Ashes 2013/14 – some thoughts on England’s pitiful surrender

Along with most England cricket fans I guess, I have never felt such a sense of shame in my team as that produced by this Ashes series, currently standing at 4-0 after England managed to throw away a winning position in Melbourne. The teams of the 90s were outclassed – Atherton and Stewart versus Hayden and Gilchrist, Hussain and Gough versus Waugh and McGrath – but they tried their hardest, and were playing greats. This current England team is decent standard (their last series vs S.A. showed up those who thought they were any better than that), and Australia is decent too, and to turn that match-up into a humiliation has taken some doing.

So, a couple of interesting articles I’ve found recently. In the first, Mark Taylor makes an apparently astonishing comparison. For the record, I don’t think any sane person would pick Harris over Marshall, but it is noteworthy for such an experienced judge to say this:

Tubby puts Harris in elite company
15/12/13
It’s perhaps the ultimate compliment a fast bowler can be paid … being compared to one of the finest of them all – late, great West Indies legend Malcolm Marshall

Listen

And earlier today, in the Channel Nine commentary box, former Australia captain Mark Taylor offered Ryan Harris exactly that ringing endorsement.

“He’s as close as Australia have had to a Malcolm Marshall – that’s how highly I rate him,” Taylor said of Harris. “He is a quality bowler, Ryan Harris. “He obviously hasn’t played anywhere near as many games as Malcolm but he bowls very similar stuff; close to the stumps, round about 140-45kph, and just shapes it away.”

Marshall played 81 Tests for West Indies between 1978 and 1991, taking 376 wickets at the remarkable average of 20.94. Among bowlers with more than 300 Test scalps, his strike rate of 46.7 is bettered only by Dale Steyn (41.4) and Waqar Younis (43.4). Harris, in contrast, is playing in just his 19th Test, and has collected 82 wickets at 21.84. Amazingly, going into the third Commonwealth Bank Ashes Test, the 34-year-old’s strike rate was exactly the same as Marshall’s.

Taylor acknowledged the gravity of the comparison. “Yeah, it’s a big call,” he said. “He’s got a lot more cricket yet, if he’s got it in him – if his body and particularly his right knee have got it in him – to get to Malcolm Marshall, but I think he’s the closest I’ve seen for a long time. “Just the way he bowls – he hustles in, it’s quick enough, not super quick, but it’s quicker than say an (James) Anderson, and he’s always got that shape away from the right-handers. If you can do that consistently, you’re going to be a great bowler, as was Malcolm Marshall.”

The second article is another great bit of writing from one of the Two Chucks at CricInfo, discussing the might-have-beens:

Where it all didn’t go wrong for Australia
So much has clicked for Michael Clarke and his players, even on the occasions when things briefly looked like they might go right for England instead
Jarrod Kimber at the MCG
29/12/13

In another timeline, Alastair Cook just pushed a single to get Jonathan Trott on strike. Then Trott tickled a leg-side ball from Jon Holland around the corner, taking another one, as England won the series 3-1. Michael Clarke looks lost. Shane Watson is not there.

On this timeline, Watson burped a ball to deep square from Monty Panesar to move Australia ever closer to 5-0. Watson and Clarke embrace like brothers. Cook looks lost. Trott is not there.

It might seem completely inconceivable right now that Australia could have ever lost this series but, considering how much has gone right for them this series, it is not exactly science fiction.

Things have consistently not gone wrong for Australia.

For instance, they might not have picked Mitchell Johnson. Despite good white-ball form, and even with Kevin Pietersen and Trott flinching in the UK, Johnson might not have played had Mitchell Starc or James Pattinson been fit. Johnson was suspended on the Test tour of India earlier in the year, didn’t fit Australia’s plan of pressure through subtle movement. His batting is handy, but Australia’s tail did okay without him. So, had there been other options, or if Australia decided to move on, Johnson wouldn’t have played at the Gabba.

Without Johnson, Australia would not be 4-0.

Brad Haddin also could have been dropped. While he kept well in the UK, he also averaged 22. He is 36, it was his first real series back in the team, and he struggled to make an impact. The major reason he was brought back was to calm relations in the team but Darren Lehmann handled that quite well himself. Australia could have looked at it and decided that, with Wade averaging roughly the same and a better conversion rate for hundreds, it was time to bring him back in and let him take more of a leadership role.

Without Haddin, Australia would not be 4-0.

David Warner has made a lot of runs in second-innings knocks with little pressure. Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris have been good but have not really been tested in fifth and sixth spells. Nathan Lyon has been serviceable, but that’s easier to do with Johnson decapitating people at the other end. Watson has only passed 22 once in the first innings. George Bailey has barely played a proper Test innings yet and Chris Rogers would have been in far more pressure coming into this Test had it not been for the scoreline.

And none of that even takes into account the possibility of an injury befalling Harris, or Watson, or even Clarke.

Instead Trott went home. Graeme Swann retired. Matt Prior was dropped. And Cook looks under pressure.

James Anderson looks tired and beaten. Stuart Broad hasn’t bowled another great spell since the Gabba. Ian Bell has lost the magic he had in the home Ashes. Pietersen can’t seem to please anyone. Michael Carberry hasn’t gone on to make any real impact on the series despite looking okay most of the time. Joe Root’s constant travels around the batting order and his propensity to waft have had him in trouble. Tim Bresnan is not the same bowler he was three years ago.

And whether real or imagined, it seemed like every single decision that Alastair Cook made in this Test went against him. Whereas Michael Clarke probably made a mistake at the toss, ended up with a 51-run deficit, and still won by eight wickets.

In another timeline Prior takes the first catch, Cook takes the second and England win comfortably. But that never ever looked possible today. Just like all series, if something could go right for England, they made a mistake to ensure it didn’t.

And Australia have ridden the many gift horses into the sunset.

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