Tuesday 19 December 2006

The Ashes are over

Third Test, Perth
Day 5 Comment

It took 6,273 days to win them back, but just over a year to lose them again. Australia have regained the Ashes. It was promised to be an epic battle, but in truth it was never a contest.

This is an Australian side utterly consumed with one goal – winning the urn. Given the challenge of any pivotal session this series, they have surged ahead and left behind a bewildered, shocked England side.

I would never have said that one side could have more desire then the other, I thought the Ashes was too big for that. But watching Australia drive through and then celebrate victory, one sensed, that at a level unknown to even the players themselves, Australia needed to win it back more then England desired to retain them.

It is easy to say that this was an all-conquering Australian side, complete in every department. However, unlike the sides of the 90s, this one had significant flaws. It was also an ageing side with many playing their last ashes series, but the desire this gave them outweighed the creaks.

In truth, England’s grip on the urn slipped from the moment they first grabbed it on that September day. Their focus from that moment has oscillated from basking in the glory, to looking ahead to the rematch. In the intervening period between ashes series, Australia, paused, reflected and then concentrated on improving themselves. They won 12 out of 13 games. For England, winning the Ashes before 2005 was a mythical, unimaginable end to a cricket side. Reaching that point, they suddenly didn’t know what to do. Rather then continue sharpening their physical and mental skills, they lost focus and won just four out of twelve completed matches. They submitted to a ‘be all right on the night’ attitude for this series.

Players spoke before hand about it all ‘clicking in place’, but the sound of ‘clicking’ in test match cricket is months of hard graft and preparation. England arrived with few players who had been through that process. It is no coincidence that the ones who did – Pietersen, Collingwood, Bell, Panesar and Hoggard – have fared well this series.

For England fans, tonight is a relief. The agony of hope and despair is finally over. As I said after day 1 in Brisbane, it is hope that feeds the addiction of momentary, wonderful highs followed by long periods of desperate lows. The frustration and anger has now turned to acceptance for me, and the cold rational autopsy now begins.

Ashes defeats provide natural watersheds and there deserves to be debate about the future and setup of ‘Team England’ but we should not, again, fall foul to mis-focus. This is a young and talented side and the gremlins that a 5-0 defeat would provide could haunt England for many years. If the recovery of England is to happen, it begins with the first hour of the next session of cricket.

1 comment:

damo said...

Commiserations mate! Hope ur alright. Hope is an emotion you have very articulately written about in your blog. One hope for the future of English cricket is certainly Cook – he looks a very classy player and will learn a huge amount from this tour. My only regret is I didn’t get to watch these last few days or any of the series so far with you. I also actually wish it was more of a contest.