And so, the Ashes has finally ended. And I must say this – this is the most bizarre series I’ve ever watched, in all the years I’ve been watching Tests. Three out of the top five run-getters were Australians. Four out of the top five bowlers were Australians. And yet, they lost the series. There is nothing that has happened in this series that can be explained. Yes, there are times when you’ll have top run-makers in your team, and you still lose Tests, because you haven’t been able to take the 20 wickets needed. But it is very, very unusual for a team to have the top run-scorers and the top wicket-takers and still lose.
If you have a look at the way the series went, all of the five matches were decided well within the time permitted – the winning team always won comprehensively. There were absolutely no close contests. Now, how do you explain that? I certainly don’t have an answer.
As a neutral, I was very disappointed in how the series went. I cannot say it was very good cricket being played, and the lack of close contests was certainly felt. But I do know that the English will be very happy. All they want to know is that they won the Ashes, and they will be overjoyed with that. They had a few good performances in the series – Joe Root was pretty consistent, as was Stuart Broad. There were good performances and performers from both sides on different occasions, but as a contest, as entertainment and in terms of being interesting, this series was not for me.
Ahead of the series, everyone predicted Australia would win. The team itself seemed convinced about it, and maybe they were overconfident. It is fine for the spectators and everyone to say Australia will win, but it would be sad if the Australians thought all they had to do is turn up. You have to go out there and play cricket, and play it well, no matter which team you are and whether you are better than the opposition or not. The England captain said he did not expect his team to win, so it certainly was right that everybody had Australia as favourites. But, at the same time, it is the up to the people who are actually playing to go there and prove that they are as good as they are, and that they’re going to beat the opposition. There is no place for complacency in competitive sport.
Peter Siddle’s performance in the last Test at the Oval, which helped Australia triumph, has encouraged a lot of talk as to whether he should have been included in the team previously. But hindsight is always great. If you look back and think, you can always find answers to any sort of problem after the event. But Australia did made mistakes, and I think they should admit they erred a few times in their selection. For one, dropping Mitchell Marsh for Shaun Marsh was a mistake, in my opinion, and they were clearly lacking something with the ball after that. That they brought him back for the last Test and he showed his value with the ball proved that point. I think the selectors thought they would have gotten quite a bit more out of the two Mitches, Starc and Johnson, than they actually got, and that perhaps influenced some of their selections, which cost them.
Siddle bowled extremely well when he got the chance, you cannot take that away from him. And looking back, I believe if he had played at Trent Bridge, it might have been a different situation, because he would have bowled very, very well there on the pitch that had been prepared. But as I said, hindsight is always the best sight. You can see everything after it has been done.
One of the talking points after the Oval Test were Michael Clarke’s comments, suggesting that the England and Wales Cricket Board had doctored pitches to suit England. I think that was clearly obvious. They did not want hard, bouncy pitches because of what had taken place back in Australia with Mitchell Johnson. They were trying their best to nullify Johnson from the very beginning with slow surfaces and though they didn’t quite get it right in the first two Tests, they eventually did in the last three. The pitches were still slow but they left a lot of grass on the surface for the last three Tests, which is what England fast bowlers want for lateral and seam movement. They are not going to frighten anyone with pace – Steven Finn and Mark Wood have some pace, but they’re not going to frighten anyone with that the way Johnson can, and did, in Australia.
As I said in my previous column, eventually, the concerned authorities must look at what Ricky Ponting suggested – no more tosses. The minor setback there in my opinion, is that tosses are big for television. It makes for good tension, everyone is focussed on that coin when it’s in the air and the winning captain’s decision and so on. But that isn’t relevant now, times have changed and interest is waning in Test match cricket. What you need to do now is to make sure you have even contests between bat and ball. For that, there should be no toss and the visiting captain should be allowed to decide what he wants to do after inspecting the pitch. It’ll ensure better pitches throughout the world, because no one will look to build a pitch whose features are obvious, and which will give an immediate advantage to the visiting captain. They will try and prepare good quality surfaces that give no obvious advantage to anyone, which is what you want in Test matches. Some may say that policy will produce flat lifeless pitches with boring games. I disagree. You will still see a bit of “hometown” pitches which suit the qualities of the home team more than the opposition, but the slant won’t be as dramatic as we tend to see in some countries now.
Another talking point was Trevor Bayliss’s comments about the cracks in this England side. I think the cracks he is referring to are regarding England’s inability to perform away from home. They recently played West Indies in the Caribbean and they couldn’t beat the home side – a team that is mediocre right now. They went to Australia, lost 5-0. They went to UAE, lost 3-0. Those are the cracks. It’s fine to win at home, everybody wants to win at home, but if you’re not able to perform away from home, that is a problem.
Apart from that, they have some difficulties with the playing XI as well. Adam Lyth did not impress, and there was talk about Moeen Ali opening against Pakistan in the United Arab Emirates. I wouldn’t doubt Moeen’s ability to do an okay job, but I believe that is a stop-gap solution. They need to look at someone for the future, not just for a particular series. There is a lot of talk about horses for courses, but I don’t believe in that – it means you’ll have to change the team for every circumstance that you come across. You should be able to find players who will be able to cope with any circumstance, and change the team only if you want to rest someone here or there. Not because you’re going to a specific country.
Finally, this past week saw something of an end of era – Clarke and Kumar Sangakkara retiring. It is sad to see them go, but no one can play forever. We’ve seen greats in the past retire, and people have been given the opportunity to come up and replace them. So let us see if we can find some great cricketers who can come and replace these guys.
But, as I said, it’s sad to see them go. They’ve really played very well, they’ve lifted Test cricket and the game of cricket to great heights. People have enjoyed watching them, they are household names now, and I can only wish them the best for whatever they choose to do in their lives going forward.