Don’t panic! The Ashes are safe…

In our post on Tuesday, my colleague James took a rather gloomy view – both of events at Old Trafford, and the state of our team in general. Today, I’m going to give you some reasons to look on the bright side.

First, and far from least, we have the Ashes. The urn is safe for another series, and that is cause alone for genuine celebration.

Maybe we’ve become a little spoiled by our successes over recent years. Look back to any series from 1989 to 2005, or even later, and we’d have given rather more than our right arm to be in our current position – two-nil up with two to play. It’s really not to be sneezed at.

It’s not only in the bad times that a 2-0 lead would be a source of joy and pride – even in eras when we dominated the Ashes – the 1950s, or late 1970s to mid 1980s, we never secured the terracotta as early as this. It’s in fact not happened since 1928.

In 1985, which history records as our easiest Ashes victory of modern times, and against an Australian side just as modest as the present one, we comfortably lost the second test at Lord’s.

We now look back at 2009 as being a fine, victorious, series for us – but in reality we were often quite poor. Australia’s batting was stronger then, but their bowling weaker – with a less experienced Siddle, a wayward Super Mitch, and no Harris.

Despite that, we came within a Monty Panesar-miss of a hammering at Cardiff, and although we won easily at Lord’s, had only half a match at Edgbaston before being pumped at Headingley.

Even during our triumphant 2010/11 tour, we were behind for most of the first test and were thrashed at Perth, leaving the series 1-1 after three – the point of the series we’ve now reached this time.

So don’t let us look the gift horse in the mouth: the Ashes are secure at an incredibly early stage – due to the way we convincingly outplayed Australia in the first two tests. Yes, they got close in the end at Trent Bridge, but only due to exceptional tail-end heroics.

After Lord’s, it was inevitable that Australia would come back very strongly at Old Trafford, and that’s mainly because of the many idiots – respected cricket observers among them – who at that point completely wrote off Michael Clarke and his troupe of VB-swillers. 5-0, series over, Aussies woeful, everyone said – after which, only one thing could happen.

Between that match and Manchester, Australia had ten days off, out of the limelight, and a nice cosy game at Hove to restore some self-esteem. Arriving at Old Trafford they had nothing to lose – with the urn effectively conceded – and being under no pressure, were freed up to enjoy themselves and bat normally.

They went on to win a terrific toss, and then exploit a rub-of-the green which saw almost every marginal umpiring call go their way. (Pietersen was not out in either innings – how the third umpire could convict him on Monday, with no Hotspot, a noise too dull for bat, and a clear gap between bat and ball, defies explanation).

The mood will be different at Durham tomorrow. England were still under some pressure in Manchester – with the expectation of a job to be completed – but now won’t be for the fourth test, with the Ashes safe. But Australia are now expected to perform well again,  with their supporters sizing up a series draw.

That said, our side need some fresh personnel. The batting is a quandary, and it’s not the selectors’ fault that several players have hit bad form at the same, inopportune, time.

Trott actually batted well at Trent Bridge, albeit without making a big score – partly due to DRS sawing him off second dig. But now he’s lost his confidence, and presents a difficult problem – is it really worth replacing him with a rookie at number three?

There has been some ridiculous talk of recalling Ravi Bopara. I would rather my mum played. The guy is a twit, with not a shred of the mental faculties required for test cricket. Was nobody watching during 2009?

Our bowling needs some extra pace and variety. It now looks almost certain that Graham Onions will play tomorrow, but personally I’d like to see Chris Tremlett firmly in the mix for the Oval.

Last week, we argued that Tremlett should play at Old Trafford, and the later course of events suggested we were right. His extra height and bounce would have given us an edge. But in all three tests so far, the selectors have mis-matched the third seamer to the conditions, getting it wrong each time.

Bresnan should have played in the skiddy, arid and reverse-swinging environment of Nottingham, which was completely ill-suited to Finn – who in turn would have been well-placed for Lord’s. Then, Tremlett (or maybe Monty Panesar), should have played in Manchester.

But it will be runs – big, heavy, runs – which can steer our ship firmly back on course. What we would give for a Cook or Trott century tomorrow, or even both. Because, should that happen, the series will be over.


  • I’m a little surprised by all the talk of Onions. Unless the pitch helps the bowlers and moves around significantly, he won’t be effective. He has lost a yard of pace, a combination of age and injuries, and I guarantee you that his average speed will be lower than Watson (or Bresnan’s would’ve been).

    Yes, pace isn’t everything – Onions still bowls a good line – but without that nip / snap off the pitch, he isn’t the same bowler. It must not be forgotten that he isn’t tall either, so there’s no advantage there. Test players should be able to get on the front foot and dominate him if it’s a flat deck.

    Form in.county cricket is one thing, success at international level is another. A big criticism of England at OT was that the attack was one paced; selecting Onions will not fix this.

    We all remember Onions fondly from 2009, but it’s 2013 now. And if taking wickets for Durham is a prerequisite for playing for England, why not Ben Stokes, who has also taken shed loads of wickets on helpful pitches and now bowls slightly quicker than Onions. If he played instead of Bairstow, Eng might actually field a balanced side for once! I’m being a little facetious here, but you get my point.

  • Really looking forward to Durham’s big day, as on our 21st birthday Riverside finally comes of age as a Test venue (we should have done so in 2009, but Cardiff jumped the queue). Hoping for an England win of course, but would be good for Durham if the sun shone and it went the distance.

    I’m obviously a bit biased, but I would play Onions instead of Bresnan. Onions may have lost a bit of pace but he was never that quick in the first place. Riverside may not be the terror track of its early years, but it still offers the seamers a bit of help, and on his home ground Onions knows better than anyone how to get the most out of it.

    I would leave the batting as it is – even though they’ve had poor series so far, Cook and Trott will come good again soon. As for Ben Stokes, I think he’ll be playing Test cricket in 2 or 3 years’ time – he is more than capable of batting in the top 6 and could be the answer to our fifth bowler problem, but he’s still too raw for Test cricket at the moment.

    • I actually agree with you Garreth that Stokes is probably a bit too raw at the moment. The only thing I’d say, almost as devil’s advocate, is that Bairstow also looks a bit green to me. If we’re going to pick a talented, but raw batsman, there is an argument that Stokes would be the better bet: equally talented, but also left handed (it would be great to get one in the middle-order), and a more than useful 5th bowler. It won’t happen though. If you look at events on the Lions tour down under, Stokes has some growing up to do.

  • Something not many people have acknowledged is that Australia – whose bowlers are actually very good – have effective plans for our batsmen and they’ve been executing them very well, even if we haven’t noticed.

    As Simon Hughes noted in the Tele today, their plans to Cook and Trott are essentially the same – keep a line outside off and force them to either play loose shots through the covers early or – if they survive – over compensate and start falling away to off, playing around the front leg. Both of them have fallen for it. They’re both out of form, which hasn’t helped, but the Aussies deserve some credit for some smart plans and execution.

    Root plays almost exclusively off the back foot, so they pitch it full and make him come forward outside off. Gets him in to trouble.

    KP is so unorthodox it’s quite hard to put him in to a box, and Bell has just been the complete package, no weak spots. I’d back Cook and Trott to come back from this and get a score before the series is out, as KP has, but, frankly, if they have to have a dry patch I’d rather they have it now, for we’ll need them desperately on the return leg. As it is, we’re winning comfortably with minimal contribution from out four best bats.

    • Well said Tristan. I thought the performance of Australia’s pacemen at OT was as disciplined a performance as I’ve seen from a bowling attack in quite some time. They looked the real deal, and gave us absolutely nothing to hit. I’m sure we all wish Mitch was playing, as he used to relieve the pressure valve. In effect, I think Australia are doing to us (creating pressure) what we’ve tried to do to them.


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