England's one-day rise shows progress can be quick but Test side must take risks to follow suit
"Joe Root's side have four years to address the issues that have plagued them this winter in Australia but there must first be an acknowledgement that changes are required"
By Sam Drury
Last Updated: 13/01/18 7:49am
“We’ve got to do something radical. If we do things the same way as we’ve always done it, we’ll get the same results.”
Andrew Strauss was in no doubt that significant change was needed after England's last humbling on Australian soil but it was one-day rather than Test cricket to which he was referring.
England's unimaginative and outdated white-ball tactics were exposed time and again in the 2015 World Cup, culminating in an embarrassing loss to Bangladesh in Adelaide.
Two months later, Strauss was appointed as ECB director of cricket and promptly sacked Peter Moores as head coach, bringing in Trevor Bayliss to replace him.
In the two and a half years since, Bayliss - with no little help from Paul Farbrace and Eoin Morgan - has overseen a complete transformation in the England white-ball team and as they prepare for a five-match ODI series with Australia, the expectation is that they will be rather more competitive than the Test side were in the Ashes.
Yet while many observers will be urging Strauss to heed his own advice, there seems little appetite for radical change from those most senior within the ECB.
The message coming out of the England camp is one of missed opportunities and a failure to convert promising positions into match-winning advantages.
"It doesn't feel like a series where there should be a big upheaval," James Anderson said after the Sydney Test. "It doesn't feel like a completely disastrous series."
The feeling appears to be that while it was necessary to tear things up and essentially start afresh with the one-day side in 2015, the red-ball side has enough going for it that such an overhaul would be counterintuitive.
However, on the back of eight defeats in their last nine away Tests, it would be naïve to think that a few minor tweaks will cure the side of its ills.
Indeed, that talk of where England needed to improve to be in with a chance of winning on their next Ashes tour began before the urn had even been lost, makes something of a mockery of the notion that this was anything but a rout.
England had their moments, as any team with world class performers will over the course of a series. South Africa had England 76-4, 149-5 and 153-7 at various points last summer - and that was just in the Tests they lost. Ultimately though, as with England Down Under, they were a distant second best.
"Australia bowled quicker, faster, hit the pitch harder and had the best spinner on either side," Michael Atherton said. "There is a gulf between the sides in these conditions and that is something England really have to address."
The question for England is how to do so.
Part of the problem - and as problems go, it is a nice one to have - is that on English soil they are more than a match for anyone. They have cultivated a side that has lost just one home series since 2012, winning seven.
Anderson and Stuart Broad lead a bowling attack that, as you might expect from an England team, exploits English conditions better than any other in the world and to such an extent that even with a faltering batting line-up, with as many as three spots in the top five causing concern at any one time, it is rare that they have found themselves under sustained pressure across a series.
If Australia can keep their fearsome pace attack fit and in form ahead of the 2019 Ashes then they will certainly be confident of changing that but, equally, England will believe that in more familiar surroundings they have all the necessary tools to regain the urn, especially if they can wind up the evergreen Anderson for one final hoorah before retirement.
Farbrace was as forthright as anyone within the England set-up as he called for "brutal honesty" when assessing the team's failings at the series' conclusion.
"Everybody needs to look very closely and say 'have we got the right people in the right places, and are we doing the right things?'
"If England are serious about coming back and winning in four years' time then the planning needs to start in the next couple of days."
You would be hard pressed to find an England fan disagreeing with that sentiment, certainly not in the days following another painful Ashes defeat but will those same fans be quite so understanding if England put their home dominance at risk by playing a George Garton or Jamie Overton, talented but raw fast bowlers, over a more traditional English seamer such as Toby Roland-Jones and, heaven forbid, lose a home Test series?
"How you juggle that and the planning for four years' time is a difficult one," Bayliss admitted. "You might blood a young fast bowler in South Africa, or a young spinner in the subcontinent.
"If we're not as successful as we'd like to be because we're blooding some young players, we have to take that on the chin."
It is Bayliss, until the end of the 2019 Ashes at least, and the ECB selectors who are tasked with finding the right balance and they will be under no illusions as to the size of that task.
The simple fact of the matter is that if there was a top class bowler who was fit and capable of bowling spell after spell at 90mph or a high calibre spinner capable of slotting seamlessly into the side and matching the feats of Nathan Lyon, they would have been picked.
Such readymade replacements simply do not exist at present, the England selectors are wading through the murky waters of potential and with high-profile series against Pakistan and India to come this summer, brave decisions will have to be made.
The white-ball side have shown that with a clearly defined strategy, even the most drastic of changes need not destabilise and that tangible progress can come quickly - the ODI team needed just one series against New Zealand to completely reinvent itself.
"The one thing I didn't hear at the end of the Ashes was anyone admit: 'we've got a problem away from home,'" Nasser Hussain told the Sky Sports Ashes podcast.
Joe Root's Test side have four years to address the issues that have plagued them this winter in Australia but, as Hussain intimates, there must first be an acknowledgement that changes are required.
There have been no shortage of suggestions about the way in which the ECB can try to facilitate change for the betterment of the England Test team - propositions regarding pitches, county scheduling and player workloads are never far away when the debate arises - but there is no one guaranteed path to success.
The ECB may well be right in their assertion that the full system reboot required to revitalise the white-ball team in 2015 is not necessary but they need only look at the one-day side in the 20 years prior to that to see what not to do.
"If we do things the same way as we've always done it, we'll get the same results," Strauss said.
As planning for the 2021/22 Ashes begins in earnest, changes - radical or not - are needed, and the ECB could do much worse than to simply follow the same advice that has already served them well in recent times.