England v Australia – 4th Test 5th Day – With A Slack Jaw, And Not Much To Say

I am starting the report of the day with England just having lost Jack Leach, and the start of the last hour. The NFL season starts today (although my team are going to do well to win 2 games) and there is plenty else going on. But England have fought, and fought hard today, in direct contrast to their performance at Edgbaston, for example. It has been gritty and doughty, and everything that the first test wasn’t.

Starting this paragraph and there are 14 overs remaining. England started the day with two down, and while Roy, in particular, did not look to be suggesting permanence, as Chris put on the Twitter feed, Joe Denly, for all his faults, sold his wicket dearly. Jason Roy stuck at it, got to 30, then got undone by another beautiful ball by Pat Cummins. I thought last night, that if Roy got out to a similar ball to the one that got Root, would there be such understanding. Answer was, of course not. Of course there are differing circumstances, differing careers, and yes, differing agenda, but Root can be excused for losing his wicket three times for a duck this series.

And as I write, Overton has been given out LBW to Hazlewood. He’s reviewed it, but it looks out. There’s a pause for ball tracking, and it’s three reds. It’s all over.

There went the Ashes. Australia retain the Ashes. They’ve won by 185 runs.

Let’s run through the rest of the play. Stokes nicked behind, didn’t wait for the decision and walked. A review would have given him out, but there’s no guarantee Australia would have called for it! Not with their form. But well done Stokes for not hanging around.

Denly went soon after lunch, Bairstow hung around a while before being nailed LBW. Buttler and Overton then dug in, with Jos batting over 100 balls. England just seemed to be two wickets too many down at any time, and although the Somerset boys worked really hard, Jos leaving a straight one wasn’t in the script. Jofra didn’t last long, falling LBW to Lyon and things looked truly hopeless.

Enter Jack Leach. Again Somerset stood between England and losing the Ashes. Again there was resistance, but just too many overs to face. Paine rotated the bowling, brought on the leg spin of Marnus, and he got one to bounce a little more to Leach, who gloved it to short leg. A couple of overs later, Overton was pegged LBW, and it was all over. Just under 14 overs from saving the game. They fought hard, but that’s the minimum expected. This is an Ashes series, if not lost, has seen Australia retain the urn.

Warne babbled some old nonsense at the end that these were two evenly matched teams, but that is patent nonsense. Australia are a much better team than England. Their world class, historically so, number 4 has been the massive difference. Stokes has played well, and Burns has done the best of a bad sextet of openers, and Archer has some promise (no doubt) but the Australian bowling is good, has good replacements, and the rest of the batting (Labuschagne being a real find in these conditions) has done enough. England missed their chance by not cashing in at Edgbaston when they had the Aussies where they wanted them after two days. England missed a chance due to weather at Lord’s, but that was sort of known a long way out. England took a chance, with a little luck, at Headingley, but as I posed at the start of this match would we have momentum from a miracle win, or would relying on a miracle really be a fools errand. The latter applies.

What’s the point in being angry? The collective media didn’t give a toss when we lost 4-0 Down Under in 2017/18. They were more pleased that their hero batted out a boring test match to prevent a whitewash, and just said it was utterly inevitable that we would lose – no biggie. Then this Ashes were a lower priority than winning the World Cup. While Australians would throw their hands up at this either/or attitude, this is seen as perfectly acceptable for England fans. Now there’s been a bit more chippiness from media sorts, but what did they expect? This is a madman’s idea of a batting order, which he’s stubbornly refused to change the personnel. George Dobell called him Ed Myth. He’s going to face some attention.

Then there is Bayliss, who is off in very short order. His test management has not been one to savour. We await his replacement, who I presume is going to be in place before the New Zealand tour next month. Heaven only knows who is going to take his place.

Root’s captaincy should be up for scrutiny. He’s not the batsman we once knew, as his average is well below 50 now. He’s not impressed, but one wonders how else he could captain this exercise in stupidity imposed on him by a selector in love with himself. I presume the next skipper is Stokes, and I’m not sure that’s a great idea either.

We can take a look at the rest of the team in the days ahead. But in a summer where England won a World Cup and then went straight into an Ashes series, and then face 8 test matches before the end of the winter, including two against New Zealand, with the first on 20 November (we have a ton of T20s before that), before rolling in to a four test series in South Africa, there’s no rest. I watched The Edge last night (it’s included with Prime) and the focus in the second part of the film is of the breakdown of the team. It was clear burnout. The Jonathan Trott retirement piece was tough watching. It showed how much it took to get to the top, and how the toll is immense. (I hope Vaughan saw that part).

The hierarchy in this country give not one shit about this. It’s why we have the Ashes back-to-back like 2013-14. It’s why we have the Ashes straight after the World Cup. It’s why we have a brand new competition that the top players are going to need to promote. It’s why the test schedule is ridiculous, and yet the format has been neglected. It’s why the County Championship is marginalised to the cold ends of the season. It’s why Tom Harrison is still in his position despite alienating core support and angering pretty much every fan in the country.

As the support at the Ashes shows, if they put it on, at any cost, people will turn up. They are counting on that same blind loyalty for the Hundred next year. I hope the fans turn their back on it. Only when they do, will the ECB get the bloody message. Stop pretending that test cricket is the prime format, when you neglect it. Don’t run premature victory laps. Losing the Ashes to our greatest foe, who played well enough, but hardly the greatest team to visit these shores, is not necessarily the worst thing, but it hurts. It makes the next series even more important. It’s hard to tell how England get good enough, quickly enough, to compete down under in a couple of years time, but the time should be spent wisely.

Instead we’ll have all manner of distractions. That’s where we are.

I’m not angry. I’m disappointed. What’s the point of losing your rag with this team, this organisation, and hell, the media and the know-it-all social media paragons? It’s not my place any more to be Mr Angry. What’s the point?

Congratulations Australia and Steve Smith. This has been the Fag End Ashes, an adjunct to the main event. We are World Champions. Enjoy the rest of the summer. Priorities and all that.

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