Ashes: Done And Dusted
Test cricket is about cut and thrust. It is at its best when each side, with their own idiosyncrasies, comes together on a surface that offers both the prospect of reward for application and accuracy. When there is cut but no thrust, when the outcome feels inevitable, it is a weaker contest and a weaker sport
Cricket Pundits say the beauty of cricket lies in Test cricket. Today’s fast forward cricket is undoubtedly gripping over the Test cricket’s golden era. Veterans cricket lover used to talk about the stoic greatness of Sunil Gavaskar, the ferocity of Imran Khan, or even the sheer beauty of Sir Richard Hadlee, who were on the field much more captivating and attractive.
As the most-awaited Ashes series started, not only Barmy Army and Kangaroo fans but also the entire cricket world was looking for a great fascinating battle of bat and ball, man versus man, strength versus onus. But a lot has changed and Australia were thrashed, outplayed, humiliated in the series and the urn lost.
Home turfs, swing condition and fans support might help England but young English team showed immense potential to click on right time when England cricket had difficult time of humiliating defeat after defeat in the diabolical World Cup campaign and many bilateral series. So what went wrong for the tourists? How did they lose a series so many people predicted them to win easily?
Cook’s Captaincy Cooked Kangaroos
Before Ashes series began Warne’s rigorous comment did not affect Alastair Cook’s confidence. Warne criticised that Captain of England, Alastair Cook’s captaincy was the worst he had ever seen. But Cook discovered Midas touch to crush Australia. Cook had called for England to “etch their names in history” as they sought a victory in the fourth Test that would regain the Ashes and ease the memory of their whitewash in Australia 20 months earlier.
On the other hand, Michael Clarke, one of the most successful Australian captains, is now on his way out, as the team that buried the England cricket team 5-0 in last summer was blown away this season. Despite being the favourites, the Australian team lost the battle, in other words surrendered meekly.
England’s heroic bowling near perfection
While England’s bowling hero relived Ashes glory, the retirement of Australian player Ryan Harris on the eve of the series has clearly hit them hard, shorn of his relentless accuracy their attack has been too inconsistent. Bowling sensational of Aussie cricket Johnson surprisingly misfired, the same bowler who took 37 wickets in last 2013-14 Ashes series and ‘New McGrath’ Josh Hazelwood’s too much inconsistent cost the series.
Stuart Broad, Jimmy Anderson, Steven Finn and Co. all were at their best, as they terrified Australia with their swing fast bowling. A day came on the fourth test match when Aussies were dismissed for 60 in only 18.3 overs, with cricket statisticians wading through damning numbers either achieved or narrowly avoided.
So Long, Pup!
Cricket lovers imagined Michael Clarke, also known as Pup, would score over 10,000 Test runs and over 30 Test centuries. Alas, it is not to be. Years ago, when legendry Australian captain Ricky Ponting retired, people started thinking maybe Clarke was going to be another Ponting. Clarke is the last vestige of Ponting’s once-in-a-lifetime squad. Still he graced to crush bowlers all over the world, with any circumstances.
Despite his abysmal form, Clarke cannot be singularly blamed for Australia’s failings in England these past few weeks. He cannot be blamed for the team’s collective failure to deal with the moving ball and the deficient batting techniques of individual players. Yet another cruel reminder that the career of great sportsmen rarely ends as romantically as cricket lovers thought. He deserves a better exit than this. So long, Pup. Enjoy your retirement.
Buckled Batting of Aussies
Australia’s inability to adapt to English conditions had never been more striking. An era, where so much Test cricket is attritional on sedate pitches, and where T20 holds sway, has eaten into defensive techniques.
As much as it is imperative to take 20 wickets in a Test match, it is equally important to bat well. There can be no doubt whatsoever that Australia lost the series primarily because of the inability of their batsmen to deal with the swinging ball throughout the series. Apart from their top three, no other batsmen came even minutely close to a moderate score. Leaving aside Rogers and Smith, David Warner was the next best Australian batsman. What reflects poorly on the Aussies is their fragile middle order that also contributed to their dismal show.
However, Joe Root routed Australian bowling strategy in every match. Ian Bell’s record was simply fantastic. English’s batting line-up was bid to cherish Ashes glory with their consistent performances.
Green and Pleasant Land Suits England
When a pitch with a strong green tinge greeted them, England knew they would be presented with everything they could have hoped for. Further, it reflects more serious concerns for the opposition–the inability of players, particularly batsmen, to adapt their game to the different conditions overseas; the lack of time and opportunity, as today’s short tours give them to even try; the increasing temptation to win an advantage before a ball has even been bowled by producing pitches designed to favour the home skills rather than an even contest. In the last 14 years, seven out of eight Ashes campaigns had gone in favour of the home side – the exception
being England’s 3-1 triumph Down Under in 2010-11. Not only in the Ashes, in fact in the last two years, only four teams have won a series outside their own continent. Even Bangladesh have started winning in its land. It is becoming a trend elsewhere.
Test cricket is about cut and thrust. It is at its best when each side, with their own idiosyncrasies, comes together on a surface that offers both the prospect of reward for application and accuracy. When there is cut but no thrust, when the outcome feels inevitable, it is a weaker contest and a weaker sport.
Stuff of Legends
“The IPL has made Australians rich but is costing them the ability to bat in England,” said Scyld Berry in Telegraph. In 1975, at Lord’s, Little master Sunil Gavaskar shocked the cricketing world, opening the batting in a run chase that required 335 runs. The original ‘Little Master’ crawled to 36 off 174 balls, batting the entire 60 overs. Naturally, India lost that game by 202 runs. Gavaskar showed the world what determination with bat in hand could achieve. First having been rolled out for 136 at Edgbaston and then the paltry 60 at Trent Bridge, this Australian side lacked any sort of determination, and the mind power Gavaskar embodied throughout his 10,122 Test run career. Where has this mindset gone? The continuing influence of shorter formats of the game has nearly made Test cricket unrecognisable and the calls for four-day Test matches are growing increasingly louder.
By Sanjay K Bissoyi