Split loyalties have emerged in England’s dressing-room following the fiasco in Melbourne, with the players supportive of Joe Root’s captaincy but increasingly disillusioned with head coach Chris Silverwood.
Australia’s Ashes-clinching innings win in the third Test at the MCG produced a host of eye-watering statistics – none in favour of the tourists.
And there was widespread incredulity when Silverwood told BT Sport after the game: ‘There are positives coming out of this.’
It has been a difficult Ashes series for Joe Root but he retains the support of the dressing room
But the team are less supportive of coach Chris Silverwood following another Ashes debacle
That added to a feeling within the camp that Silverwood, who was appointed over two years ago, is not the man to turn round England’s fortunes in a year that has brought a record-breaking nine Test defeats and a record-equalling 54 ducks.
Ashley Giles, the team’s managing director, plans to arrive in Sydney before the fourth Test, starting on January 5, and will attempt to understand the sequence of events that culminated in the collapse to 68 all out on the third morning at Melbourne – England’s lowest total in Australia since 1904.
He is likely to find a dressing-room that believes Root should stay on as captain, despite leading the side to two successive Ashes defeats away from home, but is less supportive of the coach.
Australia moved into an unassailable 3-0 lead to retain the Ashes with the win in Melbourne
Asked whether Root should stay in the job, regardless of the results of the last two Tests at the SCG and Hobart, all-rounder Chris Woakes replied: ‘Absolutely. It’s clear that the captaincy isn’t having an effect on his batting, which a lot of the time with captains can be the case. It would be great if we could help him out and score a few more runs around him.
‘But Joe is a great cricketer. He’s got a great cricket brain. I think his record as England captain is pretty good. It definitely feels like Joe will continue.’
On the question of whether Silverwood retained the confidence of the players, Woakes sounded less certain – beginning by sidestepping the subject, and ending with a vague generality.
‘Who am I to talk about people’s futures other than my own, to be brutally honest,’ he said. ‘We’ve got two really important games coming up.
Managing director Ashley Giles is due to join the team in Sydney to begin the post-mortem
‘We want to show a lot of character, a lot of fight. We want to put some pride back into wearing that badge.
‘The group of players, the management and the staff we have out here have the backing of the players to hopefully put things right.’
Silverwood’s popularity is not the problem, but there is a growing sense that his velvet glove conceals an even softer fist – at a time when England need firmer guidance.
And if they do succumb to a third 5-0 whitewash in five Ashes tours, it is inconceivable that captain and coach will both be in charge by the time the team arrive in the Caribbean for a three-Test series in March.
Assuming Root wants to continue in the job – and before the Melbourne Test he declined the chance to say he did – then he will be helped by a lack of credible alternatives.
Vice-captain Ben Stokes may possess greater tactical acumen, but already has plenty on his plate and – unlike Root – is a central figure in all three formats, as well as a regular at the IPL.
Beyond Stokes, however, there is no one in the dressing-room who demands both a regular place and the respect of his peers.
Neither has county cricket produced a left-field candidate worthy of consideration.
The bareness of England’s cupboard is one of many reasons fans back home have let rip on social media about the state of the Test team.
Woakes, who was dropped for Melbourne after taking three wickets at 76 apiece at Brisbane and Adelaide, said he understood their anger.
‘We’re 3-0 down after three games, so of course I can understand that,’ he said.
‘In a way, it’s good that they are angry, because it means they still see this as the pinnacle of the game. There’s no one here that doesn’t, either.
‘We’re desperate to put in strong performances. It’s just that we haven’t. When confidence is low in an Ashes series, and Australia are on top in their conditions, it can be extremely tough.’
Woakes was one of 10 players who took part in a voluntary net session at the MCG on what should have been the fourth morning of the Test – though only Haseeb Hameed, Zak Crawley and Dawid Malan of the side that lost by an innings and 14 were among them.
Ben Stokes (left) walks off following his dismissal by Mitchell Starc on day three at the MCG
Chris Woakes was dropped for the third Test having played in the Brisbane and Adelaide Tests
‘Everyone is disappointed and gutted,’ said Woakes. ‘Test cricket is not like a Premier League game, where you’re playing a new opposition the next weekend.
‘You’re playing the same people who’ve got you out, who’ve got runs against you, who’ve clearly got a good game plan that is working against you.
‘You have to find a way around that and see how we can move forward. We have to pick ourselves up and go again.’