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!