The good, the bad and the ugly of England's painful Ashes tour
A miserable Ashes series for England ended on a particularly low note as Joe Root's side were trounced by an innings and 123 runs in Sydney, with the captain struck down by viral gastroenteritis.
Omnisport's Christopher Devine takes a look at the positives (and yes, there were some) and negatives arising from a challenging trip for the tourists, and looks at where England go from here.
- No England player did more to enhance his reputation than Dawid Malan, whose fabulous 140 in Perth represented a breakthrough innings at Test level. Malan, whose initial selection for the tour appeared to owe much to a lack of alternative options, also made three fifties and finished the series with 383 runs at a creditable average of 43.
- Aged 35, James Anderson was the pick of England's bowling unit by a country mile. If a return of 17 wickets at 28 was not impressive enough, Anderson demonstrated remarkable stamina and continued to pose a threat in sweltering heat at the SCG, even as his tally of overs for the series moved beyond 220.
- An element of straw-clutching with this one, but England at least took every Test to a fifth day, in contrast to the 2013-14 series when they were regularly beaten well inside the distance - including a shambolic three-day loss in Sydney.
- With Ben Stokes absent following his arrest in Bristol prior to the tour, fellow all-rounder Moeen Ali endured a woeful time of things. A finger injury hampered his initial efforts with the ball and the off-spinner's confidence levels seemed to sink thereafter as he was comprehensively out-bowled by Nathan Lyon. Moeen was barely more effective with the bat and his personal nadir came in Melbourne, when a bizarrely frenetic innings of 20 came between two wicket-less outings in which part-time leg-spinner Malan seemed a more accomplished bowler.
- Alastair Cook actually ended the series with a higher average (47) than Malan and any other touring batsman bar Root. Yet the veteran opener was understandably rueful as he reflected on the fact his unbeaten 244 at Melbourne came with the series already beyond England. Prior to his MCG masterclass, Cook's return of 83 runs from six innings was nowhere near enough. England's record run-scorer can at least look to the future with optimism after ending his barren run.
- Arguably the most frustrating aspect of England's tour was their inability to capitalise on encouraging positions. At the Gabba, England were fiercely competitive - and, at times, seemingly ahead of the game - for three days. They then threatened to pull off a superb recovery in Adelaide, while the WACA's final Test saw the tourists reach 368-4 in their first innings. However, in each match, Australia ran out comfortable winners, clinically exposing their opponents' lack of ruthlessness.
- Anderson's efforts may have been admirable, but there can be no doubt England suffered from a distinct lack of pace in their attack. What they would do for a Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood or Pat Cummins ...
- The luckless Root was apparently asleep as the post-match presentations took place, his final innings of the tour interrupted and ultimately cut short by the illness that saw England's captain hospitalised on Monday.
- If the controversy surrounding Stokes was not a big enough issue for England to have to deal with, head coach Trevor Bayliss was left utterly unimpressed as a result of further disciplinary problems once the tour began. Australia's media gleefully made the most of apparently minor incidents involving Jonny Bairstow and Ben Duckett, leaving Bayliss with an unwanted headache.
England appear unlikely to make too many changes for their next Tests in New Zealand, mainly as there are not exactly a host of names banging on the door for selection.
It would be no surprise to see at least one of James Vince or Mark Stoneman dropped, however, while the selectors may also opt to give Moeen a break after he struggled so badly in Australia, particularly if Stokes becomes available again.
Conditions in New Zealand are at least likely to provide more encouragment for England's bowlers, who can then look forward to a return to home soil later in the year and the opportunity to gain greater swing and seam movement.
Yet finding a solution to their struggles in batsman-friendly conditions appears a tricky task, particularly with Anderson in the final years of his career. England will be desperate to ensure they return to Australia in four years with greater depth in their pace stocks.