In a closely contested series the question is bound to be asked. Where did the Aussies go wrong when they looked well placed to retain the Ashes?
The Aussies had wrested the initiative by gallantly drawing the third Test at Edgbaston and then winning the fourth at Headingley in a canter by an innings and plenty in 2-1/2 days. The momentum had shifted their way - seemingly decisively. How then did things go wrong at the Oval for them to surrender the Ashes they had won back with a 5-0 thumping of England a little over two years ago?
Ashes 2009: The key moments
Actually while Australia lost the Ashes at the Oval there were disturbing signs right through the series. Major tactical errors were made, the batting despite the star studded line up was increasingly vulnerable and the bowling in the absence of a quality spinner lacked balance.
Worse, the one specialist spinner who did reasonably well in the first three Tests was cooling his heals in the pavilion at the Oval when he should have been the frontline bowler. While Nathan Hauritz's exclusion at Headingley was perfectly justifiable - in keeping with the horses for courses policy - his exclusion at the ground of Jim Laker and Tony Lock was shocking to say the least. After all the horses for courses policy should have been adopted here too. England after toying with the idea of playing two spinners finally played only Graeme Swann but he had done well throughout the series and as only to be expected at the Oval he put in a sterling performance exposing the folly of the Aussie think tank in not playing Hauritz.
Full Coverage: Ashes 2009
Gallantly as Marcus North strove while sending down 44 overs he had his limitations. Skipper Ricky Ponting and coach Tim Nielsen have since admitted that omitting Hauritz was a mistake but what is the use of wisdom that dawns too late? Another blunder was not playing Stuart Clarke before the fourth Test as he underscored with a trademark performance at Headingley.
Future generations having a cursory glance at the overall figures could well assume that Australia must have won the series. There were eight centuries as compared to just two for England and there is not much to choose as far as the batting and bowling stats are concerned. The fact however remains that first innings collapses at Lord's, Edgbaston and The Oval, coupled with the failure to extract England's final wicket at Cardiff, contributed in no small measure to Australia's 2-1 defeat, the same margin by which they lost in 2005.
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It may be difficult for the Aussies to come to terms that their long era of supremacy is finally over. The danger signals were hoisted during the 2008-09 season when Australia lost away to India and to South Africa at home. Australia in fact have won just six of their past 16 Tests, a far cry from the 16 successive victories which they registered twice in the first decade of the new millennium. Still they held on to the No 1 spot even though South Africa, Sri Lanka and India were edging closer. The defeat at the Oval however has ensured that their ranking will now plummet from first to fourth making it the first time since 2003 the Australians have not held the top spot.
So where do the once all conquering Aussie squad go from here?
The temptation will be there for the authorities to make wholesale changes starting even perhaps at the top and commence a rebuilding process in real earnest. Actually there is little wrong with the personnel of the team per se and as already pointed out the series was lost due to a few tactical errors. In any event the rebuilding process is already in place what with the simultaneous retirements of several greats not too long ago.
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The wise course would be to persist with the present lot and just tutor them on how to have the killer instinct, the hunger for success, the trait of never being satisfied - qualities that were the hallmark of the great Aussie squads led by Mark Taylor and Steve Waugh during the long triumphant phase from the mid 90s when they dethroned the West Indians. While some may say that drastic defeats call for drastic measures it is imperative to reflect calmly on what happened and take corrective steps. Australian Cricket chief executive James Sutherland has already said that there would be no blame game. That is the positive approach.