Broad and Cook are England greats but, battered by the Aussies, their time is now up

Alastair Cook has made less than 100 runs in the Ashes series so far

If, like me, you’ve been going down to sleep during the Ashes with your smart-phone or radio lying beside your bed, or your alarm set for the very early hours, your sleeping pattern is about to take a turn for the better.

England, just like they did in both 2006/07 and 2013/014, have given up the little urn to Australia in the space of just three humiliating Test matches down under.

Stuart Broad has just five wickets in the series so far

So unless you’re a glutton for punishment, you can look forward to a Christmas and New Year without burning the midnight oil for the sake of cricket.

Thousands of fans from the UK who have already spent thousands on flying out for showpiece Test matches in Melbourne and Sydney have no choice though, they will be flying out to see if English can restore a measure of pride by avoiding the dreaded 5-0 whitewash. Good luck with that one.

This of course was billed (pre-Ben Stokes) as a truly competitive Ashes series in the making. After all, Australia aren’t exactly crash hot these days. A year ago, the bulk of these current Ashes winners were being routed on their home grounds by an ordinary South Africa side.

Few pundits predicted another humiliation for England but if Joe Root’s team go down to another whitewash, and it’s difficult to foresee any other result unless Australia not so much take the foot off the accelerator as slam on the brakes, this will be the worst drubbing of the lot.

England's Joe Root and Australia's Steve Smith pose for a photo during a press conference at The Gabba, Brisbane. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.

If you delve deeper though, the writing was on the wall from the moment CCTV footage leaked of Stokes involved in an early-morning brawl in Bristol in September.

There was no way that Stokes, England’s talisman not even so much as for his all-round cricketing ability but for his unbowed spirt and willingness to get in the faces of the Australians, would be boarding the plane.

Stokes’ presence wouldn’t have changed the destination of the Ashes - Australia have been too formidable at home for that - but his absence exposed the fault lines in an England team that increasingly suffers from travel sickness.

The likes of Mark Stoneman and Dawid Malan, in the pivotal batting positions of opener and number five, were billed as potential rabbits stuck in Aussie headlights, but the two left-handers, and Malan in particular, have demonstrated an ability to mix it with the Aussies all too absent in two of England’s Ashes greats, Alastair Cook and Stuart Broad.

With hindsight, perhaps Cook should have seen the writing on the wall. With the soaring exception of a double-hundred against the West Indies, Cook enjoyed a wretched summer at home in England, glaring faults in his technique exposed by South Africa’s pacemen on admittedly helpful pitches.

The former captain had already experienced largely dismal Ashes tours in both ‘06 and ‘13, the Australian attack canny enough and accurate enough not to feed his strengths on the short ball and square of the wicket. Cook overcome those difficulties in series that followed, mental strength more than technique always his greatest attribute.

But to watch the 32-year-old on this tour has been to watch someone at odds with his game. He is no longer working with long-time coach and mentor Graeme Gooch and even one of his former greatest strengths - his assured playing of spin bowling - now looks another glaring weakness. Nathan Lyon, among others, almost has him in his back pocket.

Cook, if he wishes, should be given another two Test matches as a swansong, if only because the only alternative in the touring party is Gary Ballance, another suspect left-hander with no opening credentials to speak of. Cook is no Graeme Swann, the off-spinner who quit midway through the last Ashes humiliation four years ago when England still needed him, but after 11 years on the road Cook looks physically and mentally scared, with just 83 runs at an average of 13 in three Test matches and lagging behind Australia’s number nine Pat Cummins in the batting statistics. He shouldn’t tour New Zealand in February, allowing an alternative opener to try his hand away from the Ashes cauldron and against a much less formidable Kiwi attack.

Broad’s demise is perhaps much more surprising. After all he was England’s best bowler in Australia four years ago, raging against the dying light as his fellow bowlers, James Anderson and Swann included, were pulverised into the Aussie dust. But now, despite boasting the height to prosper on Australian pitches, Broad has almost appeared to be bowling on lifeless subcontinental surfaces, so little help has he extracted.

With the bat too, he has come to symbolise a wretched tour. To watch Broad, once good enough to make a glorious Test match hundred against Pakistan, backing away to square leg amidst the dying embers of the Perth defeat was to invite unfortunate parallels with a pantomime character.

Of course Broad could yet go to New Zealand and go on another of those hot streaks for which he has been famous. But what would that achieve? Broad surely won’t tour again, at 32 his place in Ashes folklore assured after the victories of 2009, 2013 and 2015, but surely now a busted flush.

It’s time to move on. Time stands still for no-one.

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