Sunday, December 15, 2013

The three lions must be looking away in embarrassment

Victory, as they say, has many fathers whereas failure is an orphan. England’s comprehensive failure in The Ashes in Australia will have plenty of people ducking for cover. For the players there has been nowhere to hide and they should have our sympathy. I do not believe that skilled professionals would play as badly as they have without there being some seriously good reasons. Lets try and explore what they are.

First the whole idea of “Back-to-back” Ashes was a lemon. I don’t buy the “scheduling” reason given by ECB Cricket. Other options existed to avoid the Cricket World Cup fixture clash but Giles Clarke and Co. plumped for the one that they saw as bringing in the maximum short-term revenues. The Ashes is the Golden Goose and the laying of golden eggs for ten Test matches in a row in little more than half a year was just too tempting to ignore. The ECB needs money to keep the hugely overblown County system afloat (18 Counties – three times as many “top” domestic teams as any other Test country!). And Sky of course obliged, as they do, and paid up their fees. Bad money going after bad you might say.

Next England were not as good as the Media hype suggested and the Australians nowhere near as bad. This isn't hindsight. At the end of the Summer series I analysed the five matches session by session. My judgment was that Australia won 27 of the 62 sessions, England 26 and that nine were drawn. The Aussies could well have won at Nottingham, should have won at Manchester (the weather saved England) and might well have triumphed at Durham where an inspired spell of bowling by Stuart Broad was the only difference between the sides. They were blown away at Lord’s – though even there they had their moments. A fair result would have been a drawn series with England retaining The Ashes.

It was an irritable and often downright unpleasant summer Ashes and the players of both sides behaved badly at times. The DRS confusions, poor umpiring, sledging and even urinating on the pitch suggests that the “Spirit of Cricket” wasn't too high on the agenda! And I haven't even mentioned Warner and Root !

In the summer the ECB ran a hubristic promotional campaign that was at best counter-productive and at times downright sick-making. The whole “Rise for the Ashes” was an unnecessary bit of vulgar hype:

Jerusalem was sung every day (except at Lord’s where England seemed to manage OK without it). And the depths were plumbed in the First Test at lunch, with Australia 291-9 chasing 311, when singer Sean Ruane launched into "You Raise Me Up" followed by "Rule Britannia" and finally "Land of Hope and Glory". It was cringe-making and in the long run counter-productive.

Sean Ruane during the lunch interval final day Trent Bridge

All this hype had little effect on England’s performance (as Lord’s suggests) but it must have irritated the Australians beyond belief. So much so that when they got England back on Aussie soil the wounds of the summer were far from healed. They wanted revenge – and frankly who can blame them. Shane Warne summarised the mood  in a Tweet once it became clear that that revenge was near:



During the summer I felt that there was little between the sides and I said so. One or two fine bowling performers (Anderson at Trent Bridge, Broad at Durham, Swann at Lord’s) and some solid batting from Ian Bell covered up some pretty ordinary England cricket. Only Bell averaged over 40 and the bowling was at times unpenetrative. Four of the top six run scorers were Australian and three of the top six wicket-takers.

If there was little between the sides in the summer the difference was a bit of luck (always the twelfth man of course) and one or two moments of inspiration. Australia did not do themselves justice batting as a unit only reaching 300 or more in two innings (to England’s six). But they had their moments – and their bowling was pretty good, especially Harris and Siddle. Overall when they were good they were very good – but just a bit too often they were awful.

The rivalry between England and Australia at cricket doesn't need extra hype – certainly not the uber-hype that the ECB launched. The verbals on and off the field went over-the-top as well. So when the Aussies got back home I can imagine that there was some soul-searching. Whilst they could not believe they were robbed in the summer they were certainly hard done by. England on the other hand must have known that they rather got away with it and that they were certainly not 3-0 (nearly 4-0) better then their opponents.

The Ashes in Australia has been a triumph for the Aussies and they thoroughly deserve to have regained the urn. I have never seen an England side in any sport so deflated as they now seem. These are technically very good players whose minds are scrambled and who are like shell-shocked soldiers in the front line. They don't want to be there and when they go over the top the chances are that their bravado will be immediately punished by an Australian side with a great flair for attack and a solid sense of when to defend. The England players have not suddenly become donkeys led by donkeys, though the three lions on their chests must looking away in embarrassment a bit. A less leonine England I cannot recall. Its sad.