Personal thoughts as I review the Ashes series from here in Oz.

As the Ashes come to a conclusion what have we learned that we didn’t know before the first ball was bowled 50 or so days ago?

In terms of players from both sides, they can be ranked:

Outstanding – Smith (and by a long way)

Excellent – Lyon, Starc, Cummins, Hazlewood, Marsh S, Malan, Bairstow (a good wicket keeper is one you don’t notice), Overton (best batsman at Adelaide, best bowler at Perth and with a cracked rib!)

Progressing – Marsh M, Khawaja, Paine, Stoneman, Crane (has a promising future if we can find some pitches back home and county fixtures for him to practice and learn).

Average – Warner (for him he’s had an average series), Vince, Cook (overall poor but Melbourne was outstanding makes it average overall), Curran (based on two tests and he wasn’t in the original squad).

Going backwards – Handscomb, Bancroft, Root (found captaincy harder than he perhaps thought, missed Stokes input, and had too many off-field issues to manage), Woakes (needs to learn the difference between home and overseas pitches, learning on the job is no good),

Poor – Ali (not an overseas star and missed having Stokes to give him confidence), Broad and Anderson (each had the occasional flash of brilliance but neither performed as they should have done – not flat track bullies but English pitches bullies. Neither will probably tour Australia again).

Dire/why were they picked? – Ball, Bird (injury cover for Starc, but is he the best outside the top three?)

I think that reflects the difference between the two sides and the series outcome.

There were for me three key moments in the series but only one directly on the field of play:

Brisbane – Day 2 England 4/246 and Stokes would have been the next man in…instead we’re all out for 302 collapsing like a pack of cards.

Brisbane- Day 3 evening session,Cook off form (see blog Why Alistair? why?) hooks when he didn’t need to and is caught on the boundary; the rest of the batting just fades away after that (admittedly the Australian bowling that evening was as fierce as I’ve seen live or on TV since Holding et al at the Oval in 1976)

Adelaide – Day 1 won the toss and inserted the opposition. Whilst I’m not a fan of Piers Morgan his tweet that Joe had tossed the Ashes away was absolutely correct. Needed to win or compete at least and we did neither and from that point we were ‘doomed’

We needed to hit the ground running and at least aimed for a draw at Brisbane but our preparation was poor, the quality of the opposition offered by Cricket Australia was not acceptable, and once we had lost ground in the first test, we never made it up. The series was gone by Day 3/4 in Brisbane. The scale of the defeat by 10 wickets when chasing 170 ran deep in the psyche of the team and the off field antics came to the surface when in the past they wouldn’t have done but the media spotlight was so intense that the management team either didn’t know to or couldn’t cope; these elements just got too out of control. The wheels started to come off the tour bus and never got back on!

For me the best individual performances were:

Smith – his century at Brisbane rather than the others. He needed to bond his team together having been ‘given’ an unexpected mix of personnel but also make his mark on the series and in the heads of the English team. He did all that whilst scoring one of the best centuries you could wish to see. A truly great performance.

Lyon – all series long but particularly at Adelaide and the spectacular caught and bowled- I still don’t believe what I saw and I’ve seen it in slow motion several times since and it’s still breathtaking. His mastery over the English left handers has been superb and left them dazzled like rabbits in headlights for weeks. His record against right handers is not quite so good so England know what to do in readiness for 2019. His contribution to the whole game cannot be understated – fielding, running out Vince in Brisbane was key as England looked ready to run away from Australia. Not quite Goat but on his way!

Cook – a magnificent double hundred at Melbourne redeemed his tour and addressed the flaws in his batting which plagued him from the time the plane landed in Perth in early November. A double century which was a pleasure to watch confirming class is permanent. Is this his last tour to Oz? If so what a way to go and to get that delivery from Lyon at Sydney is no shame.

Khawaja – at the start of the series we were told he could not play spin and would be lucky to see the whole series. So…England’s spin bowlers (Ok they’re not that great) gave him the chance to improve and he did so much so that on the spinning surface of Sydney he scored a magnificent large hundred in his modest understated way. One to watch.

Malan – at Perth he became of age as a test batsman scoring the most delightful century of the series, a range of cover drives to die for and reminiscent at times of Gower and even Cowdrey! And that’s high praise indeed! Let’s hope he goes on to bigger and better things but that century was sheer delight.

The oddest thing? Did the stadium tour of the Adelaide Oval and there was no mention of Bodyline! Not one word! Perhaps they’re trying to airbrush history?

The best thing on my trip? Getting to work the Adelaide Oval scoreboard on the stadium tour! Excited beyond measure! (I know I need to get out more but how much further away from the UK can I get?) and no it’s not me operating the scoreboard below!

Day 25 of 25 and the dream fulfilled

For the first time since 1994/95 have all five Ashes tests gone to five days, so I’ve really got my money’s worth! Add in the three days of the WI test at Lords in September and I’ve seen the last 28 days of test cricket England have played. Lords in May against Pakistan seems a long way off!

The statistical forecast is for today is for England to survive until lunch or thereabouts; there’s 34 overs to the new ball if needed and that would be early afternoon but I fear it may all be done and dusted by then, Lyon making most of the dust!

Today will not be as hot as yesterday – the low 30s and clouds so a fine day overall. Yesterday Sydney was the hottest place on the planet and the temperatures in the middle of the SCG reached the mid 50s, so well done to everyone – players officials camera crews etc.

Root is showing determination and true Yorkshire grit in this innings but it’s far too late; this example should have been set week’s ago but there we are. Forecast for drinks is 6/135.

Drinks taken at the fall of Ali’s wicket 5/121 Bairstow 31. Root has been in hospital overnight with severe dehydration/heatstroke and will bat at the fall of the wicket. Dour stuff for the past hour with only 28 runs scored. One more wicket and the tail gets exposed…forecast for lunch 7/146.

Unexpectedly we get to lunch at 5/144 Bairstow 38 and Root 58 – clearly Root is not well but he’s showing true courage when perhaps common sense suggests otherwise. He was out in the sun and heat all day yesterday except for 35 minutes play so it’s not surprising that he’s been ill. Bairstow is plodding along with only 7 runs in the last hour but he’s not letting Australia pass. This match depends on these two batting for long parts of the day – can they do so? Only time will tell. My fear is that when one of these goes, the rest will follow and it will be relatively painless. Forecast runs total for drinks is 170 but cannot forecast the number of wickets for once as the new ball is due soon and this is really a new ball type wicket!

Drinks but no lorry England’s reached 8/180 Curran 28 Anderson 2. Joe is ill again and did not resume after lunch. Bairstow fell quickly and Broad didn’t waste anyone’s time, so it’s when not if. And another first – 5 penalty runs for England as the ball hit the helmet on the field; never seen that before nor the unusual signal from the umpire

And then the end…painless, swift and surgical. Celebrations seem muted but I suppose the reality is that the Ashes were won in Perth which seems so long ago but weren’t!

So, the dream fulfilled but I’m not stopping now! I’ll be back to Oz to soak some more of their weirdness and madness (and wine) and the blog continues when the English county season starts but the frequency will be less than now! Thanks for reading and commenting, well over 1000 visits and I’m amazed and flattered that anyone could be interested in my musings and thoughts on cricket.

Some final thoughts on the series and Australia to follow (after all I’ve got 24 hours on a plane and time to think).

And the unusual field placings continue to the very end!