Monday, December 18, 2006

Some Ashes reflections

"It will all be over by Christmas," they said when World War One broke out in August 1914. It wasn't, of course, but the 2006 Ashes series is, after Australia today won back the urn in the quickest possible time.

So what went wrong? Well, in a sense, it's more a case of what went right for Australia. They were the better team, and this time they performed to the best of their abilities. I always thought that as long as they did that, they would win, given that in 2005 they collectively had an off-series and still only managed to lose to us extremely narrowly.

They have also strengthened their team since 2005. Stuart Clark has come in for Jason Gillespie and on occasions looked Australia's best bowler. Mike Hussey has brought some real steel to the middle-order and become the most difficult player in their side to get out. And Michael Clarke - nicknamed "pup" by the Aussie tabloids - has finally blossomed into a great batting talent.

Nevertheless, England could have made much more of a fight of it had we (a) not suffered injuries to three key players, and (b) not shot ourselves in the foot by daft selectorial decisions. Here's my list of six things that might, just might, have made a difference.

1. The Captaincy. I don't think we missed Michael Vaughan greatly as a batsman, but we did miss his shrewd captaincy. In his absense, the selectors decided to go with the gung-ho approach of Andrew Flintoff, but they should have gone with the more cerebral Andrew Strauss. For one thing, I think the captaincy would have enhanced his form as opposed to inhibiting it in Freddie's case, and for another, I think he would have out-thought Ponting in the way Vaughan did in 2005.

2. Simon Jones. On the first day of the last Ashes tour, in 2002, the Welshman suffered a tour-ending injury while fielding. This time, he didn't even make it on the plane. England have badly missed him on both occasions. At times during 2005, he was our most dangerous bowler, and would surely have thrived in Australian conditions.

3. Marcus Trescothick. Whatever it was that happened to "Banger," it was very sad not only from his personal point of view but from England's. Some cricket-watchers who should have known better actually suggested that his absense would strengthen the team. Balderdash. His 431 runs in the 2005 series made him England's second highest run scorer after KP, and he was sorely missed.

4. Selection. There is much that could be said here, but fundamentally, we failed to recognise that two of the stalwarts of our 2005 triumph, Geraint Jones and Ashley Giles, were woefully out of form. Clearly Panesar should have been in the team from the start, and in retrospect so should Read, even given his batting shortcomings. Duncan Fletcher has much to answer for here.

5. Troy Cooley. Was England's bowling coach during the 2005 series before moving to the same role with Australia this time round. His departure could probably not have been prevented - he is an Aussie after all - but it is clear that without his guidance, our main strike bowler Steve Harmison became a shadow of his former self.

6. The Batting Order. Until Trescothick's breakdown, Paul Collingwood wasn't even in the Test XI. Then, suddenly, he was batting at four, the place normally occupied by the best batsman in the team. Colly did us proud with a double-ton at Adelaide, but Kevin Pietersen is our best player and should have been in the No 4 slot. Instead, he just kept running out of partners.

And that's about it. More offbeat analysis from the excellent Middle and Off's Ashes Blog.

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6 comments:

skipper said...

Paul
I agree with all your points. Oz were so close to beating us in 2005 we nourished the fiction that we were the batter team. If McGrath had not trod on that ball after Lords I doubt we'd have won at Edgbaston. And Monty and Read should have been in from the start. Now I'd think a 5-0 result is likely. Justice? probably but the fanatical fans like me aren't interested in justice- we want to win!

skipper said...

should have written 'better'!

Kev said...

Rod Marsh suggests that Troy Cooley's return to Australia wasn't inevitable. He was keen to stay in England but the ECB quibbled over the contract. If so, fairly culpable stuff.

http://sport.guardian.co.uk/ashes2006-07/story/0,,1969847,00.html

Despite his clear importance to the bowlers - in technical, psychological and emotional terms - the ECB declined to offer Cooley more than a one-year contract extension. The wounded Australians, hardly able to believe their sudden good fortune, enticed Cooley home as a key member of their own coaching team.

"It's just incredible," Marsh says with a dry little laugh at the ECB's ineptitude. "How they didn't wrap Cooley up is beyond comprehension. The ECB has got a helluva lot more money than almost anyone in world cricket and so you have to wonder why they were haggling over a contract extension. If Cooley was the reason England's bowlers performed so well last summer - and I think he was - then I simply don't understand the ECB." Even more damningly, he says: "I know Troy would have stayed with them. He wanted to stay in England."

Richard Bailey said...

My understanding of Cooley's departure mirrors Kev's. A real failure, along with a completely screwed up selection process.

You analysis is pretty spot on, otherwise.

You'll smile at this, but for me, the writing was on the wall the day I heard the Aussie squad was on a Boot Camp in Queensland. That single thing told me all I needed to know about how determined they were to put things right.

What made it worse was the rather dismissive and patronising response we gave it in England. It rather summed up our total misunderstanding of what it is to be a team.

Anyway, you'll be waiting for my thoughts on Brown and a snap election so I best wrap up here!

Colin Campbell said...

Yes the Aussies planned to take back the urns in a manner many military tacticians and business strategists would have been proud. Plan executed pretty much according to plan.

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