Tag Archives: ashes

No whitewashes, just the Ashes

It would be an outright lie if I said I didn’t care who wins the Ashes. I wear a team Cook t-shirt, not team Clarke. But I certainly don’t want to see a 5-0 whitewash of the Aussies. A close fought series, a taster of which we had at Trent Bridge throughout the first Test, should be what every cricket fan craves.  Of course I want England to win more of the tense, edge of your seat, say goodbye to your nails type games, but who wants the series to be over with two Test’s left to play?

The greatest Ashes series in recent memory have been decided in the final Test: 2005, 2009, 2010/11. Yes these were all England victories, but even if they hadn’t been, they’d still be remembered for hard fought, exciting, enthralling Test cricket. Despite coming into this series as underdogs, Australia have proved they’re not to be taken lightly.

The pendulum of favour swung so much at Trent Bridge that it had to check in to a spa retreat for three days of yoga and relaxation before the onslaught begins again at Lord’s. Round one, in the form of the toss, went to England, but it wasn’t long before the tourists took control to bowl out England for 215.

At 117-9 England had it back. Then came Ashton Agar: the no.11 teenage batsman that smashed all the records for the last man in, and created a twitter #Ashtag whilst en route to 98 runs. Gritty innings from Cook and Pietersen poised the game in the balance, with a superb and determined century from Bell once again making England the bookies favourites. The penultimate swing came on the final morning, when the last wicket partnership for Australia between Brad Haddin and James Pattinson gave the Australians hope of an unlikely victory. The final twist in the tale came with a half hearted England review that revealed a gentle kiss of the ball on Haddin’s bat on it’s way to Matt Prior’s gloves, to give England victory by 14 runs. Tense stuff.

If headlines and column inches counted for anything, the winner of the first Test would be the hotly debated Decision Review System and, to a lesser extent but undoubtedly entwined, the umpiring. Australia seem incapable of using the DRS to their best capacity. Forget net sessions and hours in the gym, Clarke and his men want to spend some time learning how to utilise the DRS before round two. As the first Test proved, it can be a game changer.

Since it’s first appearance in modern cricket, more often than not one or two DRS incidents have been talking points in a match. But it simply dominated this Test. No doubt there are followers of the Baggy Green claiming that if it weren’t for the DRS they would have won this Test. By the same token, had Haddin seen Australia across the line, the England faithful would be debating the Agar ‘stumping’ decision in pubs across the land.

Clarke lost seven out of nine DRS reviews. It’s there for the howler, which is a word that can definitely be attributed to the Broad incident. Umpire Aleem Dar missed a nick so big it had it’s own postcode, but Clarke had used his two reviews, and Broad stood his ground, as is his right. Whilst Broad has been rebuked for failing to uphold the ‘spirit of the game’, fault plainly lies with the umpire.

Agar, Broad and the DRS were the talking points of this first Test.  But they should now be left behind, as the steamroller of the Ashes presses swiftly on to Lord’s. Both teams have things to think about before Thursday. England will already know whether Finn remains in the side at his home ground, on a wicket that will suit him better than that of Trent Bridge, or whether Onions or Bresnan will take that final spot, the latter strengthening the batting line up.

Australia, as well as genning up on the DRS system, are likely to be thinking about Ed Cowan’s place in the team, and whether Warner might return from his seat on the naughty step after punching England batsmen Joe Root in a nightclub during the Champions Trophy. It’s possible they are considering playing spinner Nathan Lyon, in place of the inexperienced Agar, adding to the records he now holds. Has anyone ever scored 98 on debut and been dropped?

Despite needing a health warning for those with heart conditions, the first Test of this series was what the Ashes is all about: riveting, unmissable Test cricket. Here’s to four more of the same.

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Barmy book a must-read!

Ever wondered what its like to be at a momentous Ashes victory? Or to be thanked by your heroes for helping them achieve their dream? The Barmy Army know. As synonymous with cricket as Aggers, the Barmy Army have been the subject of endless discussion and contention since their inception on the Ashes tour of 1994-1995 down under. Ian Wooldridge once wrote that they should be gassed, whilst England players past and present have credited them with aiding them to victory.

Whether you want to gas them or gas with them, the Barmy Army are a cricket phenomenon. Their recently released book  ‘Everywhere We Went’ charts their rise from a small group of like minded fans abroad to the current operation that has thousands of members, and offers tours, tickets and merchandise to the cricketing world.

The book should not be misinterpreted as a history of the group. The word history denotes ‘boring’, and that is certainly not a word associated with the Barmy Army. Instead, this is a book that answers the question on the lips of many non-cricket fans: why do thousands of cricket lovers travel the world, supporting their team through the highs and the lows, the wins and the losses?

The book is packed full of stories from members of the Barmy Army who have quite literally been there, done that, and bought the tour t-shirt. They chart the journey from the early days when the fans would regularly rub shoulders with the very men that they idolised, drinking and celebrating with the players after matches, to the most recent Ashes tour that paid dividends to the countless fans who’d waited 24 years to witness that series victory.

What Dirs manages to capture through his interviews with the founding members of the group, International players past and present, members of the media, and even the guy who printed their first ever tour t-shirts, is the essence of the Barmy Army – the enduring spirit of England fans, singing in the face of adversity.

The differing reactions of England players to the Barmy Army provides a fascinating read, in particular, the confession by Nasser Hussain that hearing “Michael Vaughan My Lord’ for the first time was the moment that he realised his captaincy was over. It gives an unprecedented insight into the effect that the Barmy Army have had on English cricket over the last 20 years.

If you have experienced the high of following your cricket team abroad it will transfer you back to those glorious memories. If you haven’t, it will have you rushing to the nearest computer to book your place on the next tour. And for anyone who thinks cricket is boring, I challenge them to read the first chapter of this book and not change their minds.

Everywhere We Went: Top Tales from Cricket’s Barmy Army by Ben Dirs is out now

3-1: A record breaking Ashes victory

England completed an historic Ashes series 3-1 win, each of their victories by more than an innings. It is only the third time in Test history that a team have achieved the feat. Along the way they have broken more records than Alistair Cook has scored runs. That might not be factually correct, but it’s not far wrong.

There have been many defining moments in this series, but the most important was Cook’s second innings in Brisbane. Consensus before the series was that if England can leave Brisbane unbeaten, then they could go on and win the series.  A 1-0 lead for Australia would have put England on the back foot, Australia is a tough environment, on and off the pitch, to come back into a series.

Brisbane (match drawn Day 5)

By day three of the series, it looked like same old England, same old Australia.  Captain Andrew Strauss had been dismissed with the third ball of the Test, and England were bowled out for 260, Siddle taking 6-54, including a hat-trick. In reply, Mike Hussey and Brad Haddin had a record breaking partnership of 307, in a total of 481. But then Alistair Cook set his stall out in what was to be a record-breaking innings, and an indication of what was to come.

With an unbeaten 235 in the second innings, Cook took accolades from the greats of the game, including the highest Test score at the Gabba since Sir Don Bradman’s 226 v South Africa in 1931.

Supported by Trott, Cook helped England to a phenomenal 517-1, the first time that England have passed 500 in Ashes Test cricket for the loss of only one wicket.

The opening partnership of 188 between Strauss and Cook was the highest by a visiting team at the Gabba, and the most productive opening partnership in England’s Test history.

Cook and Trott’s partnership of 319 (both unbeaten) was the highest for any wicket in Brisbane, beating the 307 posted by Hussey and Haddin two days before, and the highest partnership for any English wicket in Australia.

Cook spent an incredible 28 hours on the pitch over five days, only off the pitch for the end of England’s first innings on day one.

Given their three innings plus victories since, this Test match might be the least memorable of the series, but without that innings from Alistair Cook, the whole series could have taken a different path. It was the seminal moment in this series.

Adelaide (England win by an innings and 71 runs)

Who can forget Anderson’s first two overs in Adelaide that reduced Australia to 2-3? Katich (0), Ponting (0) and Clarke (2) were the men to go. It all began with Watson running out senior opener Katich for a diamond duck, having not faced a ball. The direct hit from Trott at mid-wicket was exceptional.

With a start like that, the second worst in Australian Test cricket, the home team had very little hope of getting back into the game. Strauss has spoken recently of his plan to strangle the Australian batsmen with consistent bowling, and it was evident in Adelaide.

After dismissing Australia for 245, Pietersen had the type of knock that keeps him in the side during his lean periods. His 227, combined with another Cook century, took the game away from Australia, and laid to rest the ghosts of Adelaide 06 for England.

Perth (Australia win by 267 runs on Day 4)

Mitchell Johnson was the difference between the teams in England’s only defeat of the series. Johnson himself has confessed to the unacceptable discrepancy between his good and bad performances, but the Johnson that showed up to the WACA threatened to end England’s hopes of retaining the Ashes.

His knock of 62 revived Australia from 189-7 to 268 all out and gave him confidence to destroy England with the ball. His 6 for 38, combined with a sudden penchant for sledging with Pietersen, took the game away from England, and levelled the series. More importantly, it gave Australia hope, and showed that England were not invincible.

Melbourne (England win by an innings and 157 runs on Day 4)

With the series level, one comprehensive victory each, it was back to square one for both the teams. Not for long though. Following the brave decision by Strauss to bowl first, Anderson and Tremlett took four wickets apiece to dismiss Australia for just 98 half way through day one. Strauss and Cook then took England to 157-0. It was only the second time in Test history that one team bowled out another, and then took a 10 wicket lead on day one of a Test.

But it was perhaps Bresnan’s spell in the second innings that defined this Test. Having come into the side for Finn, who was rested after expensive figures in Perth, his superb display of control and pressure building resulted in four wickets for 50, and secured the urn for England.

Sydney (England win by an innings and 83 runs on Day 5, sealing the series 3-1)

In an almost exact replica of the Perth Test, Australia batted first and collapsed to 189-8. Once again, it was left to Mitchell Johnson to get the runs. It didn’t bode well for England, as records, and recent memory, suggests that Johnson fires with the ball when he makes some runs.

However, Andrew Strauss came out and scored a determined 60, getting his team off to a speedy start. It set the tone for the innings. Cook scored his second Daddy hundred of the series, becoming the second most productive English batsman in an Ashes series, and passing 1,000 first class runs on this tour.

Bell and Prior went on to score maiden centuries against Australia, and England posted their highest ever total at the SCG.

It was only a matter of time before England took the ten wickets needed for series victory. Anderson took three of them, finishing with the top wicket tally of the series; 24. Although Cook was thoroughly deserving of his Man of the Series award, Anderson was undoubtedly a close second. He was consistently the best bowler for England, and his lack of ‘Michelle’s’ in this series does not do justice to the performance of England’s senior bowler.

Ian Bell too deserves mention when talking off the top performers in this series. It is perhaps only his position down the order at number six that prevented him from scoring more runs than he did. Cook’s records could so easily have been his. It is pleasing for the English, and galling for Australians, that the three top players for England were three of the worst performers last time England toured down under, and were cast aside before this series by the Australians.

The new England team ethic is just that: team, not individual. They will not sit back on their laurels after what is probably the greatest achievement of their careers. They will look to the future, and their ambition to be world number one. And they have never been better placed to achieve it.

 

Collingwood: highs and lows

In his 68 match Test career, Paul Collingwood offered the whole package as a player. He scored 4,246 runs, took 16 wickets, and 97 catches. But his figures do not do justice to a man who earned the respect of all he played with. Nicknamed Brigadier Block, he will be remembered for his ability to remain at the crease for long periods of time, his excellent ability in the field, and his character and presence within the team.

DEC 03: Collingwood makes his Test debut against Sri Lanka at Galle. His 36 from 153 balls helped England cling on to a draw, and was a perfect example of the type of innings he would become famed for, earning him the nickname ‘Brigadier Block’.

SEPT 05:  He took part in the decisive final Test of the home Ashes series, helping secure a draw to win the series 2-1. He scored only 17 in what was his third Test match for England in almost two years, and his first against Australia, but he was awarded an MBE along with the rest of the squad.

MAR 06: Collingwood scores his maiden Test century in his sixth Test for England, 134* against India at Nagpur.

DEC 06: Collingwood scores his career high, 206, in the second Test at Adelaide. Despite amassing 551 in their first innings, England went on to lose the Test, and experience a 5-0 drubbing in the series.

MAY/JUNE 07: Collingwood makes two more Test centuries in the 3-0 series win against the West Indies in England

AUG 08: After a poor home series against New Zealand, Collingwood resigns as ODI captain, concerned that it was affecting his form.

JULY 09: In perhaps his most famous innings, Collingwood blocks out for almost six hours at Cardiff, to save England from what looked a certain Australian victory in the first Ashes Test. His 74 came from 245 balls, and ensured that Anderson and Monty only had to survive 66 balls to the close. England went on to win the Ashes 2-1, although Collingwood managed on 112 more runs in the series.

DEC 09: Brigadier Block rules again, batting for two and a half hours against South Africa at Centurion for an unbeaten 26, to draw the match for England.

JAN 10: On the same tour, he performed a similar function, batting for four and a half hours to ensure another draw. South Africa went on to win last Test, drawing the series one all.

MAR 10: In his last big score in Test cricket, Collingwood makes 145 against Bangladesh in Chittagong. Since then, he has scored 131 runs in 14 innings at 13.83.

DEC 10: Collingwood has a poor Ashes series with the bat, scoring just 70 in the first four Test matches, but the England team celebrate retaining the Ashes for the first time abroad in 24 years.

JAN 11: Collingwood announces his retirement from Test cricket, with effect from the end of final Ashes test at the SCG. He bowls Mike Hussey with his final ball of the first innings, but makes just 13 with the bat.

 

Collingwood calls time on Test career

Some people get a carriage clock as a retirement present. Paul Collingwood will get an Ashes victory.

Even the most patriotic of Australians, or the most media savvy English cricketer, would be hard pressed to deny that victory in this Test match, and indeed this series, will be England’s tomorrow.

As is fitting, on the day that Collingwood announced his retirement from Test cricket, he was remembered for the great in his career, his dedication to his sport, and his achievements over the last seven years, rather than for his recent low scores. For much of his contribution cannot be quantified.

Collingwood has always strived to perform as an individual. He has worked hard on his fitness, his technique, and the limited abilities he has, to be the best that he could be.  But most importantly, he transferred that into the team, leading by example to those around him, and having a profound effect on his colleagues.

“Its always a sad moment hearing one of your teammates is retiring,” Matt Prior said at the end of play. “He’ll be sorely missed. But I think the part of the cricketer that you don’t see is the part away from the cricket ground. Everyone will know the stats and the important innings he’s played, the great catches he’s taken, the wickets he’s taken, that’s phenomenal.”

For those who never saw Bradman bat, his career figures told the story of his greatness. Future generations may hear of Paul Collingwood, the guy who captained England to the world T20, or Collingwood, one of England’s best fielders. But it would be a slight on Brigadier Block if they do not understand how integral he was to creation of this victorious team England team that he now leaves behind.

“It’s what a bloke like Colly brings to the dressing room,” Prior continued. “He’s definitely been one of the catalysts to this team being where it is now, why the team spirit is like it is, and how close this team is. Those are the things that are very important to this team. It’s what happens in that dressing room behind closed doors. Colly will be sorely missed form that point of view.”

It’s not only his teammates that see it, but his peers in the wider game.

I’m pretty sure he’s played a pretty significant part in that development of the England team and their rise to what they are doing now,” Australian opener Shane Watson said. “Obviously he’s done some great work around the team.”

England have outplayed Australia in the majority of this series. But it is not just their efforts over the last six weeks that has earned them this victory. England have been preparing for this series since the final wicket fell in the last Test match at the Oval last summer, but the new phase of England cricket in all formats has been built upon the foundations of Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss. Collingwood is Strauss’s most trusted confidant in the England team, and has no doubt been integral to the decisions and tactics employed by the men in control.

“I wouldn’t change a thing about the way my career has been.” Collingwood said. “The players I’ve played with in that England dressing room have been absolutely exceptional, and I can safely say that the environment that we have got in that dressing room now is a very special place and that’s why its hard to leave. But its definitely the right time and you’ve got to give the opportunity to the younger guys.”

Collingwood called this the “perfect moment” to bow out, and described victory here against the Aussies as the pinnacle of his career.

“I’ve played the last year just to get into this series I think,” Collingwood said. “I had a good series in South Africa which pretty much cemented my place for this series. This has been a special kind of series for me. 2005 at the Oval was special, but although I haven’t scored the runs out here I haven’t been able to take the smile off my face. This has been something that I have been waiting for a long time. Last time we were here four years ago I actually managed to score runs and we were beaten 5-0. I much prefer it this way round this time.

“In many ways it’s a sad moment but I honestly think it’s the right time, and in many ways it’s the perfect moment. This is what I have been playing the game of cricket for, to be in this position against Australia like this and it is going to be the perfect moment to bow out of test cricket. I am happy with the contributions I’ve made to England cricket team in the Test format and I think there are a lot of young players coming through. This team will progress without me and get better and better so I’m looking forward to tomorrow as a final farewell.”

There have been calls throughout this series for Collingwood’s retirement, and it was something that was already in his mind before the tour.

“It was always an option,” he said. “You don’t know until you go through the emotions and you are playing the game, but my form hasn’t helped. I am very realistic.

“I spoke to my wife in Melbourne about it and I pretty much made the decision about three days ago one hundred percent. I knew that was probably going to be my last innings. I was hoping it was going to be a fairytale story and I would go out there and crack a 100.”

It wasn’t to be, but Collingwood has never been one to put personal glory over team achievement.

“I think that’s one of the reasons why I’m moving on,” he said, of the teams’ ambitions to become number one in the world rankings. “This team can go as far as they want to . The skills that they have produced with the ball, getting 20 wickets on flat pitches over here.  We are bowling as a unit like the old Australian team used to bowl. It’s very hard to score runs against us. Our batting has gone from strength to strength. The guys will take a hell of a lot of confidence into future series from the way that they’ve played out here.

“They are very eager to improve all the time. The work ethic that they have, that’s one of the things I’ll miss. But I’m very much looking forward to watching them in the future. They will be a very special side.”

It was a big day for Matt Prior, who completed his first Test century against Australia, and took four catches to take his tally in the series to 21, the second highest by an English wicket keeper in a Test series.

“It would be pretty tricky to beat today,” Prior said. “At the SCG, on an ashes Test, to get 100 then a few catches, and have them seven down. We’re in a pretty good position to win tomorrow, so today would have to be right up there (with the best day of my career) certainly.

“Obviously it was a great to win the Ashes in England. But to come over here knowing the history, knowing it’s been 24 years since it was last done, the amount of hard work and preparation that has gone into this tour all comes good today and tomorrow. It’s a fantastic feeling. The Barmy Army were again absolutely fantastic. To be there with your mates on the field with all that hard work, preparation, training and planning makes it all the sweeter.”

England only need three wickets for victory in the morning. Australia collapsed to 171-7, triggered by Shane Watson, who brought about his own demise, involved in the seventh run out of his career.

It was the fourth Australian run out of this series. Hughes pushed to mid-wicket for what should have been an easy single. Watson came back for the second, Hughes stuttering, then returning to his crease. Watson arrived at the non-strikers end with a look of horror on his face as he turned to see Prior remove the bails. It was a sorry sight for any Australian.

“It’s an horrendous situation to be involved in,” said Watson. “It’s something I have got to work on because it’s not good enough. The top of the order is hard enough as it is let alone with run outs. It can’t keep happening.”

England should have a 3-1 series victory wrapped up by lunch time tomorrow. It will be a special moment for the whole team, but particularly Collingwood, who admitted that it will be an emotional experience for him.

“I’m a softie really to be honest,” he said. “There were times tonight when I got goose bumps. I always said I wanted to bow out in England in front of the English fans. But that felt like home tonight with the atmosphere out there. It was special, all the lads standing in the slips; we all had goose bumps going up our arms. It’s an amazing atmosphere and it honestly feels like the perfect moment. Tomorrow hopefully we can finish them off pretty quick and it’s going to be the best way to bow out.

“It was always a dream of mine to play Test cricket. To me this is the ultimate form of the game. I’ve given it my all and that’s all you can do as a player. I am very proud to be able to say that.”

 

Dominant England refuse to get carried away

There may be a hosepipe ban in Victoria, but there were plenty of sprinklers around Melbourne this week. England players and Barmy Army alike celebrated the retention of the Ashes, after they whooped the Aussies by an innings and 157 runs at the MCG to take a 2-1 lead with one to play.

Most of the team were mere toddlers when England last won the Ashes down under 24 years ago. And the majority of the players will remember only too well the pain of the 5-0 whitewash that they were involved in the last time they toured Australia. The drubbing they received on that tour makes this victory all the sweeter for all involved.

“Winning the Ashes in Australia has always been a bit of a holy grail for English sides,” England captain Andrew Strauss said. “We haven’t won the ashes yet but we’ve certainly retained the urn which is one of our primary goals. The guys deserve everything they get because the players have stood up and performed when it matters. The back room staff have prepared us well, and we feel like a lot of hard work has paid dividends for us.

“Two of the Test matches we’ve played (on this tour) are two of the best that I have been involved with; Melbourne and Adelaide. Also in the preparation phase I think we’ve been very good.

“It’s got to be up there (as the best moment in my career). The pressure of the situation, the Boxing Day Test; a huge atmosphere, and with the ashes on the line. Everyone got stuck in because we realised this is our chance of really hammering it home. Perth was a bit of a come back down to earth, and a reminder that we are not the finished article.”

Part of the reason why England cameback so well from the heavy defeat in the third Test is no doubt due to the level-headed nature of the team management. In the same way as he played down the loss in Perth, Strauss was keen to stress that the victory in Melbourne was not the be all and end all.

“Our objective was to come out here and win the series,” he said. “We haven’t achieved that yet. It’s very reassuring to know the ashes are going to remain in England for another couple of years, but it would leave a very sour taste in the mouth if we weren’t able to go and convert our position into a series win in Sydney. In reality the job is a long way off being done. It’s back to square one for Sydney.”

It was a sentiment echoed by team director Andy Flower.

“It’s not that different to regrouping after the Perth Test,” he said. “You’ve got to draw a line under previous matches and start again. And that is what our guys have to do, win lose or draw matches. There is a lot of talk about momentum, we’ve seen in this series that is not all that important. We’ll draw a line under this win and try to go out and win in Sydney.

“I’m very proud of the way the guys have played throughout this tour,” he said. “And the Melbourne performance was an outstanding performance. I’m sure the players feel that way, but we also realise there is a lot of cricket ahead on this tour, and there is a lot of cricket to be played in the fifth Test. We came out here to win the series and well be doing everything we can to do that.

“Everyone involved in this tour will feel a lot of pride about the way the guys have played, but I think it’s much to early to be feeling satisfied that’s for sure. There are other things out there for us to achieve, starting with this next Test match, we’ve got the one day series and we’ve got the world cup. We want to climb the ladder in the world rankings. There are a lot of things out there for us to aim for.”

This attitude adopted by England stands them in good stead for what is always an hectic international schedule. They face a seven-match ODI series and two T20 games after the Sydney Test, followed by the limited overs world cup in February.

“This is one series, and as a side we’ve still got a lot of goals that we want to achieve,” Strauss said. “English cricket is not just about winning the Ashes. We’ve got to look forward to the future and get our team up those rankings and hopefully to world number one at some stage. That’s the ultimate goal for us, and we’ve got small steps on the way to achieve that. I get the feeling we can still improve a lot as a side.”

The outwardly unassuming nature of the England camp is one mirrored by Strauss himself as captain. The closeness of this squad is evident, and the ‘no I in team’ ethic runs throughout.

“Its immensely satisfying,” said Strauss, of being the first English captain to secure the Ashes in Australia in 24 years. “Clearly there is a lot of hard work that goes in to preparing for an Ashes tour and the captain’s involved in that. But so are the coach and the back room staff, who’ve been outstanding. It’s very reassuring for us as a side to have backroom staff that are as committed as they are.

“It’s great for me, but we all know that a captain is nothing without guys in the side who stand up and deliver under pressure. I don’t want to take any credit for this. It’s not my victory, it’s the teams victory.”

We feel like there is no reason why we can’t go on and do better things. But if we get away from what has got us here so far, which is hard work and sticking to basics, and we start patting ourselves on the back too much and feeling happy about what we’ve achieved then we are going to go backwards again.”

It may be no coincidence that three of England’s best players in this series, were those who fared the worst in 06/07; Cook, Bell, and Anderson.

“It was the lowest point in my career,” Strauss said of the 5-0 whitewash. “And a lot of the guys felt similarly. In a lot of ways I think there was some very important lessons learnt. The one thing that struck me as an opening batsman was being suffocated from both ends all the time. I think that was the basis of our strategy out here; to make sure that Australia never got away from us and if we did that well and consistently then that would bring us wickets. We did learn a lot from that series. If showed us that it’s going to be tough work out here.”

Simple but effective strategies, excellent team spirit, and a sensible outlook on every aspect of their game have all contributed towards this new resilient England team. And it is no coincidence that this has all come about since a change at the top.

“Andy Flower has been outstanding as team director and providing strategy for us to go forward with,” Strauss said. “Ultimately its about 11 guys on the pitch delivering consistently. Maybe in the past we relied to heavily on one or two guys to do it for us and now I don’t think we do that as much.”

England have literally flowered under their new coach and captain. Since the Andy’s took charge they have won two Ashes series, home and away, and their first ICC limited overs tournament. But it’s not all about the silverware (or the urns). There are many positives from this series that England can take.

The loss of Stuart Broad after he suffered a torn abdominal muscle in Adelaide was a blow to the team. But the three quicks (Tremlett, Bresnan and Shahzad)
waiting in the wings on this tour had not been forgotten, and were ready and waiting to go at full strength when called upon.

“(It’s down to) the way we’ve been preparing,” Bresnan said, after being called into the team for Melbourne, replacing the resting Finn. “Especially the lads who haven’t been playing in the series. We’ve played warm up games and tour matches, and we’ve prepared as if we were going to play. Andy (Flower) sat us all down and said I’d be very surprised if we bowl the same team through five Tests, being so hard for them and so close together. We knew there was a chance of two or three of us playing. So we had to prepare as if we were going to.”

With so much talent and so many options in the rest of the England squad, and so few Australian players knocking on the door to get into the team, it must be like Scunthorpe United looking at the Man United subs bench and realising they could outplay their first team on their own.

“They way they bowled against Australia A I thought was a great demonstration of the strength and depth we have,” Strauss said. “Shahzad was very important in that game, you saw them all bowling in Australian conditions and thought they could do a really good job for us here.”

“They way David Saker has worked with them and made sure they were ready to go from day one was exceptional really,” Flower said. “Often when bowlers aren’t playing they lose rhythm, and the fact that they are suddenly thrust in to attest match can effect them pretty badly so all credit to him and the way they’ve worked as well.

“I think David Saker is happy doing what he is doing at the moment, he’s integrated really well into our group. He’s obviously added value to our coaching group and our players. Wed love to have him around for much longer, he’s very good at what he does.”

Perhaps the most important sign for England is that they no longer bow their heads when down, as they have done in the past. They have a resilience about them that saw them come back from a three day drubbing in Perth to bowl out Australia for 98 on the first morning in Melbourne, and go on to secure the Ashes.

Good cricket has secured the urn for England, but poor cricket from Australia has helped. Ricky Ponting has experienced his worst Ashes series in Australia, as well as a poor personal performance with the bat.

“I’m obviously disappointed with the way this series has gone for us so far,” he conceded. “I’m really disappointed with the way this week has gone for us after such good week last week. I think the really important thing we need to do is to pay credit to England. With the exclusion of the Perth Test they’ve played very high cricket throughout this series, the tour games they’ve played as well. You’ve got to give them credit for the way they’ve played and performed.

“Obviously as a player in the series I haven’t achieved what I needed to achieve for the team to be in with a chance to win the Ashes back, which I am very disappointed about. All of our players will look back at this Test with something we can learn from it. When England had their chance to bat they showed us how to bat in Test match cricket. They did what they needed to do when it really mattered and that is what we haven’t been able to do for most of the series.

“We can go to Sydney and try to level the series and try to win back some pride in the team and give the fans around Australia something to be proud of as far as the cricket team is concerned.”

His performance during this series has led to calls for his retirement, or at the very least replacement as captain. But the appeals fall on deaf ears with Ponting.

“Whatever decision I make, it’s really important that it’s for the benefit of Australian cricket, “ he said. “I want to keep playing, I‘d love to keep leading the team. I think I’ve got a lot to offer in both those regards. It’s never been about the me, it’s always been about the team.”

Ponting will not be taking part in the final Test, after x-rays on his broken finger revealed that the fracture had moved during the Melbourne Test, and that urgent treatment was needed.

Even without their captain, Australia may still prove to be a tough competitor. They came back from a comprehensive loss in Adelaide to complete a similar victory over England in Perth.

“We respect them,” Flower said, of the Australian team. “We knew when we came out here that it would take some outstanding cricket from us to come out on top in the series. And it’s going to take good cricket form us in this last Test to win this series.”

As with out of form Ponting, England also face a middle order selection dilemma. Paul Collingwood has struggled with the bat in this series, and for much of the English summer before that. There are calls for Eoin Morgan to come in for the Sydney Test now that the Ashes have been secured, but consistency of selection has been integral to England’s recent success.

“I don’t feel tempted to experiment,” Flower said on the subject. “People’s careers, that’s a very serious business, you don’t experiment with people’s career. We’ll pick what we think is the side that has the best chance to win in Sydney.”

“He (Collingwood) has had a bit of a tough series. He got a couple of 90’s in the first class games and he looked in good order. I’m not overly concerned about him. He’s an experienced cricketer and a tough bloke, and he adds in all sorts of ways to our side. But yes, his job is to score runs like all of our batsmen, and he’ll be looking to do that in Sydney.”

England look to be entering a period of dominance similar to the one that Australia have just left behind. But as with all of their successes, Flower refuses to get too carried away.

“We’ve got quite a nice blend of experience and youth in our squad,” he said. “I think it’s too premature to talk about any era of excellence. We will focus on this next test match and throw all our energy and thought in to that. But certainly as a coaching group we think about the immediate and long-term future. Its much too early to talk about that, we are number three or four in the world and there is still a long way to go.”

Despite all their modesty, England haven’t looked such a rounded, competent side for a very long time.

The Wizard of Oz: England blown away by a spell from the Wicked Mitch of the West

Have you ever been promised an amazing present for Christmas? The build to the big day is all part of the joy; telling everyone what you are getting, imagining the glorious moment when you tear off the paper to reveal your dream in all its shining glory.  You wake up on Christmas morning with that sick excitement in your belly. You run downstairs and rip open your gift…only to find you’ve a Satsuma and a bag of walnuts, just like last year.

 

That’s how England fans feel. The build up to this Ashes series filled them with a belief that England could finally win it down under after 20 years, and, bar the first couple of days in Brisbane, that belief was compounded by England’s performance in the first two Tests.

 

However, like the ghost of Christmas past, the England of old were on display here in Perth. The team that blew Australia away in Adelaide were a distant memory, as were the batting performances that saw England amass 1137 runs in their previous two innings, for the loss of just six wickets. The batting from England was poor.

 

By the fourth morning, it was no great surprise that the final five England wickets fell in just 50 minutes. With Bell and Prior the only recognised batsmen left to play, the Australian team were so fired up by the opportunity to level the series that they made it look like childsplay.

 

England had bowled reasonably well, particularly in the first innings, restricting Australia to 268. Tremlett in particular was effective on the bouncy WACA wicket, but they missed the control offered by Stuart Broad, who flies home on Tuesday to begin rehab on his torn stomach muscle.

 

However, Finn, although taking wickets, is expensive. Swann is yet to perform to his usual high standards in this series, although this pitch offered little for a spinner.

 

One man made the difference between the sides in this Test match. Like the legend of Loch Ness, England had heard much of the monster that is Mitchell Johnson at his best, but, until now, they had never seen it with their own eyes. Taking confidence from his runs in the first innings, Johnson produced a match-winning spell with the ball that tore apart the England batsmen on day two. He removed four of the five top batsmen, three of them in 12 balls for just four runs.

 

Other players stepped up for Australia. Mike Hussey scored his 2nd century in three Test matches, and became top run scorer of the series. Harris took a Test best six wickets in the second innings, his first five-for in Test cricket. But it was the performance of Johnson, with bat and ball, that won this Test match for Australia, and it was all the more remarkable for the stark contrast to his recent shocking form.

 

The only dampener on this victory for Australia is the injury to captain Ricky Ponting. He fractured the little finger on his left hand attempting a catch in the slips at the end of day three. His participation in the next Test, just one week away, is unlikely to be decided until the morning of the game, but he remains positive about his chances.

 

“I think I have a really good chance of playing,” he said. “It’s only a small fracture. It’s a bit sore and a bit angry, but I’ll be right!”

 

England captain Andrew Strauss played down the severity of the loss, whilst admitting that it was the batting that let them down.

 

“Now is not a time to panic,” Strauss said. “Up until this game, our cricket on this tour has been very consistent. We dropped off in this game there is no doubt about it, but if we can retain those levels of consistency then we’ve got a great chance of going on and winning the series.

 

“As a batting line up we’d be very disappointed with our two performances. We’ve got to take that on the chin, learn the lessons and move on.

 

“You’ve certainly got to address the way we lost wickets in clusters,” Strauss conceded. “The issue to address is if you lose one or two wickets, to make sure that you don’t lose three, four or five in a row. The batters have got to take responsibility for that, but at the same time we’ve got to keep perspective about things.

 

“It would be wrong for us to just wash our hands of this game completely”, Strauss said. “But it’s all about bouncing back now. We’ve done it well in the past and we are going to have to do it well in Melbourne.”

 

England have plenty of food for thought over Christmas. Whilst wholesale changes are not England’s style, and not necessarily needed, there are some causes for concern.

 

Collingwood is the standout weakness in the batting line up, having only scored 62 runs so far in the series. He continues a poor run of form that has spanned much of England’s summer in the UK. At 34, he is the only player almost certain to not take part in the next Ashes series in 2013. But his other contributions to the team should not be underestimated. His bowling offers an alternative to the quicks, and gives them a vital rest. He took the crucial wicket of Johnson in the second innings here. And his fielding is exemplary. He is also a trusted confidant of Strauss.

 

Morgan would be the obvious replacement for Collingwood, but his place in the team should be considered alongside the bowling line up, which is where the other decisions will lie. Finn looked tired during long bowling spells, and proved expensive. With Shahzad and Bresnan both chomping at the bit to get an opportunity in this series, Finn may be rested for the next Test. Bresnan would add strength to the batting line up, while Shahzad, with his ability to swing and reverse swing the ball, is perhaps the bowler most likely to take the all important wicket of Hussey.

 

Perhaps Strauss is right to play down the significance of this loss. There are still two matches left in the series, and England need only win one more to retain the Ashes. But momentum is with Australia, and if the Wicked Mitch of the West shows up on Boxing Day, England will have to overcome the Wizard of Oz.