I’m writing this towards the end of the final session on the fourth day of the third Ashes test match: England are currently five down chasing (which I accept is not the right word) five hundred and something. We might have five wickets in hand, but the Ashes are gone – surrendered with barely a whimper to a rampant Australian side.
England’s 3-0 victory in the summer was nowhere near as emphatic as the bare scoreline suggests. We could easily have lost at Trent Bridge, we were spared by the weather at Old Trafford and Stuart Broad’s outstanding spell at the Riverside completely changed the course of the Chester-le-Street test. I would add the caveat that we deserved to win the final test after Michael Clarke’s sporting declaration ended with the Australian skipper almost pleading for the umpires to allow bad light to spare his team.
In my opinion, England are a decent, reasonably successful and experienced side, perhaps on the decline, whereas Australia were far from the pushovers the English tabloids may have suggested. True they are far removed from the truly great sides of relatively recent years, but there’s no shortage of ability within their squad and on home pitches, an England victory was far from guaranteed.
Apart from the eminently listenable Glenn McGrath, who predicts five-nil every time the sides meet, and Michael Vaughan, who seems to have turned into some sort of self-professed soothsayer, very few would have confidently foreseen the spectacular fashion in which Australia have dismantled Alistair Cook’s side.
But it has been a demolition of embarrassing proportions sparked, in my opinion, by the resurgence of Mitchell Johnson, whose trans-formation from laughing stock to destroyer has been remarkable. His performances seem to have sent waves of confidence through the team and the sheer extent of the hosts’ domination is hard to put into words.
There has been a lot made of the “sledging”, the comments exchanged between the teams out on the pitch. There’s a fine line between what is and isn’t acceptable, and both sides seem to have come close to crossing that line. There certainly does seem to have been some sort of breakdown in the respect that the game demands, typified to an extent by David Warner whose talent has been occasionally overshadowed by on-field histrionics and a mouth that (along with his fist) Warner evidently finds difficult to control. That said when Shane Watson reached a thrilling century earlier today, apparently only Ian Bell applauded the achievement.
Speaking as someone who could spit a dummy further than I could propel a cricket ball, I can understand there are moments when you really don’t want to acknowledge an opponent’s performance, but those feelings usually stem from frustration at one’s own failings. However badly we’ve performed and however badly we’re being beaten, I think we should have shown Watson (and the game of cricket) more respect.
There will be plenty of debate regarding the make-up of the England
side with the trip to the MCG looming. Although two of our senior bowlers (Swann and Anderson) have been dispatched like average club cricketers at certain times during the series, I’d be inclined to leave the bowling attack unchanged, but (controversially) I’d drop Kevin Pietersen – ridiculously gifted as he is – and play Gary Ballance at five with Bell moving up to four. I’d also let Jonny Bairstow take the gloves and bat seven, as Matt Prior can’t get a run and his keeping hasn’t been great in this test either.
Does that weaken our batting? On paper, clearly yes, but if we make no changes, there is an argument to suggest performances and results will not change – and can only mean one thing: a whitewash. I just hope that England can restore some pride between now and the end of the series, but whatever happens on or off the field, we need to accept defeat with dignity (because it’s easy to magnanimous in victory) and congratulate Australia on a job extremely well done.