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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Reflections on a one sided Ashes series

First of all, an unequivocal "Well Done, Australia". They were clearly the better side.

Why? Essentially because, as someone has said, they were both a team of champions and a champion team.

In moments of adversity there was always at least one, and often more than one, player who stepped up with a significant performance.

After losing the first Test easily, England regrouped at Adelaide, but Australia just kept on plugging away, keeping in touch for four days and then grasping their opportunity on the fifth to turn a likely draw into a victory.

In Perth Australia's first innings of 244 offered England some hope but they couldn't take a first innings lead. Australia then ground the attack into submission with its third 500 + innings of the series (with Adam Gilchrist's ultra quick century rubbing more salt into the wounds) , leaving England a huge fourth innings target. But only four players (and extras) reached double figures in a total of 350 so Australia won the Ashes back with a convincing 206 run victory.

The Boxing Day Test began with another feeble England batting display: all out 159 as Shane Warne took his 700th test wicket and then some. Australia's overnight 2/48 became 5/84 on day 2, but then Hayden and Symonds took the total to 363, in the face of which England again capitulated losing by an innings.

And so to the SCG for the final act. After a modest first innings of 291 (though hopes of better things remained at 4/245), a top order Australian batting wobble did not translate into a collapse. A 102 run lead knocked the stuffing out of England, who effectively threw in the towel,
handing the match to Australia by 10 wickets.

Some of Australia's strengths

Four all time great players (Warne, McGrath, Ponting and Gilchrist)

# Two very good Ashes debutants (Clark and Hussey)

# Two players who seized the opportunities they were given through unexpected circumstances (Clarke and Symonds)

# Three established players who each dispelled any concerns that they weren't up to the job (Hayden, Langer and Lee).

# A very high standard of ground fielding which helped choke England and generally good catching

# Good running between the wickets

# A desire for revenge after the reverses of 2005

# Good off field support from coach Buchanan and his team.

England's weaknesses

I agree with many other commentators' views eg inadequate preparation, poor team selection (to much harking back to 2005), unfit and underperforming players, poor tactics. I'd also add poor fielding and running between the wickets.

All that said I don't think that England fielded a full eleven of test standard at any time during the series: Anderson, Mahmood and Giles struggled, Strauss may have been roughly treated by the umpires but he didn't live up to his reputation, Harmison got off to a woeful start and while both Jones and Read kept proficiently (the latter more so than the former) neither looked to be the batsman all modern test teams expect their keepers to be.

Was 5 - 0 an accurate reflection of the relative strengths of the teams?

I think that it probably overstated Australia's advantage a little, yet only for the first four days at Adelaide and sporadically elsewhere (a good stroke or delivery here, a good session there) did England compete on anything like equal terms.

One thing they didn't have was the better of the umpiring decisions: nearly all the marginal ones seemed to go Australia's way.

They dropped some crucial catches, notably Ponting at Adelaide, but events elsewhere in the series suggested that even had this catch (which was more difficult than it looked) been taken the other Australian batsmen would have made a reasonable fist of their reply.

I couldn't see why England declared at 6/551 in their first innings at Adelaide. Batting on would have increased the likelihood of a draw, but it would have given them a psychological fillip which may have helped them to lift for the following Tests.
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