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Hoffmann: England's swagger goes AWOL

Sir Ian Botham looked less beefy and more sheepish after watching his beloved England succumb to another comprehensive defeat at the Adelaide Oval in the second Test of the Ashes series.

James Anderson and Monty Panesar walk off after another England horror show. Picture: PA
James Anderson and Monty Panesar walk off after another England horror show. Picture: PA

In the build-up to the latest campaign, the former star all-rounder, who is doing advertising work for an online bookmakers as well as his punditry duties with Sky, predicted a 5-0 rout in favour of his compatriots.

Botham, of course, might still be correct about the score. But it certainly will not be in the way he would have hoped. On the contrary, and almost since the moment this tour hit the buffers during a few rain-affected warm-up fixtures for the main event, the English have been outthought, outfought and out-caught in half-a-dozen minds with a frequency many observers still seem to find bewildering.

Jonathan Trott has returned home with a stress-related illness. James Anderson appears to have gone AWOL. Graeme Swann is regularly being eclipsed by Nathan Lyon. Stuart Broad, who was booed to the crease in Brisbane, is now viewed by the larrikin fraternity more with pity than as one of life's natural pantomime villains. Alastair Cook, the captain, has been discombobulated by the raw pace, penetration and belligerent desire of the same bowling attack - with the notable exception of Mitchell Johnson - which performed in England during the relatively comfortable 3-0 series victory for the ECB's finest only four months ago.

It has been a remarkable transformation in the sides' fortunes and yet it was not wholly unexpected, considering the fashion in which Johnson served notice of his threat during the ODI contests between the teams in September. But even then, too many seemed to view his wickets as an irrelevance when they should have been studying the unbridled aggression and 93mph deliveries which he sends flying past opponents' nostrils.

Certainly, recent events have not come as a massive surprise to Paul Hoffmann, the former Scotland paceman, who is now back working in Rockhampton. Last month, before the hostilities had even commenced, he predicted the Australians would prevail on their own pitches and his confidence increased once he surveyed the names on the England tour squad. In which light, and although the battle hasn't quite finished, Hoffmann said yesterday that he now anticipated a whitewash for Michael Clarke's personnel.

"England turned up with a swagger, thinking they were going to win easily, but the Johnson effect has really got into their heads and they don't know how to deal with him," declared Hoffmann. "It has been a while since the English top order has been out of their comfort zone, and they haven't coped at all well with the pressure.

"They are also complaining about being subjected to mental disintegration and unfair criticism by the press, which is a bit rich when you consider the stick that the Australians, and especially Johnson, used to get from the UK tabloids.

"Deep down, I am sure they [Cook & Co] had concerns about Johnson, given his form in India recently. Yes, they suffered from poor preparations for the Ashes, but nothing should detract from the fact that Australia have blown them away in every department. You can see the hunger in the eyes of the Aussies, whereas rumours abound over here of factions within the England dressing room. England also picked a lot of beanpole fast bowlers, which has just played into their opponents' hands. [Steven] Finn and [Boyd] Rankin were disappointing in the warm-up games, while [Chris] Tremlett struggled to bowl above medium pace at The Gabba [in Brisbane]. It just hasn't worked for them."

Botham was still clutching at straws, impervious to the cumulative impact of defeats by 381 and 218 runs in the opening contests, and England's dismal record in Perth, where they have to try and regroup later this week. They might drop Swann and bring in Finn or Tim Bresnan. They might also plump for the inexperienced Gary Ballance, on the basis that he can't do any worse than some of those already chosen.

But, in the final analysis, one suspects the damage has been inflicted by the hosts, who have gained sufficient initiative to complete the job in the next week. They still aren't a great side, by any means, and the likes of Joe Root, Ian Bell, Michael Carberry and Kevin Pietersen have shown occasional glimpses of the bravado which might turn things round if the Australians lose a couple of sessions, but it is asking an awful lot of the tourists to reverse the steep decline which has been evident over the past fortnight.

Hoffmann has no doubts on that issue and delivered his own forecast. "I definitely believe Australia are in a prime position to win this series and do so 5-0, because England have a lot of rebuilding to do to sort things out. The middle of an Ashes battle is not the time to do that!"

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