Australia last held the Ashes on the 23rd of August 2009, and on Tuesday, the 17th of December 2013, they emphatically reclaimed them.
From an Australian point of view it couldn’t have been scripted any better with Australia only needing 14 days of the five-match series to win back the holy urn. They currently sit three – nil up after three test matches and Stuart Broad’s foot was poleaxed by a Mitchell Johnson humdinger. Extraordinary indeed.
The English, on the other hand, are feeling the other side of the dramatic change in fortune, completely devastated, demoralised and out-played in every facet of the game. The football analogy ensues: two nil down is the poignant point; two – one down, and you’re back with a chance, the tide has turned; but three – zip, you’re staring at a whitewash and wrestling with questions, quandaries and doubts from all angles.
Perth proved, once again, in Ashes series at least, a place of English demise and the home of Australian cricketing redemption.
The hashtag: #PomsCooking, said it all really.
The English have spent an interminable time in the field this series, ‘leather chasing,’ as David Lloyd puts it, and with the WACA test coinciding with a heat wave, the English really were cooked, and now are, officially, hard-boiled.
It was the man of the match, Steve Smith, who defined the game. All series the English have failed to grasp the critical moments, and with the Aussie’s scorecard at one stage in the first innings reading 5 for 143 runs, clearly, they failed again. Smith’s Steve Waughesque innings (111), combining once again with Haddin and then Johnson, was the turning point in the match and represented a microcosm of the series thus far. England’s inability to take control was glaring; the moment came and went, and it was all up hill from there. Even more pleasing from an Australian point of view was Smith’s performance when the chips were down. Constantly dogged by accusations of a one man band – lead singer: Michael Clarke – Smith’s first hundred on Australian soil brought back memories of the glory days, of an Australian side that bats deep and gives you the feeling that despite the collapse, the deck is fully loaded, a feeling that has been missing for some time.
After bowling England out for 251, with a lead of 134, the second innings for the Australian batsmen had the potential to be one for the highlights reels, and it proved to be so. Dave Warner’s characteristic century (112) and 157 run opening stand with Chris Rogers (54) immediately took the game away from the English. Watson’s (103) century at No. 3 was another positive, however, questions still remain of the robust all-rounder as to whether he can perform and convert in more strenuous scenarios. Bailey’s world record equalling 28 run over took Australia’s total to 503. That was enough for the skipper, who ended England’s comical fielding display on that note, a demoralising end for the tourists.
Cook’s early, golden, dismissal signalled that the end was nigh for the English, however, to their credit, the Pom’s fought hard, outlasted day four, and even at one stage manufactured gentle notions of a miracle in the making, from the most hopeful of commentators. It was not to be, all out for their highest total so far in the series: 353. One positive to be drawn from the carnage was the announcement of Ben Stokes as a serious player. Born in New Zealand, the 22 year-old can play. His stoic debut hundred: 120 from 195 balls was a gallant performance, and when combined with his efforts with the ball, the English have certainly found a player for the future. As for the rest of the English batsman, the fire was being stoked before, and now the blaze is roaring.
Through Stokes’ partnership with Bell, Australia encountered their first real resistance of the series. Credit to them, through the best part of it they stuck to McDermott’s plans and eventually Lyon’s crucial wicket of Stokes saw the floodgates open. Johnson (4/78) and Lyon (3/70) led the way with the ball in the second innings but it was, overall, a more rounded, team-oriented, bowling performance, despite heavy predictions of a Mitchell Johnson handlebar bristling party on the WACA freeway of doom. McDermott’s return to the role of bowling coach has again produced outstanding performances by the Australian bowling nucleus. The Australian’s have consistently bowled to assist their plans this series and with suitable line and lengths according to the venue. This, combined with Michael Clarke’s maturing tactical nous, has seen the Australian’s take 20 wickets in every test match so far this series to utterly demoralise a once revered batting line up.
Brad Haddin also demands a mention. After being dropped from the Australian team, Australia’s number one keeper has shone this series with bat in hand and now, after the WACA test, his glove work is glowing blindingly. Possibly positive batting performances have converted into erudite glove work from the 36 year-old, but Haddin’s ability to consistently hold chances behind the wicket, in stark contrast from his English counterpart at the minute, is crucial to the position Australia finds itself in.
In the overall scheme of things Darren Lehmann must be cited. It feels like the Australian is back in Australian cricket. Clarke believes it was hard work and insisted that everybody in the support staff had played a their part, but acknowledged it was Lehmann who had allowed them to love the game again. The images of the team, beers in hand, finally enjoying success, having won test cricket’s most famous trophy is a far cry from the group of uncertain men he inherited back in the previous English summer. After losing all four matches in India and failing to win a match in the previous England-home series – the turn around is stark. The rotation policy has been banished and the players are assured of their places, relaxed, entrusted and empowered by the trust worthy but laconic, Boof. Three test matches, three test wins, three unchanged line-ups – a positive influence no doubt. The challenge now for Lehmann and his team is to keep pushing in the next two games and beyond. Australia finally looks to have drawn itself out of the abyss, England on the other hand look to be sliding head first towards it.
The questions surrounding the demise of this great team were murmurs after Adelaide, but are now being spruiked by the media in earnest. Trott has already headed for home and the attention has turned, first and foremost, to the old guard: Pietersen, Prior, Anderson and the once redoubtable, Swann. Poor output from these, the most fruitful of personnel, have started to haunt England. Queries regarding mind-set, attitudes, retirement and regeneration will come thick and fast in the lead up to Boxing Day. Surely Flower wouldn’t do anything too drastic with the men that have brought him such fortune and success over the last five years, however, the remaining two test matches appear critical to the make-up of the England line up going forward and the careers of many fine English players.
Expectations have been exceeded in both directions. Australia so dominant, England so diminished. Only the most extravagant of spendthrift’s would have bet to find the series, with a winner, at this early stage, especially an Australian one at that.
What can the English find in Melbourne? Will they crumble like lesser sides have done before them or can they dig themselves out of the grave where they are currently sitting? The Ashes have gone but careers are still salvageable. And their captain, Alastair Cook, at the beginning of his tenure as leader, who isn’t one of the old brigade will surely be urging his team to take more good hard looks and return with brimstone of their own. One feels he must inspire, lead and bind the old and new, out of the shadows and into respectability. He has shown previously, in testing times, that he’s a fighter and does have the capacity for this sort of immensely tough rear-guard action.
Can the English recover any pride this series or is it Australia’s to romp home to the adoring, bloodthirsty, cricketing public?
For England’s sake, hopefully there’s no more: #PomsCooking.