Lockdown. It’s the perfect time to engage in hypothetical discussions. Nobody can ever win these arguments – it’s just a matter of opinion – but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a good time trying. And what else are we going to do in the absence of live cricket?
I was motivated to write this piece after seeing a poll on Twitter over the weekend. Nearly 70% thought that Strauss’s 2010/11 Ashes winners were better than Vaughan’s 2005 heroes. This astonished me. In fact, my metaphorical monocle almost fell into my metaphorical beer.
Personally I thought the poll would be closer. Not least because I believe that Vaughan’s team was slightly better. Here’s why …
Argument No.1 – Vaughan’s team would win a game between the two
If Vaughan’s team could beat Ricky Ponting’s Australians, who were probably the best Aussie team of all time and arguably the second best side in Test history (after Clive Lloyd’s West Indians), then surely they’d have no problem beating a team that reached No.1 in the rankings for all of a few weeks?!
Let’s look at this logically. If England’s 2005 batsmen managed to score enough runs against McGrath, Lee, Warne and Co, then they’d be more than capable of scoring runs against Anderson, Tremlett, Bresnan and Swann. It’s worth remembering that Stuart Broad only played the first two Tests and then got injured.
Although the 2005 side wasn’t the strongest batting unit on paper they managed to post competitive totals throughout the series (Lord’s excepted). Therefore I’m sure they’d find run scoring against Strauss’s 4-man attack easier than an Aussie 4-man attack that contained two of the best bowlers of all time (plus one of the fastest).
The same goes for the 2005 bowlers. If they were able to blow away the likes of Hayden, Langer, Ponting, Clarke, and Gilchrist (at least three all time greats there) with regularity then I think they’d fancy their chances against Cook, Strauss, Trott, Pietersen and Bell (all of whom averaged less than their Australian equivalents).
The 2010/11 side contained no all time greats. There’s Cook, whose longevity made him an English great, and Pietersen who is usually regarded as a player of great innings rather than a great player, but there were no generational talents averaging over 50. I’d therefore back the 2005 bowlers to win a battle against Strauss’s batsmen too.
Argument No.2 – Compare the Australian teams they beat
Vaughan’s England’s beat an Australian team for the ages. Strauss’s England beat the worst Australian team for decades. In fact, The Sydney Morning Herald called the 2010/11 side the worst Australian team ever . The only point of contention down under is whether they were worst than their insipid 1978/79 counterparts. The Roar concluded that they were.
As well as Strauss’s team played – and I was jumping for joy with everyone else when it happened – let’s remind ourselves who actually represented Australia in 2010/11:
The batsmen: Shane Watson (not a real opener), Simon Katich (not a real opener), Ricky Ponting (who was 36 and a year or two past his best), Michael Clarke (who was in the middle of a dramatic two year slump at that point), Mike Hussey (a rare pillar of strength), and Marcus North (barely Test standard).
The bowlers: Ben Hilfenhaus and Peter Siddle took the new ball (nothing exactly to fear there), Mitchell Johnson (who famously bowled ‘to the left, and to the right” and almost quit cricket because his confidence was so low), and the spinners were two complete non-entities – Xavier Doherty and Michael Beer. The only class act was Ryan Harris who missed half the series with injury and wasn’t fully fit in the games he played.
On the other hand, the 2005 Australian players need no introduction at all. They hadn’t lost a series for donkeys years and went on to win a world record 16 consecutive Test victories immediately after the 2005 loss. They were a team at their peak not a team on the decline (or in transition).
Shane Warne or Michael Beer? Glenn McGrath or Ben Hilfenhaus? 2005 Ponting or 2010/11 Ponting. It’s not even close folks.
Argument No.3 – Only 4 of Strauss’s team would make Vaughan’s XI
I don’t want to take anything away from Strauss’s team. They were a fine side containing some very fine players. They’re the second best England team I’ve seen. However, I wonder how many of them would have made the 2005 starting XI? Let’s do a quick head to head. I can only find places for Prior, Swann, a more mature Ian Bell, and Jimmy Anderson.
The opening partnership
Strauss played in both teams so this one comes down to a choice between Trescothick or Cook. It’s a tough choice. Both players scored exactly the same number of runs per Test during their careers – although Cook obviously had the advantage of playing longer.
However, I’m going with Trescothick for two reasons (a) Trescothick could take the game away from the opposition (like he did at Edgbaston when England famously scored 400 runs in a day) in a way that Cook never could, and (b) the Somerset man was a better foil for Strauss.
Although Cook and Strauss were a good opening partnership they were a bit too similar. Both were stronger on the back foot and neither were particularly natural drivers of the ball. They were therefore somewhat fallible as a combination because bowlers could execute exactly the same plan to both: let them hang back in the crease and then pick them off with a fuller deliveries.
Trescothick and Strauss, on the other hand, complemented each other very nicely. Marcus planted his front foot down the wicket and biffed it with aplomb while Strauss cut the bowlers to shreds; therefore the bowlers could never settle into a particular line and length.
It’s not hard to find evidence to support my assertion here. Strauss and Cook averaged 41 as an opening combination for England while Strauss and Trescothick averaged an whopping 52 together. Case closed.
Vaughan versus Trott. This is another agonising choice. However, Vaughan wins for two reasons (a) he’s the skipper, and (b) Vaughan at his very best was capable of greatness as a batsman. Trott was a fantastic accumulator, don’t get me wrong, but he’s not quite special enough to keep out a captain who made everyone else around him better.
What’s more, Vaughan’s performances down under in 2002/03 were astonishing – the best individual performance I’ve seen from an England batsmen. Flaying peak McGrath, Warne, and Gillespie for 633 runs at an average of 63 (with 3 hundreds) was spectacular. Yes Cook and Trott were special down under in 2010/11 but they scored their runs against an attack which just doesn’t compare.
The middle order
Kevin Pietersen or Kevin Pietersen? Hmmm. I’m going with Kevin Pietersen.
Although I think KP was at his best between 2005 and 2008 when he averaged over 50, and it’s true that his form dipped significantly in 2010, I don’t think it’s worth splitting hairs here. Let’s call it a draw. Both the 2005 and 2010/11 versions of KP were awesome.
Ian Bell is a different kettle of fish though. He should never have played in 2005 – his place should’ve gone to Graham Thorpe – and the 2010/11 Bell was clearly streets ahead as a player.
Now we come to the awkward Paul Collingwood situation. It’s very hard to compare him to Andrew Flintoff, who was a very different cricketer with very different skills, but there’s only room for one of them here. And yes, it’s obviously Freddie who gets the nod.
The 2005 Flintoff was absolutely immense with both bat and ball. A match winner who enabled England to field 5 bowlers – another reason why Vaughan’s team was more agile and superior.
First of all I’d like to thank Geraint Jones for everything he did for England. Now move to the back please Geraint. I’m going Matt Prior all the way.
I loved Prior as a cricketer. He was a swashbuckling batsman who was good enough to bat 6 rather than 7. This would’ve enabled Strauss’s England to play 5 bowlers too. However, Strauss got spooked after England were rolled over cheaply at Headlingley in the 2009 Ashes. Strauss therefore shelved the plan, his innate conservatism took hold, and he spurned this tactical advantage for the rest of his tenure. Vaughan would never have let one bad experience prevent him from fielding a truly balanced side.
First I need to reiterate something. We’re very much talking about a ‘moment in time’ here. We’re not discussing the cricketers Jimmy Anderson and Stuart Broad subsequently became. We’re talking about the bowlers they were in 2010. And at that specific time Anderson averaged 29 in Test cricket and Broad averaged 34. Champions they were not. Not quite anyway.
Consequently, although Jimmy was always very good bowler, I’m not 100% sure I’d prefer him to any of the four seamers in Vaughan’s team because Harmison, Hoggard, Jones, and Flintoff complemented each other so well. The most likely candidate to make way would be Matthew Hoggard who was probably at his peak in 2005. He averaged 26 that calendar year. Jimmy therefore has a strong case but he’s not necessarily a shoo in.
It’s also important to remember that we’re not picking a composite XI here; we’re deciding which seam bowling unit was better on the whole. And that’s clearly the 2005 attack – a line up that had everything: height, guile, swing, reverse swing, plus (crucially) a surfeit of sheer pace.
Strauss’s attack was disciplined, and bowled to a plan, but there weren’t the most dangerous individually. In fact, the plan was to stop the runs and wait for the batsmen to make a mistake. It was passive rather than proactive. They didn’t seek to ‘bowl a side out’ with aggressive cricket.
Love you Ash. But we all know where this one is going. It’s Swanny every day of the week plus an extra day the following week.
Having said that, Giles actually played a specific role really well for England in 2005. And it’s worth mentioning that Swann wasn’t actually at his best in the 2010/11 Ashes. He took just 15 wickets at an average of 40.
Swann was by far the better bowler though – albeit perhaps not quite as good as some remember. He was lethal against left handers but his record against right handers wasn’t anything to shout about (averaging 33). Let’s just say that DRS came along at exactly the right time for Graeme. He exploited it wonderfully though and I loved watching him bowl.
Strauss and Vaughan were both excellent England captains. However, they were very contrasting ones too. Vaughan was instinctive, creative, emotional, and spontaneous. Strauss was disciplined, intellectual, calm, and meticulous.
However, I’m going with Vaughan (how did you guess?) simply because he was more flexible. There were times when watching Strauss’s England could be somewhat joyless. England always had a plan, and it was usually the same plan too: bowl dry, give the batsman nothing, and wait for the opposition to implode.
Sadly, however, the very best batsmen don’t make many mistakes. Watching England’s seamers bowl to Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla at The Oval in 2012, as the Saffers piled on 637-2, was as painful as it gets. Getting whitewashed in the UAE was another experience to forget. Strauss also had problems dismissing tail-enders due to the lack of either genuine pace or mystery spin in his XI.
Strauss and his intelligent but rigid coach Andy Flower (they were clearly in lockstep philosophically and strategically) rarely altered their attritional methodology. They were stubborn and insistent. And this was a major reason why, amongst others of course, Strauss’s England didn’t stay on top of the rankings for very long.
Vaughan’s England, on the other hand, imploded for a specific reason totally outside of their control – injuries. Simon Jones came and went in the blink of an eye; Trescothick retired prematurely due to a mental illness; Flintoff was constantly batting a chronic knee injury; Harmison got homesick; even Ashley Giles suffered a chronic hip condition. Consequently it all unravelled due to pure back luck more than misjudgement.
Vaughan’s dressing room was also harmonious for longer. His relaxed (but determined) demeanour brought the best out of his players. Rebels and free thinkers (did someone mention a certain KP?) weren’t only tolerated they were actively brought into the fold. Strauss, on the other hand, ran a military style ship. And everyone gradually found it exhausting.
Argument No.4 – Look at the win / loss ratios
It’s been a tough debate. So I’ll make my last point powerful but succinct. Just follow the wins …
Michael Vaughan’s record as captain: Won 26, lost 11, drawn 14
Andrew Strauss’s record as captain: Won 24, lost 11, drawn 15
*And don’t forget that 3 of Strauss’s wins came in 2006 when he was captaining Vaughan’s team (as an injury replacement).
This shows that England’s 2005 team (or the team that reached its peak in 2005) won more games than the 2010/11 version – 26 to 21 to be exact. Winning down under and reaching world No.1 were great achievements but you can’t argue with the win ratio, especially when the Ashes wins came against a far better Aussie team.
So surely that settles it then? Let the carnage begin in the comments below.