A brief diversion into cricket… being in India has allowed me to avoid the sleep-deprivation of UK-based Ashes followers and get in a few hours of early morning listening each day on testmatchsofa.com. (I’d love to know their listening stats – grassroots internet radio at its best [update 9 Jan – 15,000 at peak apparently]). The dominance has been so complete that I’m joining the legions of amateur analysers for the day.
England’s performance has been incredible. I had low expectations, but perhaps those with better knowledge of the game and the set-up knew that this time things could be different. Here’s some thoughts on what changed.
Trott by a furlong
For me, the biggest change in English cricket has come in the batting line-up. For the first time in a long time England left for an Ashes series in Australia with an absolutely caste-iron idea of their top six. Once the decision to stick with an out-of-form Cook had been made, the order of Strauss, Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Collingwood and Bell was set for the series. The confidence in this line-up was such that Morgan was the only back-up in the squad.
I have no doubt as to what has transformed the batting performance. Jonathan Trott, who was a brave – and inspired – choice when he debuted with a century in the fifth Ashes test in 2009, has since been the catalyst for the newfound solidity. (Remember all those calls for the return of 40-year-old Ramprakash?) Number three has always been the position preferred by the game’s traditionalists for the best batsman in the team, and the way Trott has made it his own is testament to his remarkable abilities. Great number threes – and Trott is undoubtedly becoming one of them – take the pressure off both the openers and the batsmen coming after him. He has earned the right to a long tenure in the position.
Perhaps it would be going too far to credit Trott with Cook’s incredible run of form too. But it surely helped.
Bowling bowling bowling
“The more I practice the luckier I get.” Gary Player might be the sportsman to whom this truism is normally attributed but any one who’s ever played sport knows it. The England bowlers have been practicing, and it shows.
The consistency in line and length has been the main factor behind their success. That comes from doing the hard yards in the nets and in games. By developing genuinely super-fit bowlers England can now compete with any attack in the world. Anderson is transformed; Swann can bowl as many overs as the captain needs him to; Tremlett, Finn and Bresnan have all improved immeasurably. Broad – the only one to break down physically – will undoubtedly come back stronger.
Genuine competition for places in the bowling line-up is something we haven’t seen for some time. Contrast the Australians, who even struggle to find someone consistent enough to open their attack.
Let’s go mental
Mental strength? Isn’t that an Australian trait?
It’s easy to look at the results and think that this series has been mostly one-sided. But the reality is that England have dealt with some highly threatening situations with a focused mentality that is a long way from the lackadaisacal past, and has to be credited to the backroom staff. A few examples:
First test: Australia were 450-5 in their first innings, 190 ahead with two days to go. Not only did England clean up the last five wickets for 31 runs, but then put the game beyond doubt with that incredible three-man 500-run batting performance.
Third test: To lose so comprehensively (it was a proper drubbing) and still go on to win the last two tests by an innings showed an inner confidence rare in English cricket over the past twenty years.
Fourth test: England on 286-5 in their first innings, 188 runs ahead of Australia were in almost a carbon-copy position to Australia in the First test. The difference is that England then punished loose bowling to put on a further 227 runs for the last five wickets, which also put the result beyond doubt.
There were numerous other, smaller examples of mental strength – not least in the confidence of the fielding. The Aussies, by contrast, looked more mentally weak than for three decades.
Fantastic sporting action. Well done England.
And finally, a plug. The scorer for my old club Barnes CC Lizzie Ammon has always had an “eye for the ball”. Not only was she a commentator on testmatchsofa, but she has also started her own blog, legsidelizzy.com, which is excellent and well worth a read.