The last time their batsmen posted 400 between them in an innings was the second Test in New Zealand in March, a time when I hadn't even opened this blog. In that time, they have tried and failed to reach that elusive milestone a mind-boggling 21 times, with 22 surely coming tomorrow. Leaving aside the possibility that The Popping Crease is cursed to cause English batting woes, what are the reasons behind such a feeble collective effort?
Bell, along with Joe Root, is one of only two English batsmen to have really shown his worth in the last few months. Bell's three hundreds in the first Ashes series led to him being named Man of the Series, an accolade he completely deserved. He wasn't always at his most fluent, and in the twelve months leading up to the Ashes was one of the slowest-scoring Test batsmen in the world, but he was willing to guts it out, and put his heart and soul into wearing down the Australians.
Root, meanwhile, had a largely fruitless Ashes summer rescued by a well-made 180 at Lord's. Once through a shaky patch against the new ball, he really made his opportunity count, which is something Pietersen has been guilty repeatedly of not doing. He has become the utility man of the English batting order: moved up to open when Compton was dropped, back down to six when Bairstow was dropped, and then up to three when Jonathan Trott's stress-related illness claimed him as a victim. If he was allowed to settle into a position and make it his own, I suspect that Joe Root might have more than two tons and three fifties to show for his last ten Tests.
But this isn't just an attack on Kevin Pietersen; he isn't the only batsman who isn't pulling his weight. In the last ten Tests, only two tons have been scored by anyone who isn't Root or Bell. One of them belongs to Alastair Cook, and came against the Kiwis in the May prologue to the Ashes. Since then he's mustered a few fifties, but nothing like the form he cultivated three years ago. The other, of course, belongs to Pietersen.
Jonathan Trott looked shot to pieces technically, but that might have had something to do with his mental state. I have the greatest respect for Trott as a player, and hope that he can return to the fifty-averaging, century-scoring number three that he was for years, and not the vulnerable, scratchy 2013 model. But if that isn't in his best interests as a person, then it shouldn't be in the best interests of the England set-up either.
Jonny Bairstow managed two fifties in seven summer Tests before being dropped for a propensity to miss full, straight deliveries. He has since been dragged from pillar to post as a drinks waiter and specialist sub-fielder.
Matt Prior, though, has been by far the most worrying. Off the back of his last Test ton, he was awarded with England's Player of the Year award. He deserved it, and at the time, it was difficult to question the status he had attained as the world's premier 'keeper-batsman. Now, his batting has declined horribly, his glovework is following suit, and his morale looks broken. Perhaps it might be time to call a halt to the torture and re-call Bairstow in hi place?
There have been others used, as well. Chris Woakes got a debut at The Oval, batting at six, and bowling a few overs of seam. He hit a couple of crisp boundaries, totalled 42 runs, and was shifted to a back-burner, collateral damage of Kerrigan's horror-debut. England have since turned to another surrogate Botham to bat at number six, with Ben Stokes. He is far from Botham-esque at present, but has at least shown the application and fighting spirit to collect 72 unbeaten runs going into tomorrow. He might even be the one to break the century-drought.
Another is already in the squad. Gary Ballance has scored runs for fun for Yorkshire. Gary Ballance has scored runs for fun for Mid West Rhinos. And England Lions. And the England Performance Programme. Perhaps it is too much to hope that he is the silver bullet, and the weight of that expectation was too much for Graeme Hick, but he can't be any less responsible than Kevin Pietersen, can he?
Bairstow, I think, has to come in for Prior, too. England would be hoping he could re-capture the Bairstow that took to the field against South Africa and carted their bowlers everywhere, but even if he can't, there's a chance he could just be competent behind the stumps and sensible in front of them. It would be an improvement right now. Otherwise, I would probably look to retain Cook, Carberry, Bell and Root. Stokes, also, would be unlucky not to retain his place, although he might have to slot in lower down the order.
Therefore, I would be looking these eight batting options for Brisbane:
Alastair Cook, Michael Carberry, Moeen Ali, Joe Root, Ian Bell, Gary Ballance, Jonny Bairstow, Ben Stokes.
It is theoretically possible that they could all play together, but more likely that one would have to miss out. It would, of course, be Moeen Ali because even in the midst of a crisis of potentially 2007 proportions, the English set-up has too much hubris to admit that it might need to call someone up from left-field. Cook, Compton, Root, Bell, Ballance, Bairstow, Stokes. It doesn't look very strong, really, does it?
Tomorrow: The bowling "attack", and a one-legged Broad.