In the immortal words of Lou Reed, ‘you’re going to reap what you sow’. England’s batsmen deserve all the success (and luck!) they had yesterday.
And what about the Australians – do they deserve to have their noses rubbed in it? As an Englishman, I’d say unreservedly yes. They’ve chopped and changed their team. They’ve given us decades of abuse. And we’ve had to endure sarcastic headlines like ‘can anyone in England play cricket’.
At this moment of impending triumph, I’d like to advocate my own prospective headline. ‘Can anyone in Australia take defeat graciously?’
On the basis of this test match, the answer is no. Alastair Cook was caught off a no-ball – so he was clearly not out – yet the incident has been described as ‘controversial’ in the local media. In that case, it’s controversial that the earth is round and Bill Lawry has a big nose.
Yesterday, the Aussies even thought about claiming a catch that had clearly bounced short of Hughes at short leg. They failed to applaud Cook when he reached his ton the following ball. It looked awful.
Later in the day, Ian Bell was caught behind (according to snicko) but was given not out after a review because hot spot couldn’t pick up the edge. Unlucky? Unfair? What were those Lou Reed lyrics again?
It doesn’t get any better for England fans at the moment. Yesterday, and indeed the victory in Melbourne, were perfect days.
After Perth, we argued that England would never be the world’s best team unless the batsmen learned from their mistakes and started to make runs on sportier pitches. At that point, England had reached 300 just six times in their last nineteen innings.
We also called on England to string some consistent performances together. Before yesterday’s perfect performance, our batsmen had performed abjectly after decisive victories.
The last seven days of Ashes cricket have finally put these issues to bed. And it’s all down to hard work off the pitch.
After a suitably restrained New Year’s Eve Party, Strauss and Flower arranged a practice session at 9am the following morning. It sent out exactly the right signals – England meant business and we weren’t going to rest on our laurels after Melbourne. There was a series to win.
After bowling Australia out for under a hundred at the MCG, England had to bat on the same sporty pitch. Strauss and Cook responded magnificently. They left the ball intelligently and chose the right balls to attack – a far cry from the performances against Pakistan last summer and, of course, the aberration at Perth.
England have identified where we’ve gone wrong in the past and made appropriate adjustments. The new approach has worked beautifully … and we’ve made the Aussies look rather foolish. No Michael Clarke, it’s not mandatory to play at balls two feet wide of off stump.
England have also done their homework at Sydney. Realising that the pitch has offered assistance for the bowlers, our batsmen adopted a measured but positive game plan – taking advantage of scoring opportunities in the knowledge that a jaffa could be just around the corner.
Once again we left the ball well and our shot selection was spot on. Our batsmen were particularly harsh on anything short … what a shame that Ricky Ponting isn’t playing and Phil Hughes doesn’t bowl. They are both very, very short.
However, yesterday was also perfect because it had a rather satisfying symmetry. Ian Bell and Alastair Cook both scored centuries (Bell’s was his first Ashes ton).
Before this series, the Aussies targeted Cook and Bell as our most fragile batsmen. Both had poor Ashes records – and both had a tendency to look like a rabbit in the headlights under pressure. Yet it was these perceived lightweights who delivered the knockout blows.
Cook and Bell have now conquered their demons and look like genuine world class batsmen. If Sydneysiders were excited about that cameo by Usman Khawaja (in which he looked vulnerable outside off-stump and threw his wicket away at a daft time), imagine how aroused they’d be if Cook or Bell were Australian; they are, after all, not much older than Khawaja.
England’s batting line-up now looks extremely strong on paper. Individuals are fulfilling their potential and the bowling has taken care of itself. For two decades, England have struggled to find a quality number three batsman, a world class spinner, and a consistent batting line-up. Ladies and Gentlemen, I think we’ve found all three.