England routed

Date: January 9, 2014 / Posted by control

Since the inception of the Ashes 45 five-Test series have been contested. Only three of them have been swept 5-nil and each time it has been by Australia: 1920-21, 2006-07 and this season.

The ’20-21 squad featured named like Warwick Armstrong, Warren Bardsley, Charlie McCartney, Jack Ryder and Bert Oldfield – all stars of the era.

The ’06-07 squad was even more star-studded, the last time arguably Australia’s all-time best XI was assembled.

This season, there was only one true star pre-series, skipper Michael Clarke with an average of 52 but that did not deter his team’s self-belief as they attacked the fight with gimlet-eyed determination.

England arrived down under looking for a fourth successive Ashes series victory. The majority of people believed Australia would be an improved outfit on home soil but the general consensus was the tourists would retain the little urn.

Yet, in less than 14 days of cricket, the most famous trophy in the sport had changed hands and the prospect of a clean sweep became very much a reality. And that has transpired as England was totally outplayed, and worse still for the players and their legion of fans, was totally humiliated.

Each of Australia’s victory margins was comprehensive – 381, 281, 218 and 150 runs along with eight wickets at the SCG.

England became the first team in Ashes history to lose all possible 100 wickets across five Tests since the move away from timeless Tests in 1938.

Several times it had Australia in on the ropes, principally in the home side’s first innings – at Brisbane it recovered from 6-132 to post 295; at Perth it was able to advance from 5-143 to 385. The required knock-out blow could never be summoned.

With Brad Haddin (493 runs at 62), Steve Smith (two centuries) and Mitchell Johnson with 64 in the first Test, Austrakia counter attacked each time to post totals that proved too much for Alastair Cook and his men.

England was never able to withstand the rampant Australian attack for long enough periods to build meaningful totals and the ever-present collapses were staggering – across the two innings at Brisbane the collapses were 6-9 and 5-21; in the first innings at Adelaide 4-6; in the two innings at the MCG 5-40 and 3-1.

And today, just after tea in the space of 11 deliveries, England lost 3-1 in its middle order. Many of those collapses were predicated on the fearful and explosive bowling by Johnson who finished the series with 37 wickets at the stellar average of 13.8. At times he appeared to be Gulliver taking on the Lilliput XI.

In concert with the man-of-the-match in the final Test, Ryan Harris (22 at 19.3), Peter Siddle (16 at 24.1) and Nathan Lyon (19 at 29.4), Australia’s attack was unstoppable.

The bowlers were backed up superbly in the field with barely an opportunity grassed through the series – the same cannot be said of the tourists.

England’s bowlers found the going tough. Stuart Broad led the way with (21 at 27.5) while the young and promising Ben Stokes claimed 15 wickets at 32.8 but the two expected trumps did little to aid the cause. James Anderson’s 14 wickets came at 43.9 as he looked to labour through the series.

Graham Swann decided he had had enough after the Ashes were surrendered at Perth, announcing his retirement after claiming just seven wickets at 80.0. Swann’s back-up, Monty Panesar was also ineffective with his three wickets coming at an average of 85.7.

England stacked its squad with three tall ‘bounce’ bowlers – Chris Tremlett, Steve Finn and the uncapped Boyd Rankin – suggesting that there was a weakness in the Australian camp to the short ball. Tremlett played at Brisbane and Rankin at the SCG. None of them featured at the WACA Ground, the venue with the most pace, bounce and carry in the country. It smacked of a squad that was wrongly chosen in the first place.

The batting battle was a non-event as Australia gave off the aura of a team that sort to attack at every opportunity while its counterpart seemed set on building their hopes around defence. Australia amassed ten centuries with Clarke, David Warner, Steve Smith and Chris Rogers compiling two each. England’s sole ton came from Stokes at Perth.

Targeting the skipper at Test level is always a tactic and the Aussies did it brilliantly with Cook held to just 246 runs at 24.6 – he has now averaged 26 in his last ten Tests against Australia. The other marquee batsmen were also ineffective – Kevin Pietersen (29.4) and Ian Bell (26.1). The best was 22-year-old Stokes with an average of 34.9, the only one north of 30. Wicket-keeper and vice-captain Matt Prior was dropped after the third Test having kept poorly and averaged 17.8 with the bat.

Cricket Australia abandoned its recent controversial rotation policy, playing the same 11 from start to finish. England tried 18 players across the series with no combination able to stay with Australia.

The tourists were hampered after the opening Test with Jonathan Trott returning home as a result of a mental health condition.

By the conclusion of the series the England team resembled a group of knights who were worn out down by the battle. In the end, Australia won every big moment of the series and outplayed England in every facet of the game.

Congratulations must go to the leadership group, principally the captain and coach. Clarke overcame the swirling innuendo and public doubts to marshal his team superbly. Lehmann, who controversially replaced Mickey Arthur just before the Ashes series in England mid last year, brought with him a cool head and an approach that sat well with the squad.

It has been a dream Test summer for Australia with seemingly everyone possessing the Midas touch.

The team’s next assignment looms as a far tougher contract for they leave in a few weeks for South Africa where it will take on the world number one across three Tests.

But for now, that is in future. In the present, everyone involved with the Australian team – and its legion of supporters – can rejoice in a job brilliantly done.

Actually, on reflection, I am not sure I spelled that headline correctly!

First published on ‘The Roar’ – www.theroar.com.au – on 5 January 2014