Ashes: The key reasons why Australia beat England

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Listen: The moment Australia won the Ashes

On reflection, England barely gave themselves a chance.

At the time that Ben Stokes was arrested, it felt like the Ashes tour had started to go wrong before England had even picked their squad.

And that was just the first bullet that Joe Root's men fired into their collective feet.

Headbutts and poured drinks off the field, opportunities missed and big players missing on it.

But to focus solely on the things that England have done wrong and ignoring what Australia have got right, would do the home side a disservice.

Here, in a rough reverse order, are the factors I think have led to Australia celebrating regaining the urn in Perth. You can vote which one you think is the main contributor below.

England's squad

Dawid Malan bats
Dawid Malan has scored 302 runs at an average of 50.33 in the series

The reaction to the announcement of England's squad ranged from bewilderment, through to bemusement and downright anger.

The batting looked threadbare, the fast bowling one-paced and the spin-bowling options almost non-existent (and that, remember, was when Stokes was still included).

However, the lesser lights and left-field picks have impressed in Australia. Dawid Malan is England's top run-scorer, James Vince and Mark Stoneman have both made two half-centuries and Craig Overton has bowled nicely in his two Tests.

If you offered England the performances that those players have put in, they probably would have taken them.

Yes, the bowling has been exposed (more on that later), but who, realistically, could have made a difference? Mark Wood was injured and Liam Plunkett barely plays first-class cricket.

As Trevor Bayliss has reminded us, you cannot pick what you haven't got.

Verdict: Not nearly as important as was feared. The inexperienced members of England's squad have done as well as could have been expected.

Avenue antics

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What really happened between Bancroft & Bairstow?

That England somehow managed to twice find trouble in the same Perth nightclub is barely believable.

Jonny Bairstow's 'headbutt' of Cameron Bancroft turned out to be little more than a misunderstanding, yet it still gave ammunition for Australia and left England's players under a curfew.

Ben Duckett's drink-pouring over James Anderson was ill-advised, even if it sounded nothing more than team-mates messing around. It still left Bayliss furious, though.

Did they really have an effect on results? Yes, Bairstow may have been distracted by an on-field mention of the headbutt, but England were already sliding to defeat in Brisbane.

Verdict: A distraction, but no real impact on where the urn has ended up.

The big three

Australia's fast three
WicketsAverageBest bowling
Mitchell Starc1921.055-88
Josh Hazlewood1523.205-48
Pat Cummins1130.093-85

This is not to underplay England's lack of pace, but instead to not overstate the impact of Australia's fast bowlers.

At the beginning of the series, much was made of Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood playing in a Test together for the first time.

In Brisbane, when England's tail was destroyed, it seemed like the trio may combine to inflict some Mitchell Johnson-style damage.

But, after that, England got a better grip of Australia's attack. The tail made runs in Adelaide and the tourists came through some fearsome stuff in Perth. Whenever England collapsed, it usually began with a self-inflicted blow.

Four years ago, England were blown away. Here, they have been beaten, but not by Australia's pace alone.

Verdict: Certainly a factor, but not a Johnson-style series-definer.


Ben Stokes in a Canterbury kit
Ben Stokes has been playing domestic cricket in New Zealand instead of in the Ashes following his arrest

It may well be that this series will be more remembered for what happened outside a Bristol nightclub in the early hours of a September morning than anything that took place on the pitch in Australia.

From a cricketing point of view, it is a shame for England and their fans that we will never know how their all-rounder and talisman would have performed in Australia at an age - 26 - where he is in his prime.

Not only did England miss his batting, bowling, fielding and up-and-at-em attitude, they were distracted by constant talk of his potential arrival, especially when he travelled to New Zealand.

Still, they were heavy underdogs even when Stokes was available and he could have snapped his hamstring in the first warm-up match. One player does not reverse a 3-0 deficit.

Verdict: Maybe the margin would have be narrower, but it's a stretch to say that Stokes would have won the Ashes for England.

Let down by the main men

James Anderson, Joe Root and Stuart Broad look glum
James Anderson, Joe Root and Stuart Broad have failed to play defining roles in the series

For England to have had any chance in this series, their most experienced players needed to navigate Australia with the success of Captain James Cook.

Anderson aside, England's big men have flopped.

Alastair Cook has managed only 83 runs in six knocks and Root is averaging less than 30.

Stuart Broad has taken five wickets at 61.80 apiece, while Moeen Ali's batting average is less than 20 and his bowling average more than 100.

The unknowns have done their bit, it is the stars that have not shone.

Verdict: Important. How can you win the Ashes if your best players do not perform?

No pace, no spin

Australia have bowled considerably more deliveries in excess of 87mph, of which more have contributed to wickets
This graphic, produced after the second Test, showed how Australia have bowled considerably more deliveries in excess of 87mph

Maybe it will take something as seismic as an Ashes defeat for English cricket to confront one of its biggest problems - England do not have the tools to succeed away from home.

In the UK, where their skilful, 84mph bowlers swing and seam the ball, England are a fine team, one who have lost a Test series only once since 2012.

On foreign soil, where unfamiliar conditions demand extreme pace or mystery spin, England are woeful. It is a problem not restricted to Australia - England have won only one away series in the past five years.

Changes to the toss arrangements in the County Championship have been made in a bid to develop different kinds of bowlers, but is that enough? Do workloads, schedules, coaching styles, and attitudes need to be examined?

Until England find some variety, they will keep their travel sickness.

Verdict: A real factor. You can't win Tests without taking 20 wickets. England's bowlers have managed only 35 of the 60 available to them in the series.

Steve Smith

Steve Smith in the Australian dressing room
At the age of 28, Steve Smith can reasonably expect to play in at least two more Ashes series

Big players perform on the big occasions. In this series, Australia captain Steve Smith has proved why he is rated the number one batsman in the world.

His unbeaten 141 in the first Test was a match-winning knock, while his double century in the third Test was inevitable, masterful and demoralising to England.

There has been a theme. If England cannot get the ball to move, then they are not moving Smith either. Fidgety, unorthodox and run-thirsty, the skipper has been a total irritant to the touring bowlers.

You have to go back to Kim Hughes, whose reign ended in 1985, to find the last permanent Australia captain who did not win a home Ashes series.

Smith was determined to join the likes of Allan Border, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting as Aussie skippers who have stamped their authority on the urn.

Verdict: In terms of individual players, Smith is the biggest difference between the two sides.

Missed opportunities

James Anderson walks off after Australia win the Ashes
Australia have recorded the highest partnerships for the 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th and 10th wickets in the series so far

England's biggest frustration will be that they have had dominant periods in each of the first three Tests.

In Brisbane, they were 127-1 and 246-4 in the first innings before slumping to 302 all out. They let Australia make 328 from 76-4 and 209-7.

At the Adelaide Oval, Root opted for first use of the pink ball under a grey sky, only for his bowlers to waste it. After Australia racked up 442-8 declared, England found themselves 142-7 and a strong second half was too little, too late.

Finally, at the Waca, from 368-4 England only managed to get to 403, then saw Australia's batsmen hand out a lesson in ruthlessness by piling on 662-9 declared.

When opportunity knocked, England did not answer the door.

Verdict: Vital. England have competed for long periods in this series, only to fall at crucial moments.

Australia are just better

Nathan Lyon and Josh Hazlewood look at the Ashes urn
The next Ashes series will be held in England in 2019

Consider this. Australia are just better than England when it comes to playing cricket in Australia.

The same works the other way, too. England are unbeaten in home Ashes series since 2001.

Australia's home dominance goes back further, though. They have won seven out of eight Ashes series in this country and 27 out of 38 Tests.

If you take out the memorable win of Andrew Strauss' England over a weaker-than-usual Australia in 2010-11, then the previous three series here are 4-1, 5-0 and 5-0.

And it could be 5-0 again.

Verdict: The decisive factor. England do not play well in Australia, and they have not for a long time. In the vote 32% thought that the poor form of senior players was the reason behind England losing the Ashes.

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