'Dismal', 'chastising', 'humiliating', the 'worst Ashes tour in memory'. From England's current crop of fallen idols, to the cricketing commentators who were singing the formers' praises just months ago, few punches have been pulled in the summation of the 2013-14 Ashes series. And rightly so. The scorecards read somewhat similarly to those of Floyd 'Money' Mayweather in the boxing ring over the past decade - it has been a story of complete domination down under.
England fans may wish to look away now. Four days of battering and bruising in Brisbane culminated in a 381-run loss in the series opener, and it was a trend that would continue: 218 runs short in Adelaide; 150 in a pitiful performance in Perth that handed the famous urn back to Australia for the first time since 2006-7; 8 wickets spare for Australia in Melbourne. As the Aussies donned the overalls and completed the whitewash in Sydney with another chastening victory by 281 runs, England fans left thoroughly dispirited.
Out-battled, outsmarted and comprehensively outplayed with bat, ball and in the field, the totality of England's ignominious defeat has led many to many calls for a complete overhaul of the national team structure. To some degree, such changes had already been set in motion before the inception of the torturous tour this winter. In October, the surprise announcement ECB Managing Director Hugh Morris and Chairman of Selectors Geoff Miller's stepping down necessitated a major overhaul of the English and Welsh Cricket Board. The incoming Paul Downton as Managing Director and James Whitaker as Chairman of Selectors will mollify some who, for some time, have warned against the stagnation of the national team setup.
Such appointments are not merely for Christmas however, and we will have to wait perhaps a year or more before Downton and Whitaker can realise the blueprint they have surely drawn up to drive English cricket forward. Yet administrational changes can only go so far on the cricket field. As Jonathan Agnew, former England bowler and current BBC cricket broadcaster succinctly stated 'It's tough, but they have to get themselves out of this mess. No one else can do it for them.'
A new dawn for English cricket begins now, the torture must be forgotten. In the coming weeks the nightmares may return. The cavernous MCG packed with 100,000 baying Australian cricket fanatics expectant of nothing less than the decimation of a dispirited Pommie posse on the march to another 5-0 whitewash; or the sight of mustachioed Mitch, roaring in with nose-stinging bouncers whistling past at nearly 95mph.
Yet for England, a perfect occasion for experimentation with a view to the future presents itself in the summer of 2014 with the decidedly less intimidating task of a home test series against a depleted Sri Lankan side. The point should be made clearly: badly needed is reform and refinement, not revolution. The foundations of the team that reached the summit of the world rankings barely two years ago are, by and large, still in place. True, the shock announcement of Graeme Swann's retirement in Perth after a disappointing tour, and the indefinite absence of the Jonathan Trott with a stress-related illness, has left this England side bereft of a world-class spinner and its resolute rock at number three.
However the positives must also be recognized. Form is temporary, class is permanent, so the old saying goes. And in Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell, James Anderson and Stuart Broad, England can boast at least five world-class performers, who on their day, and on many occasions in the past, have destroyed teams single-handedly with magnificent individual displays or as a cohesive collective. Too few and far between have such days come along in a series where England's senior players have struggled to cope with an aggressive brand of Australian cricket; but they are sure to resurface - quite simply they are too good not to.
And what of England's future? Tasked with the reinvention of English cricket, new faces at the ECB such as Downton and Whitaker could do far worse than look across to the opposite dressing room for inspiration. In 2010-11, an historic English Ashes triumph led to a period of introspection and gradual change in the sinews of Cricket Australia. Old faces such as Simon Katich and Michael Hussey were phased out slowly, allowing for the inclusion of young players like Steve Smith and David Warner, both of whom look set to be stars of Australian cricket for years to come. Allied with the core of the team: Watson, Clarke, Haddin and Siddle that had come through in the preceding years, this careful blend of old and new is clearly starting to pay dividends.
In its selection and its brand of cricket the England team must prove its bravery in the face-saving test series against Sri Lanka. England and Australia were not 5-0 apart in their quality, but in their morale and hunger, which can often count for just as much. What advice can I give to England as they emerge blinking from this most lamentable tour? It is to focus on evolution, not revolution. It is to keep those of the old guard: Cook, Bell, Pietersen, Anderson Broad; who still have quality to impart on this troubled side. Then the task, admittedly more difficult, is to blend them in with the young guns: Root, Stokes, Finn, Hales, Jordan and Ballance, who are sure to bring the arrogance, and care-free confidence of youth that this beleaguered, beaten side so desperately need.