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England Ashes flops in career fears

MATT-PRIORPERTH, Australia, December 18 – England’s senior players are facing tough questions over their international careers after flopping badly in the embarrassing Ashes defeat to Australia.

While major changes are unlikely mid-series, some players who have formed the backbone of a previously successful team will rightly be nervous about their futures.

Thirty-somethings Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Graeme Swann and James Anderson, along with captain Alastair Cook, all went missing as Australia won emphatically in Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth to take an unbeatable 3-0 lead in the five-match series.

Head coach Andy Flower is yet to pledge his future beyond this series, and with the England and Wales Cricket Board also about to welcome a new national selector and managing director, a significant shift seems likely.

Cook, 28, cautioned against “radical decisions” ahead of the final two Tests in Melbourne and Sydney, a call echoed by the British press.

“When the game’s just finished and everyone’s really emotive and it’s hurting like it’s hurting, you could make some very radical decisions which could be the wrong ones,” he said.

“These have to be very cool, calculated decisions at the right time.”

However, it seems inconceivable that England will not try to rebuild as they look ahead to the next Ashes series in 2015.

Wicketkeeper Prior could be the first to go after making just 107 runs at 17.83, and missing two stumpings and a catch in a disastrous showing on the third day in Perth.

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“It’s a possibility of course,” said Flower, when asked if Prior could be replaced by Jonny Bairstow, 24, for the fourth Test.

“Matt Prior has been an outstanding cricketer for England during a second phase of his English career.

“But like all those positions we have to review them. We constantly review what our best side will be and we also have to have an eye to the future as well.”

Flower admitted England’s veterans were going through “tough periods in their careers” and indicated they would need to find their form quickly.

“It doesn’t mean their careers are over. But it does mean they need to call on that experience to help them get out of a tough time quicker than other people,” he said.

‘We are always playing for our future’

The English came into the tour full of confidence after their 3-0 defeat of Australia on home soil just three months earlier.

Ranked third in the world, they were unbeaten in four Test series, winning three of them, and they had also celebrated three Ashes series victories in a row.

However, a closer look at the figures reveals that it had also been eight Tests since England last posted a score of more than 400.

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Their batting fragility in this year’s previous Ashes series was masked by the brilliance of Ian Bell, who scored 562 runs at 62.44, plus Pietersen’s 388 at 38.80.

In the current series, England have barely fired a shot, with go-to men Cook, Pietersen and Prior all struggling to make an impact.

It took New Zealand-born Ben Stokes, 22 and playing just his second Test, to post their first century of the series with his valiant second-innings stand in Perth.

Cook’s figures for this series stand at a meagre 154 runs at 25.66, while Pietersen, 33, has 165 at 27.50 and has been guilty of soft dismissals almost every time.

Among the bowlers, experienced duo Swann, 34, and Anderson, 31, have also been well short of their best form.

Swann has 255 Test victims but only seven in this series at 80 apiece, while Anderson, who has 336 Test wickets, has the same tally at an average of 58.42.

The end of Australia’s second innings in Perth summed up Anderson’s woes, when he was humiliatingly smashed for a record-equalling 28 in one over by George Bailey.

Cook conceded Swann and Anderson were among those who weren’t performing to their potential. But he warned that no England player could feel safe from the axe.

“There’s so many good players around in England wanting to be in the 11 spots we presently hold. So we are always playing for our future,” said Cook.

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