overton preparing to play in his place. Robinson declared himself fit on the morning of the match but then went down with a back spasm. England needed to be tougher and the medics overrule him but Silverwood and Root needed a win and Robinson is a good bowler.”

He said there was also a concern over a “drinking culture within the whole touring party and whether restrictions were loosened too much in Brisbane in the weeks leading up to the series and before the Covid bubble was tightened when families arrived.

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“Seeking solace in the glass is not unusual on Ashes tours and even more so in bubbles, which have a two-fold effect. The players have drinks laid on in the hotels which are at least away from camera phones and the public, but on the rare days they are allowed out they are more likely to go wild.

“It is certain that the midnight curfew introduced by Andrew Strauss will return when Covid bubbles go, the players failing to do enough to convince the management they can be fully trusted again.”

Hoult said coach Chris Silverwood’s management style was also an issue, as well as his dual roles as coach and sole selector.

“Some senior players felt left out of discussions over tactics and another was angered to learn he had been dropped after reading it in the press,” Hoult wrote. “Another felt he had not been given enough time to prepare for a Test, learning only 48 hours before that he would be playing.”

Hoult said England’s worst selection issue was how they handled Mark Wood, who took 6-37 on the final day of the series in Hobart.

“The Durham bowler became the tourists’ prized asset, their only genuine pace option, and yet he ended up bowling more overs when the series was dead than when it was alive. What a waste,” Hoult wrote.

“England had stacked their chips on the pink-ball Test in Adelaide because Anderson had taken 5-43 there four years ago. But having relentlessly extolled the virtues of pace for the last four years, they picked the same three seamers – Broad, Anderson and Chris Woakes – who had lost at the same venue in 2017 by 120 runs. They were worse this time.

“[Jack] Leach was not picked because England had been spooked by how he was mauled in Brisbane. They ended up using two part-time spinners and Ollie Robinson bowling off-spin and had to watch as Nathan Lyon took five wickets for Australia. Even the groundsman tried to warn them, saying 48 hours before the game: “History says that the pitch will spin.” England did not listen.

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Hoult said there were also obvious examples of players not taking enough individual responsibility.

“Before Brisbane, [Rory] Burns was asked if he had thought about facing the first ball of the series. “Nah, not really”, was his reply.

“That lack of forethought showed as he was bowled around his legs by Mitchell Starc. Ultimately, Burns lost his place, not just because of his form, but also his failure to speak more regularly in meetings and bring his experience to bear.

“And when communication was clear, it still backfired. After the Adelaide Test there was a lengthy team meeting in which Silverwood made the batsmen watch footage of their dismissals, but the exchanges became heated as batsmen and bowlers lined up against each other.

“In the same meeting, Jos Buttler told players they had to be patient at the crease, but he was out in the next Test hitting to deep-square leg on the stroke of tea. It summed up his tour.”

And it summed up England’s too.

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