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.