• 13 Jan - 19 Jan, 2018
  • Sohaib ALvi
  • Sports

It was always going to be tough for England. Even the previous teams from their shores have found it almost impossible to dominate Australian sides playing at home when they are not at full strength.

In fact the English have been whitewashed before and this time escaped only by the skin of their teeth, losing 4-0. They had a good chance at Melbourne after piling up 600-plus but as was their Achilles heel throughout the series, their bowling just wasn’t up to it.

Did they miss Stokes? The man they left out because he had a punch up with a local man prior to selection could have made a difference considering the form he was in, but that cannot be said for sure. England needed a specialist spinner and they didn’t go for it till the final Test, where Crane bowled well considering he was a 20-year-old making his debut with a set of fielders who had been by then totally decimated. His 48 overs in just one innings may have cost him 193 runs for his first and solitary wicket of Usman Khawaja, drawing him out for a stumping when he’d made 171. That’s a batsman well set, and it takes a certain amount of skill to deceive a man who is seeing the ball twice its size by then.

Moeen Ali and Stuart Broad were a complete disaster on this tour even though the wickets, except at the MCG, were amiable to both pace and spin. In fact Moeen created an unenviable world record, falling to the same bowler throughout his 7 innings in the series. To top it all it was his counterpart, the Australian off-spinner Nathan Lyons! He managed only 179 runs with an average below 19. In bowling, where Lyons took 21 wickets at less than 30 apiece, Moeen took 5 at 115!

As for Broad, the bowler who had often decimated Australia in the previous Ashes series in England 18 months back, was like a man without any hope every time he bowled. He had a moment or two, but other than that getting only 11 wickets at an average of 47.72 was an insult to a bowler of his standing. He had started the series only 12 short of 400 wickets and stayed short by 1 wicket.

Anderson took 17 at a decent average of 27.82, but then it wasn’t much luck for other English bowlers. Altogether they took 55 of a potentially 90 wickets give or take a run out. Australia on the other hand took 87 out of 90. Both teams batted for only one innings in one of the Tests, England at Melbourne and Australia in Sydney.

Yet the Australians hunted as a wolf pack. There was no clear lead wicket taker as Pat Cummins (23), Mitchell Starc (22), Josh Hazlewood (21) and Nathan Lyons (21) shared the wickets almost equally and all with an average in the mid or late 20s.

But Anderson was right when he said the England bowlers needed the batsmen to score high hundreds. There was only one in the series, that coming from Cook who carried the bat for 244 not out at the MCG on a flat pitch criticised by even the ICC as being too bland.

Other than that there were smaller hundreds by Bairstow and Malan and none other. Skipper Joe Root did make five half centuries and Vince and Stoneman 2 each. But no one among the top six was consistent enough other than Root to make an impact or stay in the line. But the English selectors erred by sending in three batsmen to Australia with only 15 Tests between them.

In contrast, the Australians surged ahead with all hands on deck. Leading them was the Australian skipper who made three hundreds and two fifties on way to a massive 687 run tally for the series at an average of 137.40. He was not just the man in the middle most of the time but was instrumental in saving the fourth Test, the one game where England dominated, by batting out the last day.

He was not alone in finishing with a batting average above 100. Mitchell Marsh, who had been a huge disappointment leading up this Test series and may not have played again had he not scored runs, was that other batsman. But then he had two hundreds only (one a biggie with 181) and not much else that propped up his average.

His brother Shaun was another who scored two hundreds but more consistent with two fifties which took his tally to 445. However, this was one series where David Warner was overshadowed to some extent for even with 441 runs based on a hundred and 3 fifties, it was Smith and the Marsh brothers who stole the show.

The Marsh brothers became the third Australian pair to score hundreds in the same innings after the Waugh twins and the Chappell brothers.

However, with all these records the series was considered boring by most critics even as it was played over the full 25 days of cricket — the first Ashes series to go the distance in 23 years. As a fan tweeted: “This Ashes series there were 4 days with 300+runs – least in an Ashes series since 1994/95; 3 days with 10+ wickets – least since 2001. On average last 10 series have had almost 8 300-run days and seven 10-wicket days.”

Then there was the point raised by cricket writer Jai Bednall “…established batsmen David Warner and Steve Smith have had their scoring ability curtailed by disciplined English bowling plans designed to starve them of runs. Australia’s fire turns England’s ashes to dust there was only one Warner innings which came at a strike rate above 70. Smith didn’t even crack 60.”

The Australian selectors are now eyeing a similar run in ODIs that follow the Ashes. England has been a changed side since they last played the World Cup here three years back. They cross 300 more often than not. It is this ODI series that England will now target for redemption. The question now is whether or not the new players joining the squad will feel dampened by the drooping shoulders of their fellow Englishmen who also play the shorter format. After all, half of the cricket is played in the mind.