3 – Winning The Ashes
I wasn’t that convinced we could win back The Ashes this summer. Yes we have some decent players, some very good ones, but Australia seemed to just have a stronger squad. There was much mirth over their selection of over-30’s but players such as Rogers and Voges are well schooled in English conditions. Their bowling attack just looked to have more firepower and one of England’s failures in recent years is to finish off a side, as 2013 had proved when Brad Haddin saved Australia nearly every time. Alistair Cook seemed too conservative a captain and I wasn’t convinced England would be able to make the tough decisions in selection.
Much of this concern was borne from an abysmal World Cup and then a tepid tour of West Indies. The removal of Peter Moores as coach was a boost and then the New Zealand series improved my mood as several players put in impressive performances. The addition of Mark Wood appeared to improve the attack, and Adam Lyth scored a ton and appeared to offer much as Cook’s opening partner. The one-day series with New Zealand certainly offered a much needed feel-good factor and there was the murmur of anticipation as the First Test got underway at Cardiff. At 43-3 though there was a sort of ‘here we go again’ moment but then up stepped Joe Root. He may have played the most significant innings of the whole summer right then, to continue his unbelievable form over the past year or so. Australia looked flat at Cardiff, especially Haddin and soon we had the reason why.
There is little doubt one of the most important moments of the series was the retirement of Ryan Harris. Once Australia finally seemed to trust him he appeared to be a constant threat and especially in English conditions. One of the mistakes they made in 2013 was to rest him when they really needed him. Mitchell Starc deserved his place after his impressive World Cup but with Harris back home they put too much faith in Johnson and his record on non-bouncy fast tracks around the world is not that good.
With England one up the Lord’s defeat was a shock in its severity and as much as it knocked England. Rogers and Smith batted beautifully and this seemed to hide the poor form of the captain. England had just undone all their good work from Cardiff and there was much talk of that fickle of words, ‘momentum’. The manner of their recovery at Edgbaston clearly shook the Aussies from a position they never recovered. To lose by 405 runs and then bowl that side out for 136 inside 37 overs took real nerve and belief, with Anderson putting in one of the real modern-day Ashes winning performances. Bell’s counter-attack in both innings was also welcomed and demanded and went a long way to securing the win.
But then Trent Bridge trumped everything. Smith and Rogers had clearly papered over the cracks at Lord’s and the fragile confidence of the tourists was brutally exposed in Nottingham when one of the craziest innings ever seen in Ashes history unfolded. Broad bowled beautifully, every edge went to hand and then there was Stokes’ outrageous catch along with Broad’s reaction which really took social media’s imagination.
Michael Clarke’s dismissal seemed to sum up his series and at the end of the proceedings he, Rogers, Haddin and Harris had all stepped down. For England they have the makings of a good team. They will need more work on the middle order, the spinner and get more runs from their keeper but Finn’s re-emergence alongside Wood’s introduction gives the pace bowling cupboard a definite glow of promise.
The new coaching partnership of Bayliss and Farbrace has already made a difference and Alistair Cook, especially appears much more comfortable under the freedom he now enjoys rather than the dour, data-driven straight-jacket Moores wanted to clothe him in. It wasn’t a classic series in the way 2005 was but it was an absorbing one with the dominance swinging one way, then the other and then back again. Ultimately England won because they won the crucial moments, or perhaps just as importantly, Australia lost the crucial moments.
England’s 3-2 win now means when Australia return in 2019 it will be eighteen years since they last won here.