Another Ashes series has finished. On paper, England’s 3-2 win looks a lot closer than it was.
It was a bizarre series; every game was decided inside five days with big margins. England won their three Tests by 169 runs, eight wickets (chasing 124) and an innings and 78 runs. Australia won by 405 runs and and an innings and 46 runs (fun fact: the last ten Ashes Tests have ended in a result).
While result-driven Test matches are important, the drama and twist and turns of Test cricket were absent. There was very little arm wrestle.
Let’s look at the games further:
CARDIFF = England’s comfortable win was built on a strong first-innings. Joe Root foreshadowed his epic summer with 130 (crucially dropped by Brad Haddin early). Chris Rogers’ 95 got Australia within 122 runs before Root (60) and Ian Bell (60) hit half-centuries to set Australia 412 with two days left. Australia only lasted 70 overs, with Mitchell Johnson (77) and David Warner (52) providing some resistance.
LORD’S = Australia struck back at their favourite venue, minus Shane Watson (dropped after twin LBWs at Cardiff and replaced by Mitch Marsh) and Brad Haddin (given compassionate leave for his daughter Mia). This gave Peter Nevill a chance and he made the most of it. Captain-in-waiting Steve Smith crunched 215 – and Rogers 173 – as Australia declared at 8/566. Johnson, who terrorised the Poms in 2013/14, took six wickets and England were dismissed for 312 and 103. Curiously, Australia declined to make England follow-on, perhaps fearing a VVS Laxman-style fightback. Some scars take a while to heal.
EDGBASTON = In 2005, the Edgbaston Test turned the series, with England rebounding from a Lord’s thrashing to win by two runs. The 2015 version was all but over after day one, with England 3/133 chasing Australia’s 136. The English pace attack of James Anderson (6/47), Steve Finn (2/38) and Stuart Broad (2/44) took just 36.4 overs to dismiss Australia. For the Aussies, it was an unsettling prelude for Trent Bridge. England pushed their advantage to 145 runs, with half-centuries to Root (63), Moeen Ali (59) and Ian Bell (53). By stumps on day two, England had reduced Australia to 7/168 (David Warner 77). Peter Nevill (59) and Mitchell Starc (58) showed admirable fight on the third morning, setting England 121. Bell (65*) and Root (38*) shared an unbroken 73-run third wicket stand to see England home.
TRENT BRIDGE = if this Test was a Friends episode, it would be titled “The One With 60 All Out”. Australia’s horrendous first innings lasted less than a full Twenty20 innings. Broad wasn’t complaining, with a career best 8/15. England had secured the Ashes by stumps, reaching 4/274, with another big Root hundred (130). Australia showed more fight in the second innings, Warner and Rogers compiling 113 for the first wicket, including a bronx cheer when they passed 60. Australia got the Colliwobbles again, losing 7/128 by stumps. Cricket took a back seat on the third morning with Michael Clarke in deep discussions with selector Rod Marsh. Would Clarke call it quits today? Adam Voges (51*) saved his Test spot as England won easily but all eyes were on Clarke’s “exclusive” interview with Shane Warne at play’s end. As we all know, Clarke announced the Oval Test would be his last. While the fallout turned into a petty “he said/she said” schoolyard fight, with Warney taking a potshot at his favourite coach John Buchanan, at least Clarke could have a proper farewell Tests.
THE OVAL = Dead rubbers is usually a pointless term.There was plenty to play for at the Oval; Australia had Clarke and Rogers’ farewell and a chance to rebuild for the upcoming Bangladesh series. England, of course, had the Ashes to look forward to. This may explain Australia’s massive win. Like Lord’s, runs from Steve Smith (143) propelled Australia to a big first innings (481), with Voges’ 76 keeping his late-blooming career alive. While Mitchell Johnson (3/21) and Mitch Marsh (3/30) took the bowling honours. Peter Siddle’s 2/32 from 13 overs raised a lot of questions. Mainly, where the hell was he for the first four Tests? Siddle had been the Merv Hughes-esque workhourse for the Aussies, the man who would bowl himself into the ground if he had to. When his pace finally dropped, he was discarded. He was good enough to earn an Ashes recall, but seemed destined to be a reserve. With no Ryan Harris, Siddle was needed for his control and reliability. Siddle may not be fast, but he can hit a length and nag better than Marge Simpson. Warne was critical of Siddle’s recall, saying he should have played earlier and giving him a token Test was pointless when younger bowlers like Pat Cummins could be used. Siddle continued his second life with 4/35 (from 24.4 overs) in the second innings. From being a Test outcast, Siddle has pushed hard for a spot on the Bangladesh tour.
So what can we make of the series? Ignore the 3-2 margin, it’s far too flattering for Australia and doesn’t do England’s dominance justice. They played badly at Lords but had Australia covered at Cardiff, Edgbaston and Trent Bridge. England had a settled lineup, with Anderson the only major casualty. Crucially, England showed they could win without The Walking Ego (Kevin Pietersen). Australia relied on too few. Clarke – to his credit- admitted that his poor form was hurting Australia. No hiding behind cliches for Pup. Smith, Rogers, Lyon, Warner and Starc were among Australia’s best. With Fawad Ahmed struggling in the tour matches, Lyon will be Australia’s frontline spinner for as long as he wants. There is some conjecture about playing Johnson AND Starc in the same team, but Starc has surely done enough to stay in the team. Rogers will be missed. He was one of the few batsmen to dig his heels in against England’s pace attack.
So what now? Australia will surely rebuild, with two Tests at Bangladesh and a home summer against New Zealand and the West Indies. The captaincy is in safe hands with Smith; he led well against India last summer and his form won’t be an issue, at least for now. England have away trips to Pakistan and South Africa to combat any post-Ashes hangover.
The next Ashes series is Australia 2017/18. Let the countdown begin…