I have been a fan of cricket since as long as I can remember. I have loved the game of cricket since the first time I picked up a Symonds Tusker from the club under 12 kit bag as a 9 year old and strode out to take guard for Booval Cricket Club at Silkstone State School. In my now 27 years of loving this wonderful game I have bled the maroon of the Queensland Bulls and I have bled the green of the Australian baggy green as those teams have gone into battle. It would be fair to say that I can not remember a series of cricket nor a win of a series as this Ashes series just won by Australia that has effected me as much as this one has. I am not ashamed at all to admit that I had watery eyes after the final wicket was taken.
I have been pondering why this is and have come to a pretty simple answer: I hate losing and, more to the point, I hate losing to England. Losing to England to me is just as bad as losing, as a Queenslander, to New South Wales in State of Origin (or anything else for that matter).
Off the back of the English regaining the Ashes 2-1 in 2009, they absolutely smashed Australia on our own turf in 2010/11 (the result in Perth was an aberation) and then just this winter gone Australia was beaten without finding a way to win again in England. And I have hated every minute of it!
Coming into this series I was hopeful for a positive result and yet dismayed at what I saw was a poor preparation from the Australian team. I tipped England to win the Ashes which was my head leading me astray when my heart was screaming “WE CAN WIN THIS!” and “COME ON YOU BIG BASTARD, GET BEHIND YOUR TEAM!”. I was wrong. Scratch that: I was spectacularly wrong and win it Australia has.
This series win is a triumph for many. Whilst there are many who get the obvious plaudits, the names Johnson, Warner and Clarke the headliners (don’t get me wrong: they have been brilliant but I want to focus elsewhere), here are the players / coaches I most happy for and, to me, deserve as big, if not bigger, coronations that usual suspects because of the roll that they have played in the dismantling of England and their domination of their direct opponent:
I am an unabashed Nathan Lyon fan. I was not always but I was swayed both by looking at his numbers and by the injustice of the manner with which those in power (Invers and Howard) treated him, particularly in England this winter. It is easy to forget that he was not included in the team for the first two tests of the English winter series in favour of a 19 year old who had played only 3 first class games. He has been a vital part of Australia’s bowling attack this series: taking a wicket at least in every innings Australia has bowled and, more particularly, taking what could be described as “big wickets” when his team needed them most. The ultimate team man and the singer of Australia’s victory song he has gone from a forgotten man to a vital cog in the bowling attack that returned the Ashes. He has been easily the better of the two principal spinners: stats don’t lie and with Swann averaging 80 runs per wicket compared to Lyon’s 31.40 is enough said.
Converse to my position on Nathan Lyon, I have taken a long time to warm to Brad Haddin and his return to the test team for the series in England. I have strongly advocated for the elevation of Chris Hartley to the team. That statement out of the way: there can be no denying that Brad Haddin has been Australia’s player of the series so far. Vital runs just about every time he has batted has been combined with a display of wicketkeeping that has had even the harshest of judges of wicketkeepers (other wicketkeepers including I Healy) waxing lyrical about his work behind the stumps. Again, the comparison between his form and that of his direct competitor, Matt Prior, is an easy one and can be pin pointed as one of the principal reasons Australia is leading this series 3-0. Simply put Prior is in the worst form of his career with both the bat and the gloves whilst Haddin could now, hypothetically, play into his 40s should he wish to.
Much of the applause for Australia’s performance, from me included, has gone to Darren Lehmann. Deserving of just as much as credit for the current score line is the bowling coach, Craig McDermott. The architect of the bowling plans that have been so successful (one assumes) and the man who has gotten inside the mind of Mitchell Johnson deserves great credit for effect the bowlers from Australia have had on shaping this series. In Brisbane, the short pitched barrage rocked the English back on their heels whilst the advocation of a fuller length in Perth reaped excellent results epitomised by by Ryan Harris’ delivery to bowl the English captain with the first ball of the English second innings. David Saker, conversely for the English and surprisingly given his years in the Sheffield Shield competition, has not been able to get the best out his bowlers and they have failed to execute on any of the plans he would have put in place at the start of the tour.
I am sure there are others who deserve much praise for their roles in shaping this Australian team and this series however these are the three men for me who deserve a massive amount of kudos and whose results in this series have given me the most pleasure.
This series has renewed my formerly flagging love of the game that had been battered by the idiocy of some of the decision making at the top of the ICC and CA and the insurrection into the game that has been T20 cricket. I can not wait now until the Boxing Day for the start of the fourth test of this series. More particularly I can not wait to be in Sydney for the handing over the Urn at the end of the fifth test (I love it when a plan comes to together). That said: there is now a nine day break in hostilities and it is time for Australian players, coaches and fans to enjoy the return of the Urn. I know I will!