Tuesday 17 December 2013 

Ashes Comment: Australia Have Proved Us Wrong

The moment that Australia knew they had finally regained The Ashes
The moment that Australia knew they had finally regained The Ashes
© REUTERS / Action Images
 

Just one of your Cricket World editorial team predicted that Australia would win this Ashes series*. All of us thought the series would be closer than this.

Any talk of 5-0 whitewashes was with England in mind, but how quickly that has changed. That Australia now have a good shot at it is testament to just how good they have been in this series.

England captain Alastair Cook, and many of his players, have already admitted that they have been outplayed in all departments. Honest as ever, they could hardly pretend otherwise.

With just one century in six innings and no score close to 400, England have not been allowed to take control of any of the three Tests and when Australia have - mainly due to their own excellence, but England have helped with poor fielding - they have not given the tourists a sniff.

It is almost as if the clock has been turned back to the 1990s and early part of 21st century. The players have changed, but the method is much the same: win the toss, rack up huge scores, put batsmen under pressure, don't make mistakes, bat positively, win Test match by huge margin. Celebrate and repeat.

England haven't turned into a bad side in a couple of months. Their preparation was good. Not perfect, but good. Conversely, Australia haven't turned into the best side in the world in the same period. You'd have to fancy South Africa to see them off and they'd still struggle in India.

While England have perhaps been unfortunate to come into this series with key players Alastair Cook, Ian Bell and Matthew Prior struggling for form, and Jonathan Trott leaving early, Australia have got virtually everything right, and not suffered any real problems with form or fitness.

A settled line-up has helped greatly as the same set of players have done the business all the way through so far whereas England have chopped and changed, both through necessity and choice. Darren Lehmann has now spent valuable time with his squad - and it is his squad, this time - which is reaping dividends.

A rejuvenated Mitchell Johnson has given the attack real bite and he is able to produce such devastating bursts because Peter Siddle, Ryan Harris, Nathan Lyon and Shane Watson have been keeping England under pressure at the other end.

The hard work is beginning to pay off. Australian cricket, in a year in which their rugby league counterparts have won the World Cup, and their rugby union team has also been given a fresh lease of life by Ewen McKenzie and Quade Cooper, can once again hold its head up high.

Now will come the inevitable calls for wholesale changes from England supporters. Pietersen out. Prior out. Swann out. Flower out. You've surely seen the tweets already.

Sweeping wholesale changes seldom work. Look how Australia struggled in the 1980s to replace several great players and see how India's form has dipped since losing Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and now Sachin Tendulkar.

Following the 2006/7 debacle, and for all that England have not played well on this tour, it hasn't yet reached the same nadir, the Schofield report recommended changes to the whole structure of the game in England. Maybe another such report will commence shortly, but it won't recommend dumping experienced players and coaches.

Cook, Bell and James Anderson were on that tour and developed into world-class players. England hope that Ben Stokes, Gary Ballance and Boyd Rankin can make the same journey. Given his defiance in the face of adversity at the WACA, Stokes does look to have a bright future but don't get too carried away just yet. Eoin Morgan and Ravi Bopara scored Test centuries early on in their careers before slipping out of contention, as have several others over the years.

Right now though, that is one of very few positives for England to take from what has been an Ashes battering so far.

Well played Australia. You've proved a lot of people, including us, very wrong.

*As his prize for getting this prediction right, Aaron Kumar will be covering the Boxing Day Test for us as I take a break.

© Cricket World 2013

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Fixtures & Results

21st-25th November: 1st Test, Gabba, Brisbane
AUS 295 & 401-7d. beat ENG 136 & 179 by 381 runs
5th-9th December: 2nd Test, Adelaide Oval, Adelaide
AUS 570-9d & 132-3d beat ENG 172 & 312 by 218 runs
13th-17th December: 3rd Test, WACA, Perth
AUS 385 & 369-8 d. beat ENG 251 & 353 by 150 runs
26th-30th December: 4th Test, MCG, Melbourne
AUS 204 & 231-2 beat ENG 255 & 179 by 8 wickets
3rd-7th January: 5th Test, SCG, Sydney
AUS 326 & 274 beat ENG 155 & 166 by 281 runs