Monday, August 24, 2009

Triumph of the Lions not the vanities

Would you Adam and Eve it? You wait a couple of decades for a home Ashes series victory – and then two come along in succession! The disparity between the individual talents of the two teams seemed wide - Australia were by some margin the stronger and arguably only Strauss, Broad and Swann (for Watson, Johnson and Hauritz) would have got in the Aussie squad at The Oval. But when it came to the crunch England was, say it softly and out of Punter’s earshot, better led. Was it Napoleon or Montgomery who when choosing a General asked “Is he lucky?” – probably both. Well the luck did seem to go Andrew Strauss’s way at crucial moments but this was not a series win where chance played a disproportionate role. The two Andys, Flower and Strauss, gelled as a team and their bouncebackability was as much cerebral as it was inspirational. And despite the best efforts of the ECB to fire everyone up with phoney chauvinism England’s coach and captain quietly moulded a good team without needing to resort to flag-waving or clarion calls to arms. If Flower and his players were lions led by donkeys they were lions nonetheless and the triumph was all theirs.

The final day at The Oval was full of real imagery on the field of play which will stay hard burnt on the memories of all who saw it. The extraordinary sight of Ricky Ponting, bloody but unbowed, with visible stitches on both lips and with bruises to match was genuinely moving - for Freddie Flintoff to execute a run out of the Aussie Captain was almost a coup de grace. England’s celebrations whilst understandably wild did not ignore their worthy opponents and Strauss paid Ponting and his team a very proper tribute at the end of the match - Ponting was similarly gracious. Over the course of the series the Australian coach Tim Nielsen and his captain made some puzzling calls culminating in the bizarre decision to go into The Oval Test match without Nathan Hauritz. I also think that they were unwise to jettison Philip Hughes so early in the series and well though Shane Watson played he was never likely to be a game changer – which Hughes could well have been.

England overcame injuries to key players, the loss of form of most of their batsmen and a defeat at Headingley which would have taken the stuffing out of most previous England teams to bounce back with determination and style at The Oval. No praise can be too high for Bell, Trott, Swann and Broad who were the major contributors to England’s Oval victory. But it was Strauss who really set it up by his determined batting (130 runs off 292 balls and nearly six hours at the crease) and above all by his leadership. There are two huge challenges remaining for Andrew Strauss – to retain The Ashes in Australia in 2010/11 and then to take England to a Cricket World Cup victory in 2011. Don’t write off his chances of doing both; he’s unlikely to be distracted by IPL dollars remember!

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