Australia 385 & 369-6 dec. England 250 & 251-5 stumps.
As England fans we can’t win when we’re in the doldrums. Had we been bundled out for 47, like this Australian team in the recent past, we would’ve bemoaned our lack of fight and guts. Now that Bell and Stokes have shown a bit of resistance, we’re going to agonise over what could have been.
For the first time, England’s middle-order showed that this Australian attack might be a very good one, but it’s essentially the same attack that chucked a large quantity of bush-meat pies at us in 2010/11.
The only difference is that Harris is older, Siddle uglier, Watson fatter, and Johnson more ridiculous than ever. Does Mitch actually know that Movember finished two weeks ago. Maybe he thinks he’s Sampson, and that the key to his latest hot streak is his (facial) hair. Or maybe he’s just a really, really big fan of Magnum P.I.
For a couple of hours when Bell and Stokes were batting so well, it proved that this Australia bowling attack is human. They do get tired. And when you put them under pressure they do bowl loose balls.
It’s just a shame that it’s too little, too late. Sometime tomorrow the Ashes will be Australia’s. I suppose that’s what you get when your batsmen play like muppets for three consecutive tests. England deserve to lose, Australia deserve to win. That’s the bottom line.
So what have we learned from this chastening experience? We’ll debate this in the coming days, but I think this series shows, more than anything, that coaches have a shelf life. Flower’s conservatism – Bresnan taking the new ball in Perth for heaven sake – and his robotic methodology no longer works with this group of players.
England are stale and inflexible. When plan A doesn’t work, there is no plan B. That’s because statistics don’t have a plan B.
Everything England do is planned to the extreme, and it’s all based on statistical analysis. Our players don’t play with freedom; they play to a formula. And when things go wrong, the management simply reassert the same failed formula. After all, how can they possibly do anything else? Maths is black and white. The stats don’t tell one story one day, and something different the next.
I’ll leave you with one thought on this topic. England never suffer close defeats under Flower. When we get beaten, it goes spectacularly wrong: 0-3 in the UAE, 0-2 in a three test series against South Africa, and 0-3 (soon to become 0-5 I imagine) in Australia. Why do you think that is?
There has been a lot of abuse aimed at England’s players in online forums recently – most of it justified. However, I disagree with those who are writing off the likes of Anderson, Prior and Pietersen (who is the same age as Clarke by the way). These players should all have a lot fuel in the tank.
Anderson and Prior are just 31. Harris is 34. Haddin is 36. Mitchell Johnson is 32. These players were written off too not so long ago. The difference, of course, has been Darren Lehmann: fresh ideas, new motivation. A new coach can completely transform the performances of an ailing side. And remember, it’s much easier to change the coach than find eleven new test cricketers.
We’ve had a lot of abuse from Aussie fans over the last few days complaining that (a) we’re whinging – just think about that for a second, a complaint that someone is whinging (!) and (b) we’re not giving the Aussies enough credit, and that it’s sour grapes to say they’re not a good side.
In answer to the second point, just 5 months ago the Aussie media declared Clarke’s team the weakest to leave Australian shores for decades. Those are your words my friends, not ours.
The truth is that the current Australian team is a bit like the Windies team in the early 90s. It is finding success at the moment because it has a good, experienced (but ageing) bowling attack and a couple of world class batsmen. It’s like the Ambrose, Walsh and Lara show.
Because the bowling attack is keeping the opposition down, it’s allowing the likes of David Warner (Sherwin Campbell?) to look good. It’s easy to slog a tired attack around when your team is in the ascendancy, but much harder to do the hard yards when the game’s in the balance and the bowlers are fresh.
I’m not trying to argue that Warner isn’t a good player, I’m just reminding people that all his centuries have come in the second innings. He’ll play plenty of daft shots in the future when Australia are on the back foot. Nobody will think he’s so brilliant then.
By the end of the Aussies’ tour to South Africa, they’ll realise that victory over this ailing England side – sweet as it is – doesn’t disguise the fact that they’ve still got problems. Or was all the despair about Australian cricket – falling standards in the Shield, a surfeit of T20 cricket, the lack of quality batsmen coming through, the injuries to the young pacemen – all irrelevant now the Ashes have been regained?
Ambrose and Walsh, like Harris and Johnson, were coming to the end of their careers in the early nineties. Look what happened next. We keep hearing about Pattinson and Cummins, but they’re always injured. Injuries take their toll. Just ask Ian Bishop.
Meanwhile, the Aussies keep goading us about the need to replace KP soon, but if that’s the case they’ll have to find replacements for Clarke, Rogers, Haddin and Harris imminently too. At least England’s bowlers are younger, and in terms of batting we have Root and Stokes – young guys with genuine talent.
And as for the established stars who have performed badly on this tour, maybe Andy Flower has simply become Mickey Arthur. There are definitely rumours of unrest in the England ranks. Good players, with good records, don’t become awful overnight. Something is amiss with England – and a change of coach might put it right.
Talking of Stokes, we shouldn’t let his innings go unmentioned. He played brilliantly for his unbeaten 72. There was a real joie de vivre about his batting – and it wasn’t just a slog fest.
It was just the kind of innings, in fact, that the rest of England’s batsmen used to play – until they became Gooch & Flower automatons.