The Ashes: 5-0 Australia

The title of this post says it all doesn’t it: Australia have won this Ashes series 5-0 and the breadth of the margin gives the best indication of the chasm between the form of the combatants.  Right from Day 1 of this series at the Gabba, England seemed to be unable to put away Australia when they were in front and so that trend continued in each test match of the summer.

Much has been made of our close the teams have been: and I agree that they are closer than the 5-0 result suggest, it is just that Australia has won every decisive moment of this series.  Every time Australia was in trouble with the bat there was a partnership that wrested the advantage from the English.  Conversely, every time England was in trouble they lost wickets in clusters and could not recover.

That fact alone shows you the difference in the line ups in this series: one was ruthless whilst the other was bereft.  Just as Australia was excellently coached and captained, it would appear that England lost their way both in the dressing room and on the field.

There were some fantastic individual performances in this series but to go through them would be to denigrate what was one of the best team performances I have seen from an Australian sporting team let alone a cricket team.  They were all united by Coach Lehmann and Captain Clarke with one purpose: the destruction of the English and, as a team, they succeeded in that purpose.

For England, there is only one shining light to come out of this tour and that is in the personage of Christchurch born Ben Stokes.  We will be seeing much more of him in years to come one suspects.

I have watched a lot of cricket and I have seen a lot of cricket live and I will say what I said after the first test of this series at the Gabba: I have never experienced crowd involvement in a game of cricket like that which I experienced at the Gabba and that involvement of the crowds has continued through each test right up until the end of the series today.  Australia has brought the passion of its fans, me included, back to the ground and the game, so much so that the anguish in the early hours of winter mornings in July and August is long forgotten.

Now, we have a tour to South African to look forward to which will present a new and different challenge for the Australian team.  With bated breath, I can not wait to see how that series unfolds between two of the heavyweight teams of the game.

The Ashes: 5th Test Teams

Australia: Rogers, Warner, Watson, Clarke (c), Smith, Bailey, Haddin (wkt), Johnson, Harris, Siddle, Lyon.

England: Cook (c), Carberry, Bell, Pietersen, Ballance, Stokes, Bairstow (wkt), Borthwick, Broad, Anderson, Rankin

Three changes for England: Root for Ballance, Borthwick for Panesar and Rankin for Bresnan.

Find it strange that Joe Root has been dropped and Carberry retained. One seemed to be the future for England but now is on the scrap heap and the other is Carberry. Panesar clearly did not have the confidence of his captain which makes his selection on tour surprising.

The Ashes: The Boxing Test so far … 5 questions being answered

Before the start of the 4th Ashes test in Melbourne I posed 5 questions that I thought the answers to would determine the ultimate winner of this game. They were:

1. How bad is the hangover?
2. Playing for careers, will England’s old guard fire?
3. How is Broad’s foot?
4. Can Monty succeed where Swann failed?
5. Will the Johnson bubble burst?

One didn’t need to be “Nostradamus” to know that the course of the game could hinge on the answers to these questions and, two days in, the evidence is already there to see why.

Mitchell Johnson again proved the doubters, me included, wrong with a withering spell of fast bowling in the last session of day 1 to rest the initiative gained away from England and then again in the morning of day 2 to knock them over. I remain concerned about the presence of a plan B when intimidation ceases to work but for now the Johnson caravan rolls on unabated.

I have written often about Jimmy Anderson’s form since Trent Bridge. Yesterday he showed Trent bridge like form for the first time since that test match and the Australian’s struggled for answers in reply. I have said before the class is permanent whilst form is temporary and Anderson’s class shone through again yesterday.

Stuart Broad’s foot, given that he coped another whack on it and bowled his swiftest spell of the summer yesterday is fine it would seem.

Australia had a bad day yesterday. Actually, Australia had 2 bad sessions yesterday. That was inevitable at some point in the series albeit many expected to see it sooner than now. Just as day 3 is the metaphorical moving day in golf parlance, the side hat wins day 3 today at the MCG will go a long to winning this game.

Play commences at 9:30am.

The Ashes: Boxing Day Test … 5 questions

It seems like it has been an age since Australia secured the return of the Ashes in the Perth and much has happened in the intervening period, not the least the retirement of Graeme Swann. From the outside looking in this fixture may seem like a dead rubber but for the Australian public this test presents another opportunity to demolish an English side seemingly close to breaking point.

Here are my 5 key questions the answers of which will, in my view, determine the ultimate outcome of the game:

1. How bad is the hangover?

The Australians celebrated their victory in Perth long and hard, as they were entirely entitled to do. It is completely understandable that they might be a little flat for this encounter given that the principle job they had for the series is done. One suspects the Darren Lehmann is too savvy a man manager to have let the Australians to have taken their collective eyes off the ball too much but still he will have a big job getting his team mentally up for this game.

2. Playing for careers, will England’s old guard fire?

The fact it is has been the senior players for England that have let them down in this series and one suspects that another failure in Melbourne could see the end of the careers of the likes of Pietersen, Anderson and maybe even Cook. All three are quality players and have too much class to have an extended long run of bad form. The question though will be whether mentally they have much more fight left them.

3. How is Broad’s foot?

In the midst of another woeful performance by the English is stood out, particularly when Shane Watson was going crazy on the fourth morning at Perth just how much they missed Stuart Broad. He has been the best bowler of tour for the English and, more to the point, he is a personality that has the ability to lift his team around him. If he is not 100% fit then that will be a body blow for the English chances.

4. Can Monty succeed where Graeme failed?

Shane Watson’s demolition of Graeme Swann has been one of the principal moments in the series where Australia’s dominance has been most overtly on display. The Australians have been overt about their intention to attack Panesar with vigour and how he reacts to such an assault will play a large factor in the course of this game. England relied on Swann for long spells of run less overs and Monty will need to replicate that in Melbourne.

5. Will the Johnson bubble burst?

Mitchell Johnson has been nothing short of excellent this test series. The plan from Australia has been to bowl short and intimidate the English batsmen and Johnson has been the perfect protagonist in the execution of that play. I commented during the Perth test match that I was wondering whether England had become aware, finally, of the plan and had found a way to combat same. We have not seen a plan B from Johnson which he may need on an MCG wicket that has been less than receptive to short bowling of late.

The Boxing Day test match is a special event on the Australian sporting calendar. I prefer the Gabba test for obvious reasons however all eyes in Australia will be drawn to TV sets around the country for the first ball which gets away at 10am today.

The Ashes: The Urn is Returning!!! Time for some credit where it is due!

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:

Nathan Lyon

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.

Brad Haddin

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.

Craig McDermott

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!