I’m an English sports fan, so I’m not naturally very good at schadenfreude. I don’t tend to get many opportunities to practise, but at 12.56am (GMT) on Friday 7th January 2011, England won the Sydney test match against Australia, concluding a dominant 3-1 series win to retain The Ashes.
‘3-1’ doesn’t quite do justice to what actually happened. I’ve been thinking for a few days how I was going to write this piece, until I was alerted to an article written by Will Swanton before the series started, back in November 2010, entitled 10 Reasons the Poms won’t Win. Of course it’s hyperbole and overstated, but you might be able to guess from the title of my piece that I’m revelling in the glory of hindsight to take Mr Swanton’s brave assertions to task and review how England did win The Ashes for the 3rd time in the last 4 series.
They [England] walked around The Oval after their dominant home summer like they were God’s gifts to Wisden. Here’s who they really beat. No one. Nuffies and cheats. England clean-swept the worst team on the planet, Bangladesh, and then won three out of four Tests against rotten Pakistan. Now they’re portrayed as superstars.
Er, not really. But we did recognise this was perhaps our best chance to win in Australia for a generation. Before the Ashes England were ranked 3rd in the ICC Test Rankings, with 112 points. Australia were 4th with 110. There has been a nice joke going around (among many, many others) in the last couple of days…
What do you call a world-class Australian cricketer? Retired.
2. Kevin Pietersen
He might be growing a moustache for a very good cause but he’s still getting around looking like Dirk Diggler out of Boogie Nights. His most recent Test efforts have been the biggest joke. John Buchanan was right with his assessment of Pietersen. Buchanan was panned because the truth hurt. There’s more than one ‘I’ in Kevin Pietersen and it hurts morale.
It was true that against South Africa and Pakistan in 2009/2010 Pietersen had averaged barely 25 and didn’t score a century during the 12 months before The Ashes, even including 4 tests against Bangladesh. BUT…
…he averaged 60 in The Ashes, scoring more runs in 6 innings than any Australian (except Watson and Hussey) managed in 9 innings. He hit a career-best 227 at Adelaide and was the only batsmen in either side’s top six with a strike rate over 60.
3. No top speedster
Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Steve Finn are respectable quicks. But they lack the fear factor. Every truly great attack has someone pushing 150km/h, like Mitchell Johnson does for Australia. None of the touring fast bowlers are frightening. Away from swing and seam-friendly England, that doesn’t leave them with much.
When Mitchell Johnson came out to bat on the last day of the series, The Barmy Army rose to welcome him with their tribute song…
He bowls to the left, he bowls to the right, that Mitchell Johnson – his bowling is shite
In Perth Johnson took 9/82 and blew England away in their first innings with a spell of almost unplayable hostility and venom. In the rest of the series he took 6/472 at nearly 4.5 runs per over. The worst economy rate from the England bowlers was Steve Finn at 4.3, but Anderson, Bresnan and Broad all average under 3 runs per over.
In Sydney England’s bowlers generated swing and movement where Australia could not. Everyone in the English attack took wickets and looked like taking wickets. Across the whole series, England took a wicket every 9 overs, while Australia took nearly 15 overs. The England attack as a whole has become more than the sum of its parts.
4 Passive captain
Andrew Strauss has to lead by example because his introverted demeanour doesn’t get the blood pumping too much. Only his scores do. He leads with quiet assurance when things are going well. But he comes across as introverted and submissive when things start going pear-shaped.
307 runs, 1 century and 3 fifties at 44 made Strauss only the 5th best English batsmen, but just for a moment let’s compare that to Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain. Even including 51* in the dead final innings at Brisbane he scored 113 runs from 8 innings at just 16.1, a worse performance than even the much-maligned Michael Clarke, newcomer Steven Smith and bowler Peter Siddle. After the first innings at Brisbane until Perth, his bowlers took 304 overs to take 6 wickets. His impotency and frustration ultimately led to an ugly on-field row with the umpire.
Just as England are only slowly getting used to winning, Ponting is a distinctly ungracious loser. But he is a loser (3 out of the last 4 Ashes series).
5 No superstars
Pietersen is as good as anyone when he’s in the mood, but he hasn’t been in the mood for a long time. He couldn’t make a hundred against Bangladesh – his 99 was close but no cigar – and Doug Bollinger, Ben Hilfenhaus and Johnson can smell blood. Graeme Swann is the only Englishman to make a world XI right now.England are successful because they know their limitations. Which means there are limitations.
I hope I’ve already dealt with KP… Looking at test performances over 2010 (which includes most of the Ashes), A World XI would be largely made up of Indians and South Africans – they are the best two teams after all. However, Jonathan Trott and Alistair Cook feature well in the top test batsmen, while Jimmy Anderson and Graeme Swann are in with a shout as bowlers from the England squad. No Australians get even close. In fact, only Mike Hussey would get into a Best Ashes XI, let alone anything grander.
They’ve faced bowling machines with footage of Australian speedsters running in at them – and still didn’t want to know about Mitchell Johnson. They’ve given themselves three weeks in Australia to acclimatise but haven’t played on pitches like the monster they’ll encounter at the Gabba. Every breath they take is a part of a suffocating plan. There’s no freedom, nothing instinctive or adventurous. Paralysis by over-analysis.
There’s a famous saying about American Football: ‘offense sells tickets, defence wins championships’. England’s plans are how to take 20 wickets, and prevent the other team from taking 20 wickets. England occupied the crease until the Aussie bowlers wilted and lost discipline (which didn’t take long) and bowled tremendously as a unit. The only paralysis was in the Australian team. Unable to overcome the suffocating English team, they tried to play adventurously and instinctively and they got themselves out, none more amusingly than Shane Watson…
7 No depth
In such a cramped schedule, injuries are bound to hit both camps. England are in serious strife if they lose any of their first XI. There’s a vast gulf between their top-tier players and those on the standby list. Australia can only hope and pray that off-spinner Monty Panesar is called in for Graeme Swann. Australia have eight Test-standard speedsters in the queue.
Rubbish. Tim Bresnan & Chris Tremlett came off the standby list to play 5 tests between them. They took 28 wickets at under 22 runs each, far better than (virtually) all the Australian bowlers, top-tier (sic) or not.
Phil Hughes came in to replace Simon Katich and batted 6 times for just 97 runs. Only 3 Australian bowlers managed an average of under 60, while every England bowler (except the injured Broad) averaged under 40…
This is England we’re talking about. Losing is a tradition. Think soccer World Cups. Think Tim Henman at Wimbledon. Think every cricket tour of Australia since 1986-87. They always arrive talking themselves up, vowing they won’t wilt under the heat and pressure and scrutiny, then wilt under the heat and pressure and scrutiny. They’ve hired a self-described Yips Doctor – because they need one.
After England lost Captain Strauss for a 3rd ball-duck on the first morning in Brisbane, and conceded over 200 runs on 1st innings, I’m sure Will Swanton was enjoying these words. However, England’s next 2 innings were worth 1,137/6. After being blitzed on the Gabba, England then bounced back with 1,157 in 2 innings at Melbourne and Sydney, bowling out Australia 4 times for just 917.
After the 1st test, Australia couldn’t manage more than 309 in an innings. Their top 4 wickets only twice made more than 134 in 8 innings. The bowlers were listless and ill-disciplined, lacking bite. There appeared to be no fight from Australia, perhaps the most shocking aspect of the last few weeks. And now they seem to be in denial about it.
Everyone keeps rattling on about England’s perfect preparation. They must be having a laugh. A few of them made runs at Adelaide Oval. It’s like batting on the Hume Highway. Anyone seen the scorecards? Western Australia rolled England for 223. South Australia dismissed them for 288 on the Hume. And Australia A ripped through their top order in Hobart A yesterday. Perfectly prepared? Piffle.
He’s right (at last). The preparation only counts for so much. England won where it mattered.
Five of their top six batsmen are the same lot who stumbled and bumbled through the 5-0 loss on England’s last trip to Australia. The scarring is deep and real. Jimmy Anderson’s memories of Australia are all nightmarish. He averaged 45.16. Broad and Finn are yet to play a Test series in Australia. Hard surfaces jarring bones and muscles, oppressive heat – they won’t know what or who has hit them.
Broad got injured, but bowled 70 overs at less than 2.3 runs per over. Finn took more wickets in 3 tests than any Aussie bowler except Johnson, with a better average than Siddle or Hilfenhaus. Anderson bowled 56 more overs (35% more) than any Aussie pace bowler, taking 24 wickets at less than 26 runs each and 3 runs per over.
Alistair Cook scored almost as many runs as Australia’s No.1, 2 & 3 combined. He scored more centuries than their entire team. Despite 2-3 fewer innings each, England’s top 6 scored 2,290 runs compared to Australia’s 1,722. They achieved 2 double-hundreds, 6 centuries and 10 fifties, compared to just 2 centuries and 11 fifites. Four of the English Top 6 averaged over 60 for the series, against one Australian.
I’ve barely mentioned Matt Prior or Ian Bell (nearly 600 runs at over 50), and only skimmed the surface of Cook’s amazing series. But in the big scheme of things, England are now clearly the 3rd best test team in the world. They must now prove themselves against South Africa and India. But Australia have fallen from 4th to 5th behind Sri Lanka, and it’s hard to see them coming back very quickly. Shame.