The Leg Glance will do a more complete review of the Ashes tomorrow, but in advance of his more considered thoughts, I thought I might get the ball rolling. It’s going to be less about the cricket than TLG’s, and more an overall context piece.
I had a piece written on Friday night where I put down my thoughts on the events of Thursday. I think the arrow that pierced the most was about self-pitying. I can take nonsense of muppets, although it does annoy me, but I do look into myself when it comes to criticism of the blog and of me. I’ve never been impervious to criticism, and also, believe it or not, I hate confrontation. The big fear is that an England win, however it was achieved was going to bring out the worst in all of us. Those who have been pretty much down on the team, and more importantly the management and administration, have been hit hard by the “we showed you” merchants online, and it’s not been easy. Those who have defended the England team and some of its key personnel, have not wasted any time in sticking the knife in, just as we may well appear to do after every defeat.
It has not been a pleasant fortnight. I’ll say that. Even in the good times there’s not one time a week that I say to myself “why do I do this?” This isn’t self-pitying, it’s questioning my sanity! There’s no financial gain, I’m not into the attention-seeking lark (I’ve turned down enough requests for attention) despite what the amateur psychologists diagnose, and I get to see less and less of the cricket. I think it’s still down to loving the game, and the comments from the people who read our stuff nearly every day. It does keep you going.
The Ashes were always going to be fraught. This was the big one for the pro-England and the anti-ECB sides. In many ways both sides of the schism have come out with something. The pro-England side have a 3-2 win which very few saw coming. We didn’t take much account of how much conditions would neuter the supposed advantages the Australian bowling attack, in particular. There was also the key Australia first innings at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, which determined the winner of the series, and saw the always rickety looking Aussie batting line-up in dire straits. Importantly, when England had Australia down, they held them down. There were no real key lower innings batting recoveries by Australia, the key to 2013/4, and to that lots of credit has to go to the bowling line-up. Stuart Broad, who didn’t bat too badly either, must be wondering what he has to do to win Man of the Series.
But those anti-ECB, and not anti-England in most cases, just to clear that little piece up, will feel there’s a little bit of hollowness to this. We’re sort of getting into a nuclear arms race when it comes to wickets, and while this still remains an inexact science, there’s no doubt that conditions were massively in England’s favour. Now is this wrong? It has been debated here at length, and I’m torn. I still have a hard time getting over Sydney 1998/9, when Australia played three spinners on a shithouse of a wicket when the series was 2-1 (the Ashes had gone but that team fought back hard), so excuse me if I’m playing the world’s smallest violin, but while we are in this “we’ll do it because they do it” mentality, I’m not sure we’ll get anywhere. Given the quality of the cricket on show, there are alarm bells ringing for the test game, over and above those raised in Death of a Gentleman.
There’s no easy solution. Australia are going to do their damndest to unsettle England at every step out there in 2 and a half years time, and that’s what touring Australia is all about. If it’s like the last time, we won’t see anything above club bowler standard until we get to Brisbane. We’ll be put out in that furnace under-cooked. The importance is to make a 2010/11 stand, not a 2013/4 surrender. Pitches do vary in Oz, but we don’t get much opportunity to play on them. It’s always a little stacked the other way because a number of this Australia team have played county cricket before.
I’ll let TLG go through the winners and losers in terms of the players, but as an overall summary of the series, I would say it was desperately disappointing. Watch the Usain Bolt / Justin Gatlin 100m today. One was a star, struggling with his form and style, up against a man running the times of his life. It was pure sporting theatre. It was a gladatorial contest. It had meaning – these two guys rarely run against each other – and a sub-plot of good vs evil. It was also held in a top class Olympic venue, on a belting fast track, and for all the world to see. In a four year cycle there will be three races that matter – two World Championships, and an Olympic Final. Paucity is strength. Sometimes, to keep something special, you need to air it sparingly.
The saturation of the Ashes has diminished the quality. You can’t deny it. Whether this is cause and effect, or just the nature of the relative cycles of the two teams, who knows. In these days of result pitches, furious scoring paces, and effective drainage, there are many fewer draws. So the wheels can fall off the cart, and quality will diminish. So while the first two tests of this summer, on good wickets were absolutely fantastic, as soon as the stakes went up, and winning was all that mattered, the quality got shot to pieces. Four absolute routs, and one “sliding doors” test, where if Haddin had caught Root, then who knows. England did what aspiring good teams need to do, and what Australia did. Bloody hammer them when they cock up.
I said after Trent Bridge that my reaction was supreme indifference. I am not comforted by the performance in this test, because it indicates that we can’t have a bad day and still pull our arses out of the fire. I don’t buy the “we’ve won what we had to argument” because Australia, in the past ten years have not packed it in after the 3rd test, but nailed us. The great West Indies teams did the same. Our opponents in the next couple of series wouldn’t hesitate either. Aspiring great teams should not deal in excuses. This team tells us it wants to be great. It needs to get that attitude.
There is more optimism then there was prior to this season. I’m still annoyed at the deification of Cook. It’s cobblers. I do feel that if Root is the number 1 batsman in the world (and the same for Smith) then we live in troubled batting times – and again, this isn’t a pop at Joe. I’m concerned how Buttler really didn’t step up as I’d hoped. We have holes at opener, and I’ll bet all those at the start of the season said that “there were no vacancies in the middle order” wouldn’t mind having that nonsense back, as there were huge alarms over a couple of players. Where does Bell go from here after a difficult summer? But there’s been Root, there’s been Mark Wood, the reintegration of Finn, the form of Broad, the tantilising promise of Stokes and Moeen. It’s not a bad bunch.
It has been a difficult summer. Those who criticise us, who think we are nasty, vicious, purveyors of guesswork, snide and all the other words I’ve been called should really think. This takes a lot of putting together. We have a passion for the game, we care deeply, as we know you do too. Our anger may cross the line, but it is better to care than to walk away. On the day when a true master of the game, Kumar Sangakkara, left the field for the final time, we should remember that the game is in our hands. His innings, his performances and his legacy, like all others is to be handed down, told to those who want to know of our heroes.
When we do tell the youngsters who care about the sport, we’ll be recalling this series as a low-quality, tension-lacking affair, the third in two years, overkill diminishing the “brand” that is the watchword of our administrators, no memorable contests, games decided too quickly. Off the field it has seen fans at each others throats, again, and no sign of the end of the schism. It’s the way it is. People are people. In this modern communication world, we all have an outlet. The difference this year is that much more of the opprobrium is fan to fan. I aim my fire at the ECB, and fire only at those that misrepresent me. I aim my fire at the reporting, when I disagree, but which I’ve done a lot less of this summer. I am tempted to say if you don’t like what you read debate me, properly, or don’t read it at all. It’s your choice.
I’m not sad to see the Ashes packed away for 28 months. It’s time for some different challenges. I welcome the difference. This is a test upcoming. I’m looking forward to it. Because our greatest series has lost a ton of meaning to me. The totally logical consequence of money men over sporting men.
With that some house notes. The Ashes Panel will be up and running, and the first set have been asked their views. TLG will have a piece up early this week. We’ll be doing our usual for the ODI series, which is totally after the Lord Mayor’s Show (will they ever learn that lesson from 2005?), and when the international season is over, I’ll be doing the survey where we appoint the highly presitgious worst and best journalists of the last 12 months, as well as other matters.
Have a good evening.