A dramatic end at the Oval, rather in tune with the series’ narrative, meant England won 3-0. The margin victory flattered Alastair Cook and his men, who mixed exceptional periods with some pretty woeful batting, and it is fair to say it is Australia who will be looking to the return series Down Under with their reputations enhanced.
While some of the cricket was pretty dull, especially from England after they had retained the Ashes, there were plenty of talking points and there is no longer any dread at the prospect of back-to-back series between the two rivals. Here are five things we learnt over the past seven weeks or so.
Australia aren’t as bad as we thought
The worst team to leave for these shores. 5-0. Whitewash. Only the weather could stop English domination.
Before the series started, expectation was England would knock over the Australian batsman before lunch, and while the Aussie seamers had ability the England top six would end up on top. However, the first test showed that Ashes cricket is never so simple, at least not for the Three Lions.
Australia chopped and changed their line-up, using seventeen players over the five tests. Some, like Phil Hughes and Usman Khawaja failed to cement their positions, despite both scoring a half century, while Steve Smith’s maiden test century has secured his position at six for the return series Down Under.
Ryan Harris continued to show that when fit he is an excellent seam bowler, while Peter Siddle and Brad Haddin demonstrated that old dogs don’t necessarily need to learn new tricks to stand out. Michael Clarke was undone by a couple of wonder balls but still hit a big hundred at Old Trafford. There were other notable performances from Ashton Agar, hitting 98 on test debut coming in as number 11, while Chris Rogers grasped his belated chance with 110 at Durham.
Australia came close to winning the first test at Trent Bridge, losing by only 14 runs, surely would have won the third test at Manchester if it were not for rain, and could consider themselves unlucky at both Durham and the Oval. The score line may read 3-0, but that belies how close the actual tests were.
England aren’t as good as we thought
Australia improved their reputation, collectively and individually in the main, but England’s diminished.
Alastair Cook’s fine scoring run as England captain did not continue into this series, averaging only 27 with a top score of just 62. Joe Root, a colossus 180 at Lords apart, was undone early on more often than he or England would like. Jonathan Trott (29) was also well short of his usual standards, and Matt Prior (19) did not make fifty all series. Over seven summer tests, England have failed to reach 400 once.
England’s bowlers at least held their own, Jimmy Anderson performing outstandingly at Trent Bridge, Stuart Broad blew the Aussies away at Durham in a characteristic blaze of wickets, while Graeme Swann was supreme as usual, especially against the left handers. However, all the bowlers also had poor spells: Swann eased his way into the series after a slow start at Nottingham, Anderson struggled at his home ground Old Trafford, and Broad’s figures were enhanced by the eleven wickets he picked up at Durham.
Also, the experiment at the Oval failed miserably, with Chris Woakes looking below the standard needed of a third seamer and Simon Kerrigan suffering terribly on debut. While a 3-0 lead gives license to try something new, and it is important for future success to blood new players, the thinking was at best muddled in Kensington.
Ian Bell is now world class
Without a doubt, player of the series. There are those who score runs when the going is good, and there are those who score runs when their team needs them most. Bell was previously accused of scoring only easy runs, indeed there was a time when he only scored centuries when team mates did so also, but after this series there can be no doubts over the Warwickshire player’s position.
Let’s look at the numbers: 562 runs, at 62.4, with three crucial centuries and two half-centuries. Now let’s delve deeper – a crucial century (the only one) at Trent Bridge as England squeaked through, another century at Lords to build up a strong 361, with 74 in the second innings, and at Durham another century gave England a total they could defend in the final innings.
One of the, if not the only, player to play fluently consistently on the slow, dry English pitches. Bell is the most elegant English player, with a batting game that means he can score runs all around the ground, but his favourite area was undoubtedly the glance down to third man.
With other seasoned performers suffering to various degrees, and two inexperienced players in the top six, Bell’s consistency and dependency was most appreciated.
Hot Spot still needs work
So much for technology being the answer! The Decision Review System (DRS) caused much consternation with both teams, and Hot Spot was to the fore of the argument.
Fibre-glass/silicon taping and Vaseline were sighted as reasons why edges were not showing up on the infra-red cameras, causing ruckus between the Australian media and Kevin Pietersen in particular, but both teams were guilty of some ridiculous reviews that made a mockery of the notion that DRS is only for the big mistakes.
It was the big mistake of Aleem Dar not to give Stuart Broad out when he had clearly edged behind on day 3 of the first test that made headlines, but had Australia taken better decisions during the England innings they would have had a review left to right this major wrong.
However, decisions like the one that gave Usman Khawaja out even though the video evidence clearly showed he had not nicked behind, or the hot spot cock up over Jonathan Trott’s LBW that did not have access to footage because a TV company was showing the previous dismissal, and various other incidents that did not make common sense were terrible for the integrity of the game.
Sometimes even video and sound evidence cannot prove whether a player was in or out, but to get such basic mistakes even with all these aides makes a mockery of the sport. It is clear the umpires are not as up to speed with technology as commentators and viewers, and it is something that needs addressing immediately. Human error is expected and can be excused, however mistakes with the benefit of technology are not acceptable.
The fans have been cheated
There is not a lot you can do about rain. It is annoying when the covers come and go, delaying or stopping play just when it looks like the match, or the whole series could suddenly spark into life. What you can do something about is the stupid rule about bad light which cheated paying punters and cricket fans in general from cricket, and exciting cricket at that.
The old rule was not infallible. Allowing batsmen to decide when to come off the pitch due to the light did mean some days were curtailed, some tests ending in draws because it suited the batting team, and it is no surprise that teams will take the option that suits them best.
However, on Sunday night the England batsman wanted to stay on. If there was any danger to the batsmen, they were happy to face it, and instead of a thrilling climax the fans in and out of the ground were left disappointed.
Test Match Special’s Jim Maxwell made a good point when he said the day’s play, after time had been lost in the test due to poor weather, should start earlier AND end later, after all the game should be about the fans.
England can also take some blame for the poor entertainment on offer. Poor over rates, deliberate delaying tactics, and slow run scoring meant Australia walk away with the support of the neutrals. Would Cook have declared as his counterpart Clarke did, or would have batted the game into a no-lose position?
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