England defeats Down Under always ends careers. After the thrashing in 2006-07, Ashley Giles, Sajid Mahmood, and two wicketkeepers, Geraint Jones and Chris Read, never played a Test for England again.
The 2013/14 debacle ended the England Test careers of Kevin Pietersen and Michael Carberry (England’s top two run scorers of the tour), Chris Tremlett, Boyd Rankin, Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar – and went a long way to ending those of Jonathan Trott and Matt Prior too.
Add in that Scott Borthwick has not played a Test since his lone appearance as England’s number eight and leg-spinner at Sydney, and that adds up to one player short of a full team’s worth whose Test careers were irrevocably scuppered by the last Ashes tour. Even the glorious 3-1 triumph in 2010/11 ended the Test career of Paul Collingwood.
The point is this: Ashes tours end careers, especially when England lose. And when you consider that England are significant underdogs for this campaign, it rather invites the question of which players are potential victims of this winter’s tour.
This will not solely be determined by how players perform on the pitch.
It will also be informed by a wider consideration: whether England gauge the players to be able to last until, and thrive in, the 2019 Ashes at home. In many ways, the Anglo-Australian obsession with the urn is deeply unhealthy, for it encourages the belief that other Test matches matter less and, at its worse, reduces every other series to a marker in the Ashes cycle, rather than an end in and of itself. Still, this preoccupation is undeniable.
As such, after this Ashes series the future of every England player will be defined by a simple question: are they in England’s best XI not just for England’s next Test, in New Zealand in March, or their next home Test, against Pakistan in May – but will they be in England’s best XI when Australia visit in July 2019?
Now, consider the case of Stuart Broad. For a decade, he has been a magnificent bowler for England, endlessly resourceful and adaptable in pursuit of wickets. And he has had a penchant for producing series-defining spells. Bursts of Broad brilliance – at The Oval in 2009, Chester-le-Street in 2013, and, of course, his 8-15 at Trent Bridge in 2015 – are a common thread in England’s last three Ashes victories at home.
Broad has been far less revered than James Anderson, yet averages only one run more with the ball, and 11 more with the bat. It is easy to make a case that, during an alliance that began when Peter Moores brought Anderson and Broad in for Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard at Wellington just short of a full decade ago, Broad has actually been the more valuable cricketer to England.
And, at 31, he is four full years younger than Anderson – more than enough to have legitimate aims of overhauling Anderson, who currently leads by 118 Test wickets, to become England’s top Test wicket-taker.
Only age, alas, is not everything. In recent months, Anderson has bowled better than ever. Broad has not. In the summer, he managed only 20 wickets at 33.90 in seven Test matches – distinctly underwhelming, especially considering some of the batting resistance offered by South Africa and the West Indies was so lame.
For Broad, it was the first home summer since 2008, his very first in Test cricket, in which he had averaged more than 30 with the ball. It was one thing to be overshadowed by Anderson; quite another to be comprehensively outbowled by Toby Roland-Jones, who took 17 wickets at 19.64 in four summer Tests.
The start of the tour to Australia did not bring much relief. Broad took 1-64 against a Western Australian XI from 13 overs; in the same number, Anderson took 4-27. In his own estimation, Broad bowled “like a drain” in Perth. Naturally, none of this has dented Broad’s confidence that, once again, he will be able to leave an indelible mark on a famous England triumph.
“I think I do have a match-winning spell in me, yes,” he said. “Luck probably wasn’t with me during the summer. I know that if I get wickets in the first two or three overs of a spell, the likelihood of me picking up three or four is quite high.”
How England will hope that Broad is right. But if England’s tour does go the same way as those of 2006/07 and 2013/14, it will surely, once again, lead to some Test careers being halted prematurely.
With Craig Overton impressing so far Down Under, Tom Curran and George Garton being groomed and Roland-Jones and Steve Finn to return to contention back in England, it is not outlandish to think that a bad defeat might even lead to England considering how long Broad’s own Test career has left to run.
Yes, right now all seems a bit of a stretch. But tours Down Under have a habit of accelerating Test careers in unforeseen ways.