When England came to Australia in (Australian) summer of October-November to play return Ashes series, they were considered hot favourites to win it and retain the Urn. All the pundits and experts of the sport betted on England to win and predicted it to be a close series. Much to their fans delight England started well in the two practice matches before the first Test. Centuries by Trott and Bell in the first and Cook and Carberry in the second match gave impression that England will prove experts dead right.
The Ashes was founded in 1882 and it is without doubt cricket’s most important Test Series. Played by cricket’s oldest Test nations, England and Australia the Ashes series started as a result of a satirical obituary published in an English newspaper. The piece focused on England’s loss to Australia on English soil for the first time and it read as if English cricket had died and the body would be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia. To which the English captain Ivo Bligh had vowed to regain those ashes.
The build-up to this (2013 Ashes) started back in July 2009 in England where they beat the Kangaroos by 2-1 in a five-match series. This was the start of Ashes wins more to come for England. In November 2010 England toured Down Under. Australians playing in their own den in front of home crowd with an aim to regain the Urn but lost it by 3-1 margin. The Australian team was going through a transition period in those years and the new lot was inexperience one and need some time to settle itself. This resulted in the third Ashes defeat on trot when they lost it 3-0 in England in July 2013.
All these losses led to a big rot in Australia and once the NO.1 Test side and a dominant one, Australia was under severe pressure. The Ashes came back to Australia this time and they would love to regain it after six years in front of their home crowd as well. The preparation was in full flow, as Australians wanted it badly. One could sense the three year of Ashes pain among Aussies. The spirited Australians started working hard on fitness and form. Mitchell Johnson was the prime example as he found his rhythm, form, fitness and pace after coming back from a toe injury.
Australians made a perfect start and claimed a drought-breaking first Test win at Gabba (Brisbane) inside four days. Johnson, recalled to the Test team after 10 months, claimed 9-103 for the match. England dominated this match for most of the first day, but thereafter it was all Australia after they allowed them to recover from 132 for six in their first innings to 295 all out.
During England’s reply Johnson’s mouth working almost as fast as his arm, his verbal slights and climbing bouncers with pace produced false strokes from Englishman and Kangaroos took the game by 381 runs. It wasn’t just good all-round performance by Aussies but a mix of verbal spat as well. Skipper Michael Clarke taunted England with threats of broken bones as his team closed in. The first Test ended with angry, hostile exchanges between rival players
When a team is down with one loss it is not wise to drop catches in the succeeding match, and England did the same. They dropped three crucial catches on the first day of Adelaide Test and let the hook off from Australia. Kangaroos recovered and smashed more than 550 runs. Johnson seemed to be in form of his life as he again bagged 7 for (five wickets in 18 balls) to bowl England out to 170. From here on it was impossible for England to stop the spirited Aussies. Australia needed four wickets to win on the last day, but early morning rain and the forecast for a storm briefly lifted England’s hopes of escape. After failing to post more than 180 in their first three innings of the series, Matt Prior took England past 300 this time but he was out next ball and England lost the second Test by 218 runs.
Suddenly there was the reminder that Aussies were engaged in a proper sporting contest; it was ultra-competitive, it is brimful of aggression and it was fun. If England had to win or even to survive in this Ashes they needed to improve upon everything. In the must win game and the 100th for both captains, Kangaroos won the toss and piled up 385 and took 134-run lead in the first innings of WACA (Perth) Test. In the second innings Aussies came hard from the start with Warner and Watson scoring quick-fire centuries. But, it was Bailey who stole the show by hitting 28 runs (equalled Lara’s record) in an over of James Anderson on the fourth day. The Barmy-Army never looked in the game and when Aussies set a mammoth 504 runs target, the match was over. Despite a Kiwi-born 22-year-old southpaw Ben Stokes’s ton, Aussies clinched the match and Ashes with 150 runs in just 14 days.
This was Australia’s 32th Ashes win, compared to England’s 31st, emphasising the tightly contested nature of one of sport’s fiercest rivalries. It is interesting to note that out of eight centuries thus far England managed to score only one. The surprising factor for England was Mitchell Johnson’s pace, swing and lethal bounce which they failed to handle. England looked a totally different unit as neither their bowling nor their batting performing added to their lapse in fielding and dropped catches could result in a 5-0 whitewash. Aussies, though, have pulled off a whitewash just twice in 136 years of Ashes cricket—in the summer of 1920-21 under Warwick Armstrong and seven years ago under Ricky Ponting.
After the loss skipper Cook said: “We’ve been outplayed, and haven’t played very well, Ashes defeat hurts like hell.” Michael Clarke attributes the Ashes win to hard work. “This win, bringing the Ashes back home, is for the supporters have stuck by us through thick and thin.” From here England need to refocus their strategies and try to avoid a possible whitewash.
By Sorabh Aggarwal