Friday, 7 January 2011

An Ode To England's Ashes Performance

So the result that we were all patiently waiting to be confirmed has been emphatically delivered with another victory by an innings, the third in the series. I have avoided commenting on the Ashes throughout the Winter due to the sheer quantity of material available and my own difficulties in being able to watch the action live. Yet it seems unfair not to write something about what has been a quite remarkable Ashes winning series from England, even if the post is not original in its analyse or content.

Before a ball had been bowled I had predicted a 3-1 series win for England. I certainly did not, however, envisage such a sublimely dominant tour for the visitors. Superlatives have been rightly thrown around as over-by-over England, whether it be with bat or ball, grinded their rivals into a slow and painful submission. Some may criticise the woeful Australian performance but let them worry about that. They contributed to their own downfall, no one would question that, but it ought not to detract from or diminish England's achievements over the past two two months.

There are so many positive facets to the England team and their performances that ought to be mentioned that it would be impossible for me to talk about them all and deliver any justice upon their excellence. Records have tumbled, outstanding stats will remain to be drooled over, careers have been made and ended and all the while England received the plaudits.

Each one of the batsmen, apart from Collingwood who I will go on to talk about, has contributed huge runs at one time or another in the series. Strauss has been steady and consistent at the top of the order. As a captain, along with his partner Andy Flower, he deserves a lot of credit for the series victory. It was the result of a long-term process that has transformed the team from the dark days in the West Indies two years ago. They have picked a team and backed it consistently. They have built confidence, corrected problems and created an extremely competitive, focused ethos that has been clear to see in Australia. Strauss has though, contrary to what I and many others believed the case would be before the series began, been overwhelming eclipsed with the bat by his opening partner Alastair Cook.

Cook has had a career-defining Ashes and deserves the award for 'Man of the Series'. After a superb start to his Test career many felt that the promising left-hander had been found out, his technical deficiencies exposed and exploited. Yet these flaws have been resoundingly corrected. I do not doubt that confidence has played the main role in this transformation. He looks like a player reborn compared to the one even in the warm-up matches back in November. Coupled with this he has addressed the problems of playing with a stiff front leg and allowing his head to fall out of line with the ball which had made him susceptible to both lbw decisions and edging fuller delivers when attempting the drive. He has remained resolute in his defensive play and capitalised on the wayward deliveries, of which there has been many. His patience and concentration have been a lesson to any player wanting to play as an opening batsmen in Test cricket. Cook has stuck to his strengths of playing square of the wicket off the back foot while correcting his weaknesses which has allowed him to drive pitched-up deliveries and this, in turn, has enabled him to torment the Aussies with devastating consequences. He has been simply phenomenal.

Trott and Pietersen meanwhile have both contributed scores, and big scores at that, at various points of the series. The South Africa-born duo have been steady performers in the middle order in very different ways though. Trott has played with unalterable composure and confidence. He, like Cook, has demonstrated all the mental characteristics required of a top class number three. He scores off the balls he feels comfortable to score off and is always completely assured of his own game. This appreciation of his own strengths and weaknesses allows for him to limit his own errors and maximise his talents. Pietersen, on the other hand, has played with the class and flair we all know him to be capable of. His double ton helped him to silence doubters and since then he has looked in fantastic form, even if he has failed to make the big scores.

Bell has looked every inch the great technician that people have always said he was. He has been unfortunate to be stuck at sixth in the order but when called upon he has added valuable runs and has done so in elegant style. Prior too has chipped in with big runs while also having an almost faultless series with the gloves. While the tail, although it has rarely been needed to score runs with any great importance, has also shown itself capable of helping to exacerbate the misery of the lowly Australians.

The bowling has been perhaps even more impressive. While the Aussies have seldom looked like being able to claim twenty English wickets, the English attack has been menacing in nearly every innings. The English scores may have made the Australian pitches look flat and batsmen-friendly but the English bowlers have responded by teaching the hosts how to take wickets in their own backyard.

Anderson has answered any remaining questions over whether he could be dangerous in the conditions Down Under when the ball did not swing as much. He kept the ball at a good length and exploited anything the conditions or the wicket offered. When there has been nothing on offer he has remained disciplined and accurate.

He has been admirably supported by all the fast bowlers who have accompanied him, namely Finn, Tremlett and Bresnan. They too have understood the conditions and pitches and successfully got the most out of them. Moreover, they rarely gave the Aussies easy runs. They were relentlessly dangerous. As an all-round attack they could not have been much better and their bowling coach, the Australian David Saker, must take a large amount of credit for this.

Swann meanwhile, the man who many predicted would make the difference in the series, has not been called upon nearly as much as many assumed. When he has though, Swann was able to tie-up an end, providing valuable rest for the seamers. He did take wickets but he was simply not required often due to the stunning performances from the rest of the attack.

In the field England continued the level of excellence that has been characteristic of the side's emergence as a great team in all forms of the game. This is again a testament to the hard work and effort that the side puts in.

A quick word on Paul Collingwood. The ginger-top from Durham announced his retirement from Test cricket before Day four of the final Test as he believes now is the time for him to make way for new talent to emerge in the Test side. He may have struggled with the bat in the series but he has been an invaluable member of the team for the last five years. Let us not forget his gritty, match-saving innings at Cardiff that ultimately won England the last Ashes. Or the fact he averaged 57.33 in England's difficult tour of South Africa last year. He scores big runs at crucial times, can take wickets (or at least be an option in bowling rotation) and has for a long time been considered one of the finest fielders in the sport. Furthermore, he is also has excellent work ethic, leadership and mental toughness. He is a fantastic all-round player. His medium pace cutters and somewhat ugly batting style may never gain him the plaudits he deserves but his contribution to the team warrants due recognition.

So there you have it. In reality I could have done a post on each of the players in the team and still not done them justice. It may have been a long and unashamedly patriotic post but these moments are to be savoured by any follower of the England cricket team. They went to Down Under, crushed the Aussies and retained the Ashes in style. Now all that is left to do is enjoy it.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

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