It’s brilliant we won in Adelaide. The media reaction has been suitably euphoric. In fact, if I was awarded a run for every article I’ve read discussing ‘England’s greatest victories’ in the last fourty eight hours, my batting average might be pushing three figures.
But the cricket statisticians have overlooked one important fact. What happened after our last innings victory overseas against a major cricketing nation? We got thumped in the next two tests, that’s what.
On the 30th December 2009, less than a year ago, England hammered the Cricketboks by an innings and 98 runs in Durban. The media lauded England’s ‘Durban Legends’. You’d have thought we’d won the series already.
The South Africans, clearly riled by our excessive elation, pulled their socks up and decided to bounce back. They battered us mercilessly in the next two matches. England managed to hang on for a draw at Newlands – thanks to Graham Onions’ batting – but finally succumbed miserably at the Wanderers, where were got demolished by an innings and 74 runs.
Of course, England somehow managed to salvage a 1-1 draw from that series – despite being outplayed in three of the four tests. If that result was repeated down under this winter, we’d retain the Ashes – which would be great.
However, we’d do well to look back at the events of last winter before we crack open the bubbly. After all, there are several parallels between the victory in Durban and our recent success in Adelaide. Check out the match report http://bbc.in/7UhWK7.
The win in Durban came after a stalemate in the first test at Centurion, when England fought back after conceding a first innings deficit. South Africa won the toss and batted in the second test, but they failed to capitalise on a good batting track and were bowled out relatively cheaply.
England’s reply got off to a flyer, thanks to a century from Alastair Cook, and we cruised past Cricketboks’ total with relative ease. Strauss was therefore able to declare with a huge first innings lead in the bag.
South Africa wilted under pressure in their second dig. Graham Swann’s five wicket haul did the damage – and they never threatened to make England bat again. Sound familiar? You could say it was eerily prescient.
The parallels don’t end there. After the Durban humiliation, the South African media had a bit of a paddy and called for significant changes. The result? Their selectors had an Aussie-style panic and dropped Makhaya Ntini, one of the leaders of their attack.
Unfortunately for the Cricketboks, however, they had no great leg-spinner to coax out of retirement. The nearest they had was Paul Adams, who was neither great, nor arguably a leg-spinner (more a whirlwind of arms and legs that somehow seemed to propel a ball in the vicinity of the batsman).
You’d be forgiven for not remembering the details of the final two matches of series. They have been wiped from our collective memories.
In the third test at Cape Town, Graham Smith (the man who last smiled in 1988 when he first tasted chewing gum) took out his frustrations with a mammoth knock of 183. Who would bet against Ricky Ponting doing something similar at the WACA?
Although Smith’s team couldn’t quite secure a victory, the match was a turning point in the series. England looked tired during the fourth test at the Wanderers and deservedly got hammered.
The batting was a particular disappointment in that final test. We got bowled out for 180 in the first innings and then 169 in the second. You might think we’re a better side now – and a repeat of those collapses is unlikely, but consider this:
England’s top seven at the Wanderers was Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Collingwood, Bell and Prior. That’s right, exactly the same batsmen that will play at the WACA.
Meanwhile, the South African attack in that match was hardly of the Donald and Pollock vintage. With the exception of Dale Steyn, are Morkel, Parnell and McLaren any better than Harris, Bollinger and Siddle?
It could just be my natural pessimism kicking in – that’s what happens after twenty five years of almost continuous sporting disappointment – but my suspicion remains that England’s batting can still implode at any time.
We thought we were invincible after Durban, but once the pitches became spicier our batsmen became as vulnerable as baby Impalas in the Kruger national park.
England have only batted on excellent surfaces in the Ashes thus far – the kind of pitches that require a top class spinner to take 20 wickets. I doubt the curators at the WACA, the MCG and the SCG will make the same mistake. Yes we’ve got the Aussies on the run. And yes, we’ve got Graeme Swann. But only a goose would start counting his chickens now.