Monday 19 February 2018 / 05:07 PM

A Pom's View – The Urn Returns

So it’s official, Australia have regained the Ashes. Shortly after lunch on the fifth day of play at Perth, James Anderson prodded to short leg off Mitchell Johnson, giving Australia a third successive win that has earnt them that little urn.

Before we review the Perth game and the series in general so far, it’s important to say this: Congratulations Australia. Michael Clarke’s men have been by far the better side, and fully deserve to have control of the Ashes once more. As an Englishman it has been a pleasure to watch such a brilliant display of controlled and excellent batting, bowling and fielding. Enjoy the party!

Poor batting at the root of England’s woes

Most glaringly, England have failed to really fire with the bat, leaving them with a mountain to climb by the time it has come to chase down the runs. This has of course not been helped by the fact that Alastair Cook has lost three successive tosses; but it would be churlish in the extreme to attribute even a percentile of the loss to the captain’s lack of luck.

It is impossible to consider the abysmal English batting performances without giving credit to the Australian bowlers; as of course, they were the men who got them out. What has been clear since day one of this Ashes series is that Michael Clarke and Darren Lehmann have concocted a plan to deal with the threats posed by the senior English batsmen.

Often a thorn in the side of Australia in the past, Cook and Kevin Pietersen have been totally neutralised by the Aussie attack this time around, and I believe that Lehmann and Clarke deserve significant praise for the way in which this has been masterminded. Playing on Cook’s preference to bat off his back foot – especially early in his innings – Australia have generally made sure to pitch the ball up to Cook, forcing him into a front foot shot that he is not comfortable with. As far as Pietersen is concerned, the Aussies have played the South African-born’s ego perfectly, repeatedly using Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon against him to coax the aggressive batsman into a rash shot.

The result of the poor performances of Cook and Pietersen has meant a lack of backbone to the English batting order; and this goes some way to explaining the brevity with which each England innings has been conducted. In theory, these two – along with Ian Bell – are meant to be the senior figures who remain constants in each English innings, but their failure to stay in has resulted in some very poor scores for Andy Flower’s side.

There’s no ‘I’ in team

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons why Australia now hold the urn is that they have played as a team; and sadly this has been in stark contrast to the way that Alastair Cook’s England have played.

Too often, the English batsmen have allowed themselves to enter into personal battles; and this has had only a detrimental effect on the side. Kevin Pietersen is perhaps the biggest culprit, having holed out repeatedly down the leg side in an effort to get one up on Siddle or Lyon. This was of course an Australian ploy, and playing on Pietersen’s pride has been one of the most important reasons why the prolific batsman has failed to fire.

Michael Clarke noted the marked contrast in the level of teamwork in the two sides in his press conference, and it’s hard to disagree with him. The Australian team have been a homogenous cricketing machine; the bowlers doing exactly what their captain wants, and the batsmen batting to a precise plan. Despite the feeling of disappointment from an English perspective, one cannot fail to be impressed at the camaraderie clearly present in this Australian dressing room.

Poor selection costs England dearly

Some of England’s selections have been puzzling in the extreme, and I have little doubt that they have contributed towards the capitulation we have seen in all three tests.

When the touring party was announced, no one was really surprised to see that England were taking four tall pace bowlers on tour; as after all in the heat of the Australian summer, playing on hard and fast wickets, it makes sense to have as much bounce and pace as you can. What is perplexing though is that despite having four to choose from, England have only fielded one out and out tall pace bowler throughout the series so far; with Stuart Broad being the only one entrusted with all three tests. Given the success that Mitchell Johnson has enjoyed with his aggressive fast bowling, it seemed logical for Tremlett, Finn or Rankin to be given a chance; but aside from an outing for Tremlett in Adelaide; the other tall bowlers have not featured.

Rather than play the quicks, which seemed like the logical thing to do, Cook and Flower have trusted in the waning qualities of Graeme Swann to take wickets; and this has been a gamble that has failed catastrophically. In addition to this, Tim Bresnan was brought in for the third test, and his medium pace has not been a success.

Only one captain fantastic

Although Michael Clarke is a little bit older than Alastair Cook, the two men are at similar stages of their careers. Both are considered key personnel for their countries for a number of years, both have reached 100 tests and both have been made captain of their respective sides.

However, there has been one key difference between the two men in this series – Michael Clarke’s captaincy has been exemplary whilst Alastair Cook’s has left a lot to be desired. Clarke’s energy and tactical ability has been showcased brilliantly in this series, and his knack of setting fielding traps has paid serious dividends. In stark contrast, Cook has often looked clueless when out in the field, with some strange fielding decisions and even stranger bowling ones. The searing heat and the injury to Stuart Broad has not helped his cause; but nevertheless, in the duel of the captains, there has only been one winner.

Poor sportsmanship sours great Australian win

The sight of only one or two English players applauding Shane Watson for his century was contemptible; and I think that event perhaps best encapsulates the bad feeling that has surrounded this entire series.

It has been bad from both sides, and I rather feel that something should be done about the needle between the two groups ahead of 2015. The Ashes is arguably the best cricketing competition in the world, and is the reason why children pick up a bat or ball and play the game. What we don’t want to see is bad feeling and unpleasantness become de rigueur in the game, as it will only serve to make the game we love much less watchable and far less fun.

One quick word about the Decision Review System

Let’s get one thing straight: regardless of whether decisions had gone England’s way, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Australia would still have won in Perth. However, I was left seriously confused by the way in which the DRS was used throughout the third test.

The first contentious decision saw Joe Root given out to a ball that he played and missed at. Root clearly believed that he had not hit the ball, and immediately referred the umpire’s decision to the DRS. Despite no hotspot showing up, no clear contact of the ball and faint sound on the snickometer after the ball had passed Root’s bat, the DRS suggested that there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the umpire’s decision. Given that Root clearly didn’t hit the ball, it was a hard decision for an Englishman to take, but if that’s the way the DRS works everytime then at least it would be consistent for both sides.

Unfortunately, in the case of Ian Bell’s dismissal, the DRS was proved to be highly inconsistent. The difference with Bell’s edge is that he did actually hit the ball, and the umpire should have given him out. However, he didn’t, and therefore the decision was once again referred to the DRS. Given that there was no hotspot, and no clear contact with the ball, and therefore no clear evidence to overturn the umpire’s original decision as in the case of Joe Root’s dismissal, logic would dictate that the umpire’s on-field call should stand. However, it wasn’t.

In my view, technology should only be used if it is watertight and there is an agreed modus operandi that is not compromised. The DRS boasts neither of these features and should be suspended until it can be utilised more effectively.

Is this the end of an era for England?

In the past, one might have said that Kevin Pietersen, Graeme Swann and James Anderson were three of England’s most important players, but on the evidence of this tour so far, it seems clear that the abilities of these players are waning. Given the considerable success they have all brought England over the last few years, it does rather feel like the end of an era; especially when the possible departure of coach Andy Flower is factored into the equation.

Focus will now shift towards 2015 and in preparing a team in order to regain the Ashes when Australia next come calling. Likely to be a major player in that contest is Ben Stokes; whose wonderful 100 in England’s second innings is one of the only bright spots of the whole series for the tourists. Stokes has also been impressive with the ball; and it seems clear that the 22-year old will have a bright future for England.

Can England salvage some pride in this series?

In short, it’s unlikely. England badly need to win at least one test win to try to temper their hurt, but it’s going to be a massive ask with Michael Clarke’s side on a mission to emulate the 5-0 whitewash handed to England in the 2006-2007 series.

In order to have a chance, England must think long and hard about the performances of some of their so-called big names and they must bring in another pace bowler. Even then that would only give them a slim chance. English cricket could be heading for a few dark days. Australian cricket on the other hand, is walking into some serious light.

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