After the 2005 Ashes, England travelled to Pakistan with high hopes of becoming the world’s undisputed heavyweight champions. They got their rear ends handed to them on a plate.
The same thing happened at the beginning of 2012 in the UAE. England topped the world rankings after destroying India at home, yet capitulated 0-3 to Pakistan again. Best in the world? Don’t make me laugh.
Now the Pakistanis are at it again. The Aussies arrived in the UAE last month with the most fearsome best fast bowler on the planet, an improving batting line-up, high hopes and a superb recent record.
After winning in South Africa earlier this year, Michael Clarke and Co probably felt like the world’s best team. Think again fellas.
Pakistan always seem to do this. They’re an incredibly tough team to beat in ‘home’ conditions. They’ve got world class batsmen and always manage to find good bowlers from somewhere. Hands up if you’d heard of Yasir Shah a month ago?
Whereas England were undone by a combination of Saeed Ajmal (now banned of course) and DRS in that series – the low pitches meant absolutely everything straight was hitting the stumps – the Aussies were outplayed in all three facets of the game. At least England competed with the ball.
Michael Clarke was justifiably downbeat after the defeat. The Aussies simply can’t win away against the Asian teams. Their main spinner, Nathan Lyon, is workmanlike but ineffective against top players of spin. Meanwhile, Mitchell Johnson was somewhat neutered by the benign surfaces. Clarke had nowhere to turn in the field.
So should we all be feeling smug? I think not. England don’t exactly boast a brilliant record in the subcontinent. Although we won in India recently, three of the four architects of that brilliant series win (Swann, Monty and Pietersen) are no longer in the side. Would the current England team prevail in these circumstances? I doubt it.
The truth is, Australia’s recent travails don’t really mean a lot. One could simply interpret Pakistan’s victory as part of a broader trend: the home team usually wins in test cricket. The recent statistics worldwide are quite remarkable.
What’s more, England have similar problems to the Aussies in all departments. When Harris and Johnson have retired, or are unavailable through injury, the Aussies will struggle. Pattinson and Cummins looks like top prospects, but they’re hardly ever fit.
The next generation of England bowlers also have question marks. I’m beginning to doubt whether Steve Finn will ever recover his best form. What happens when Jimmy Anderson retires?
England also share Australia’s weakness in the spin department – whether it’s the quality of spin bowlers available or our batsmen’s ability to play it. Moeen Ali did really well last summer, but it’s still very early in his development. Meanwhile, our batsmen made Nathan Lyon look positively brilliant last winter. It doesn’t bode well.
Then we come to the respective batting orders. Neither team looks settled. Maxwell is unproven, Doolan something of a journeyman with unremarkable first class statistics, and Chris Rogers can’t go on forever. They’ll need another opener soon.
England are remarkably similar in that we also have question marks at the top of the order. Has Alastair Cook been worked out? Will Lyth, Lees, Robson or even someone else (perhaps Jonathan Trott?) open with the skipper in next year’s Ashes?
Meanwhile, although both middle-orders are developing – it’s possible to put Steve Smith and Joe Root in a similar bracket – both lineups are somewhat in flux. At least England seem to have found a long-term solution at wicket-keeper. Brad Haddin is now 37 and hasn’t scored big runs for a while.
I imagine many England fans will relish Australia’s capitulation in the UAE and see cause for optimism next summer. They’ll see the canary yellow’s demise as evidence that an ageing team is finally in decline.
I’m not so sure myself. The Aussies simply found themselves in unfamiliar conditions in the UAE. They’ll soon get their swagger back (as long as Johnson regains his fitness).
As for our Ashes prospects, what does this all mean? Let’s ignore the micro and concentrate on the one big macro …
England will be playing at home next summer; therefore all things being equal (or rather both teams having an equal amount of problems) the law of averages suggests we’ll win.
Or does it? There’s home advantage and there’s home advantage. The Aussies will feel a lot more ‘at home’ on English pitches than they did in the UAE.
“the home team usually wins in test cricket”
This is really quite interesting. For what it’s worth, I don’t think it has anything to do with the travails of life on the road, but simply that teams seem to be more one-dimensional than they perhaps used to be.
English teams are built around swing bowling (both bowling it and being good at batting against it), Aussies and Saffers on pace, and Asian teams on spin. All are fantastic in their home conditions, not so great in unfamiliar territory.
Occasionally a team will have a player – a bowler most likely, but sometimes a batsman, that doesn’t fulfil their national stereotype and enables them to compete and even win in an alien environment.
“teams seem to be more one-dimensional than they perhaps used to be.”
The ‘home bias’ statistics have been bugging me for a while and I’m not altogether sure that the one-dimensional thing necessarily covers it. England, for example have always had a preponderance of swing bowlers, although, I’ll grant you that it seems to be harder, these days, for a budding spinner to learn his craft in this country.
For all my mulling, I could only come up with 2 possible reasons. First of all, in days gone by, and this applies mainly to cricket in England, all kinds of ‘world greats’ played domestic county cricket, This meant that foreign players became more familiar with English conditions but also that English players had more experience of playing the world’s best players (at least some of them.)
Secondly, touring sides seem to spend less time in ‘alien’ conditions (a prime example being India’s recent tour in England.) In this situation, quality players have less time to adjust to alien conditions and it becomes almost impossible for a player to come into a touring XI after the first Test and to thrive, having had absolutely no recent experience in match conditions.
Do either of these suggestions hold any weight? I’d love to hear/read a cogent analysis of this home bias phenomenon (and accept that such a thing may very well exist and I just haven’t seen it.)
How many spinners do Pakistan have in their setup that are better than the best English, Australian, Kiwi or South African spinner?
2? 10? 20?
When someone like Swann or Warne comes along, it makes such a huge difference, specifically because it gives those teams the one thing it is normally missing: a match winning spinner.
You could ask the opposite question with South African pace bowlers and Asian teams, I suppose.
Good theories. Makes sense.
Oh I do love your handle! Always makes me smile.
Good piece Maxie. I don’t know what I am going to do though as I don’t like champagne. Can I put my Semillon Chardonnay on ice instead. Ooh, now there’s a thought, my favourite tipple comes from Australia!!!
OI! it was me (James!) who wrote this piece ;-)
Oh damn. Sorry James. It’s a very good piece JAMES! LOL I was taken away but Fusted Blush’ handle. It always makes me laugh. And no champagne but a lovely Semillon Chardonnay would do very nicely! Cheers.
“Hands up if you’d heard of Yasir Khan a month ago?”
I still haven’t! I’ve heard of Yasir Shah though and what a good leggie he is too. There isn’t much better in cricket as a spectator than discovering a new spinner – I wonder if any county will try to sign him or Zulfiqar Babar?
Many congratulations to Pakistan who were brilliant in every department. Australia’s batting and fielding weren’t great but their bowling was statistically the worst in history:
This match has helped set two famous matches of the past in some perspective:
1) Australia had to bat 828 balls to save this one – sounds improbable but they batted 960 balls to save the Mackay/Kline match in 60/61
2) 603 to win sounded improbable but it is only the third highest total set. Pity Misbah didn’t go for the record of 742:
‘England won by 675 runs’ may be my favourite item on a scorecard ever! Australia have been on the receiving end of the three highest declarations ever (630-odd by the Saffers in Perth is second) – strangely, teams don’t seem to show Australia much mercy…..
Finally, now that playing Pakistan in UAE is appreciated as a tough assignment perhaps teams who go there and get a result will start getting the credit they deserve. SA and SL last year are the only teams not to lose there and SA’s victory last year by an innings after going 1-0 down never got the praise it warranted.
D’oh! Typo corrected. I had his cricinfo page open at the same time as Imran Khan the 2nd :-)
It’s one of the reasons I have never bought into the idea of the So called Test Match championship. Apart from the fact it will take years to complete, in which time teams can undergo huge change in players and form, it seems a contrived format.
Test series should stand on their own. It’s a moment in time, a set of players and form, and set conditions. I don’t actually put much store in the number 1 ranking either. It’s a marker I guess, but if you offered England or Australian fans number 1 ranking or Ashes success, I bet most would take an Ashes win. Similarly with India and Pakistan. Series win or number 1 ranking?
As for the Aussies, lets see how they get on in their own conditions this winter. I suspect they will bounce back on faster pitches. However, their batting is fragile and this team is not a patch on the 1990s vintage. It just makes the 5-0 drubbing they handed out to England seem even worse. (They really are not a great side) Everyone went on and on about our batting against Johnson in Australia, but the biggest worry was we kept letting this average batting line up score decent totals. First day of the first test match at Brisbane in early afternoon they were 110 for 5, and escaped to 300. We never recovered.
Will England prepare low slow wickets again next year?
I want to say, wooo yeah. I absolutely love Pakistan. Misbah has to be the most awesome person in cricket. I can even abide Hafeez in the teaam because he is well hot (take note Ali Cook). I love them all.
God, you women are so shallow…:-)
Have you seen Ellyse Perry? Lovely action, and a sumptuous driver of the ball.
So I’m told.
ok…the Aussies lacked Harris…but we lost 5-0, and the only culpable party was KP. I still find it hard to believe or stomach.
Pakistan us an unpredictable team, this is an old saying about the Pakistan cricket team. It is proved again today. A team who could not won T20 and a single ODI beat the Australia by 2-0 in Test series. It is more than amazing. The key was the great Captain Misbah Ul Haq and the the legend Younis Khan. Two news characters to Pakistan spin bowling, Yasir Shah and Zulfiqar Babar participated and proved extra ordinary. for details story read my article… at …
A few random observations
During Pakistan’s second innings, Greg Blewett tweeted a reminder that he is the fielding coach of the Australian 20/20 team and has nothing to do with the test team.
When Pakistan moved past a lead of 600, Davie Warned was still shooting his mouth off behind the stumps. You have to admire persistence
No matter how many parallel universe’s exist, in none of them is Maxwell a test number 3. He played a reverse sweep to the 8th ball he faced in the second innings. I’m sure Phillip Hughes, watching in the dressing room, was impressed
During a commentating stint, Dean Jones was asked “what will the reaction be back home?”. He replied “Nothing. We will ignore it.” (And his right, Australians are very good at ignoring things that happen in far a way countries with strange sounding names like Liberia or Sierra Leone
Ryan Harris took 2 for 8 off 11 overs overt he week-end in Brisbane grade cricket. The selectors will be watching him very closely.
[…] dust continues to settle from Pakistan’s annihilation of Australia. James took a first look at it yesterday. But this result will continue to reverberate through the crickosphere for some time to […]