It would be amiss to not start the piece without a congratulatory note to the England team for ensuring that the Ashes were retained. This has not happened for 24 years and that is quite a wait. What has astounded me however was how easily they managed to do it. At the time of writing this piece they still have not beaten Australia in Australia but a 3-1 series win is more likely than a 2-2 drawn series. That is quite an emphatic score line and in essence a fair reflection of how the teams have played in the series.
What has been amply clear during the series is how well England had prepared themselves for the tour. Overall they out batted, out bowled and quite consistently out fielded Australia. They have done all this on an away tour and it’s no mean feat. All of this wouldn’t be possible without proper planning. England landed in Australia a good 3 weeks in advance of the first test and had three practise games before the first test. What this did was to ensure that the playing XI had ample time to get used to the conditions, work on their basic game and get into test match mode. They were coming off a month’s break after their summer series involving Bangladesh and Pakistan. Australia on the other hand played a two test series in India. Astoundingly, Australia then on their return back prepared for the first test by playing a T20 game followed by a three match ODI series. It didn’t help that they then managed to lose the single T20 game, followed by losing their first ever ODI series at home to the Lankans. Not quite the confidence booster then, following the series defeat in India.
Adding to the daft planning, the Australian team selection was a shambolic affair. 10 days before the first test they didn’t know their preferred pace bowling attack, which spinner would play, who would play in the middle order. Cast your mind back three years, and the Australian team that would step on field could (barring injuries) be written down months in advance. They were that settled, before this Ashes series they were just confused. In contrast, England pretty much knew what their starting line up was going to be. The questions they had were Eoin Morgan or Paul Collingwood, and where should Ian Bell bat. Australian selectors came up with the selection of Xavier Doherty (who as per media reports had impressed Ponting in the nets, which doesn’t do Ponting too much credit!) as their preferred spin option. He was clearly shown to be out of his depth in the two tests he played and was promptly put to pasture.
The English bowling attack should take immense credit for quite simply not allowing the Australian batsman any lee way. A lot of doubt was cast on how the attack would perform, with only James Anderson having played tests in Australia before. Only in the first innings at the Gabba did they underperform by allowing Australia to recover from being 148/5 to go on and get a 200 run lead. Even the backup options Chris Tremlett and Tim Bresnan effortlessly slotted into the playing XI when called up and performed well. While the English bowling performed extremely well, what was also impressive was how well the English batsman ensured that the advantage the bowlers got was never squandered. You only have to look at their batting efforts in Adelaide and at Melbourne where their bowlers set the game up, and their batsman made sure Australia didn’t get a look in at all. In both those at the end of day two, there was only ever going to be one winner.
A lot was written on how Alaistair Cook was a walking wicket following his poor summer of scores and now, he has made some scores and how! While he made slight adjustments to his batting techniques with the help of Graham Gooch, he still had to go out and perform and he did. Started the series with a half century at the Gabba and from there on has been the veritable thorn for the Australians. That’s mighty impressive considering as an opener he ensured that at least one side remained strong right at the top. With Jonathan Trott at number three also performing well, it basically ensured that Australia never quite broke through the batting line up. The Perth test was an aberration and the cool, calm response from Andrew Strauss at the end of the match showed how much self confidence the English team had.
The English fielding effort throughout the first four tests were also miles ahead of the Australians. The slip catching was good and until the first morning of the Melbourne test they didn’t let go of one chance. The ground fielding was solid and not spectacular but even there they seemed to be a lot more composed compared to the Australians. The run out of Simon Katich in the first morning of the Adelaide test was a prime example of how they ensured not one chance was missed. Within 10 minutes of that test Australia were 2/3, with one run out and two slip catches. Match over. Might be over emphasising it, but perhaps the Collingwood catch at Perth took a huge chunk of whatever confidence Ponting might have had.
The West Indies team of the 80’s started the tactic of “knock over the captain and the team will follow”, and this series gave prime example of that. Save for that only good for the record books 50 in the second innings at the Gabba, Ricky Ponting did not make a single significant contribution in the entire series. He even had the ignominy of a first ball duck in the first innings of his 150th test.
Put all these factors together and it’s quite clear as to how England have managed to retain the Ashes with a test to spare. A 3 – 1 score line at the end of the series is not impossible to see and in reality would be a right reflection of the mindset of the two teams. The only worry might be that the team will struggle to come down from the high of having already retained the Ashes but the Two Andys have shown to be made of a different cloth. They would have stressed the need to ensure ending the series on a proper high with another win at Sydney and no matter which spinner Australia pick, Swann should be their trump card there to ensure it happens.
Guest Column by Dilip Poduval
Dilip is a self confessed fan of the Australian cricket team. Helped that as a kid, they were the team that ensured England didn’t go on to win the Reliance World Cup in 1987 after beating India in the semis, while they themselves beat Pakistan in the other semi final. One of his best days supporting the team came during the 1999 world cup and THAT match. Has a dubious honour of twice going to Chepauk stadium to watch a match and go home after the team he supported lost. Saw Sachin tear into Warne during the 1998 test, and then saw what he considers Sachin best test knock – the 136 against Pakistan in 1999. Besides following cricket, he is also a fan of Manchester United and the Ferrari formula one team. He is seen ranting, raving and everything else in between on twitter as the @tifosiguy. He occasionally blogs at http://tifosiguysblog.blogpost.com