It’s that time again — the nights are long, the air is cold, but soon the radio will fire into life and bring the sounds of Australian summer to our ears. Will England come back from the previous whitewash with a win (as they did in 2010-11, or will Australia complete a 3rd whitewash in 4 series. I for one am betting it won’t be a draw!
I think this is the hardest to predict Ashes series this millennium — both sides have a decent number of quality bowlers, and evenly share 4 of the best batsmen in the game. Both sides also have a recent history of middle order collapse, and a selection of match results that vary from brilliant to truly pathetic. It seems like it might be a case of “who cracks first”.
If England get on top, as they did in 2010, the Aussie crowds and press will get at the green-team with a vigour only normally seen in the British press when the footballers fail to materialise. Equally, if Australia get on top then England have a tendency to totally implode as they did in the 2 visits down under either side of their 2010 victory.
Overall the odds must be in the Australian’s favour, something the bookies agree with. They have home-soil advantage and will no doubt prepare pitches that offer pace and seam with as little swing as possible. Fair play to them — I’ve no doubt England will prepare swinging pitches in return the next time our Aussie friends are over here. The Ben Stokes affair (1) has also damaged England’s preparations, and there are some injury problems which could prove significant too.
I think the margins between the teams are quite small, and things beyond human control (e.g. the toss, the weather) could prove crucial. I also think that once a team gets on top there is a good chance they will stay there. The difference between a 3–1 victory as in 2010, and a 5–0 defeat, could actually be quite small. If England come away with a draw, they will retain the Ashes. This will rightly be regarded as pretty much as good as victory and England will rightly get all the plaudits. Planning for victory shouldn’t be the hardest job in the world, so instead — how about we think beforehand about what might happen in the event of defeat.
Let’s imagine the Aussies get a bit of run of the ball, and make good use of it, and England sink to defeat in the first couple of test matches. Realistically it is unlikely that they could come back from 2–0 down, so the remaining matches wouldn’t really tell us a great deal new. Is there a difference between leaving having lost by 3 or 4 with the team intact, and leaving having lost 5–0 with the captain in doubt, a leading bowler gone, and 2 of the best batsman gone. I ask because that is what happened in 2013–14, when questions were left hanging over Captain Cook, Jonathan Trott quit international cricket, KP was pushed out, and Graeme Swann quit mid-tour. In other words massive mismanagement had managed to snatch a much greater defeat from the jaws of a brief embarrassment. Just imagine the current England team but with KP, Trott and Swann still available for selection — a world number 1 side surely?
Instead we have a younger less experienced team, but with plenty of quality and plenty of potential. It is essential to the future of the team that such massive failures of management are not repeated on this tour. There is no dominant country in test cricket at present, with Australia, England, India, Pakistan and South Africa all capable of being dominant and ruthless, and also all capable of being very poor too. There is nothing to separate these 5 sides. All of them would be favourites in home conditions to beat all of the others. This is particularly so in England’s case, with 2 of the best swing bowlers in the history of the game able to win home matches with regularity, even when the batsmen are struggling.
So, let’s hope the England management have learned from previous mistakes, and in the event of of defeat, find ways to keep the team together, lift the great talent we have, and bring the England team home ready to continue building towards the future. If they can’t do that, what exactly do they do for the team?
(1) A footnote on the Ben Stokes affair. This is a worrying sign that England management haven’t learned from the past. Ask yourself this — if it was the other way around and a key Aussie player had assaulted someone in a bar would the Aussies have dropped that player? Or would they have downplayed it, picked the guy anyway, and even gone on to make him vice captain? If you have any doubts about the answer just ask Joe Root! It seems to me that England management are first and foremost interested in avoiding catching any flack from the media, rather than acting in the right way. Successful management publicly supports their player. What is said in private is no doubt very different. There isn’t even any sign of management taking a grain of responsibility, despite repeated failures to manage players effectively, be it with mental health (Trescothick, Trott), team relations (Swann, KP), or responsible behaviour (Flintoff in pedalo-gate, Root getting punched in walkabout, players urinating on the pitch, and now Stokes out on the lash).
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