Ashes 2013: England are no more the whipping boys

Last Updated: Tue, Aug 06, 2013 07:02 hrs

Not since 1928-29 in the series 'Down Under' have England retained the Ashes by the third Test of a five-match series and that fact alone underlines the home team’s overwhelming superiority. 

On the eve of the contest last month, there was every indication that England was too strong for the touring Australians but even in their wildest dreams the players could not have expected to wrap up the outcome of the Ashes by the third Test. 

The closest recent parallel would be 1978-79 when in a six-Test series England retained the Ashes by the fourth game. And unless there is an unlikely reversal of fortune Australia could well return home without winning even one Test – something that has not happened since 1977.  
To be candid that will not be a surprise for the disparity between the two sides is enormous. England’s strengths and Australia’s weaknesses have been palpable. This is arguably the worst Aussie squad to tour England and while this is borne out by results there has been precious little to savour as far as their cricket is concerned. 

The captain of course can be excluded from any criticism. Michael Clarke is the one indisputably great figure in the side. He has proved it by his batting while no blame can be attached to him as a leader. There is just only so much a captain can do with a squad that has huge gaps down the order. 

The batting is weak, the bowling woeful and the fielding does not live up to the highest Australian standards. A captain can lead from the front and that is what Clarke has done but he has received very little support.  Sure, there has been the odd sparkle from the batsmen and the odd deadly spell by the bowlers but that is not enough to come out with credit in an Ashes series let alone win it.
Indeed Australia can count themselves as fortunate in having lost the first Test at Trent Bridge by a narrow margin. Had Ashton Agar been given out stumped when six – as he was – England could have wrapped up the match much earlier and by a more emphatic margin. 

Agar went on to get 98, the highest score by a No 11 batsman in the history of Test cricket but there was no such good fortune in the second Test at Lord’s where Australia were outplayed. As holders of the Ashes England now had just to draw the third Test to make sure of holding on to the urn till the return series 'Down Under' and that’s exactly what happened.
Yes, it was perhaps bad luck for Australia that in the one match at Old Trafford that they were on top bad light and rain interrupted the proceedings but I don’t want to over emphasize the luck factor. In the first place there was no guarantee that had the elements not interfered Australia would have won. Secondly as the well known sporting adage goes luck always goes with the stronger team and we all know which the stronger team is.  
Australia are rebuilding thanks to the retirement of several stalwarts and as we all know this process takes some time. In the transition period they will have to go through defeats and debacles and hopefully emerge stronger in the long run. At the moment though the woeful run will continue and they will have to be thankful for small mercies like not going down to their seventh straight defeat something that has not happened since 1888. 

In some ways this brings back unhappy memories of the post 1984 period when for long Australia had to suffer setbacks following the simultaneous retirements of Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh. They recovered in the course of time and became one of the greatest teams of all time but somehow one gets the distinct impression that this time the breakthrough phase will take a much longer time in coming.  
For England this is a time to rejoice. For so long have they been the whipping boys of the Ashes contests – they lost eight successive series from 1989 to 2003 – so much so it seemed that the urn had permanently migrated. Now the wheels of fortune have turned and England have emerged victorious in three of the last four Ashes contests and will make it four out of five in a matter of time. 

They have a well settled look, the batting and bowling is formidable and the fielding is up to international standards. In Kevin Pietersen they have the cricketing world’s great entertainer, in James Anderson the world’s best swing bowler and in Graeme Swann they have the world’s best spin bowler. 

Alistair Cook and Ian Bell are among the world’s leading batsmen, Stuart Broad a quality all rounder and Matt Prior a gutsy and most under rated wicket keeper batsman. Joe Root is one of the most talented young batsmen in the contemporary game and little more need be said about ''Mr Dependable'' Jonathon Trott even if he is having a bit of a lean period in the ongoing series by his own high standards. 

Any team that can choose one between Graham Onions, Tim Bresnan and Chris Tremlett as an opening bowler is twice blessed. They may not be a great side but they are a very good side – too good in any case for the Aussies.

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