Man we felt naked there for a bit. As a generation of cricket fans who had gotten very used to winning pretty much every series, let alone every Ashes for a long time, going an extended time without being in possession of the Urn is something many of us are still getting used to.
It is actually in the interests of cricket, both here and for England, that the Ashes is competitive and never a foregone conclusion and with Australia as underdogs going into this series, I think we can say this series was never a foregone conclusion.
Amazingly though, the series has not actually be competitive. It’s just in the opposite direction to the way people thought things would go if you were told this series wouldn’t be competitive.
Whilst Australia’s performance in the English hosted Ashes earlier this year was much maligned, it was also too early into Darren Lehmann’s reign for him to have had much of an impact yet. But once he recalled David Warner things started to turn and then the inclusion and rebirth of Mitchell Johnson has helped turn things around completely for the Australian cricket team.
Darren Lehmann has been fantastic in his role so far. He not only has made some selection decisions that took guts, he also has fixed the harmony in the team and got everyone playing “Australian cricket” again.
I don’t think anyone predicted that Warner and Johnson would basically turn into the best players in the world, but they always had the talent to do so. The issues were always on the mental side of things and right now it looks like both have matured on and off the field. If they can both harness that into more than just a short term run of form and actually make it the baseline for the rest of their careers, then Aussie cricket really is back.
The most amazing thing to me is that we are doing this in the Ashes without the names touted as the next golden era of Aussie cricket. From a bowling standpoint we are without Pat Cummins, James Pattinson, Mitchell Starc and Ashton Agar. All four of them could and should end up regulars eventually, but with injuries and inconsistency impacting them, they now have a harder road back into the side, which is a good thing for all concerned.
Meanwhile guys like Usman Khawaja have failed to break into the batting order when given opportunities and he too is going to struggle to crack the side. Brad Haddin’s recall has been another masterstroke. Matthew Wade was never the answer as wicket keeper and now Haddin is in career best form as a batsman and he was always a better gloveman than Wade.
Nathan Lyon is a player I personally have criticised in the past and I genuinely believe that if he didn’t perform in this series, his spot in the team was likely gone. But to his credit Lyon has bowled very well, as well as contributing decently with the bat. Quite simply, I can’t see anyone being dropped right now and amazingly we could play the entire Test series with the same 11 players.
You can’t ask for more than that.
The one place I think we might need to figure out the long term solution remains the opening partner for Warner. Rogers played well in Perth, but he is already on the older side and his average is still not that great. He does a serviceable job as the anchor partner, but needs to make some bigger scores on a regular basis to lock that spot up for the next few years before he retires.
George Bailey would probably next in line to be under pressure, but right now I think he is pretty safe. Steve Smith on the other hand is a player I have been a massive fan of since Day One and wanted him in the team even when he was being left out. But I can’t imagine the team without him now.
England on the other hand have a lot of things to figure out. Since the Jonathan Trott situation went sour, the team simply haven’t found the cohesion or confidence to compete on foreign soil. Ben Stokes’ innings was fantastic and they need the rest of their team taking a lot out of that performance.
Stuart Broad’s injury was unfortunate (for them) and whether his replacement for Boxing Day can make a difference will be fascinating. Although it’s already too little too late.
Also, if Kevin Pietersen wasn’t carrying the value of his name, would he even be in the side at this point? England needs to make sure tough decisions after this series about whether certain players need to go back to County cricket and get their form and confidence back, before they return to the English fold.
Piers Morgan is constantly calling for Alastair Cook to lose the captaincy on Twitter. I don’t know if I agree with that, but I do agree that he hasn’t seemed to be much of a leader this series, whether it was with the bat or vocally.
Someone needs to bring that team together and I’m not sure who it will be.
We are now faced with the two most high profile Test’s being dead rubbers, but with Australia chasing a 5-0 series whitewash, we will all still be watching, just with a lot less tension on every ball.
Perhaps that lessened pressure will help England perform better or perhaps trying to fight off a whitewash will get to England even more.
Australia will just keep doing what they are doing and send Warner and Johnson (depending on the toss) out there to break the spirit of the opposition from the first ball. Being aggressive from the get go can be such a huge advantage in Test cricket as it can set the tone for the entire five days. Momentum goes a long way and right now Australia are like a boulder going downhill and picking up steam.
Boxing Day is sure to be fun as an Australian, knowing we already have the Urn back and now we are just trying to rub salt in the wounds and let’s be honest, the Aussie cricket team is pretty good at that.