The world of sport is full of fierce head-to-head rivalries like Barcelona and Real Madrid in football or USA and Europe in Ryder Cup golf. Each of these has its own history and all are characterised by edge-of-the-seat drama. In England and Australia, however, none of these is as keenly followed as The Ashes which dates back to 1882.
The century old rivalry once again came to the fore last week when England, playing on home soil, clinchecd a dramatic five-Test series 3-0 to affirm their supremacy over a team which, till recently, ruled the world of cricket with amazing consistency. England and Australia drew the fifth Test at The Oval to put end to a thrilling series which dished out many great moments marked by individual as well as combined efforts by players from both sides.
Looking back into the series, while Australia bowlers, led by Peter Siddle and a Ryan Harris, were consistently dangerous and challenging, the batsmen were a major disappointment. Clarke managed a big innings of 187, but very few others impressed. Usman Khawaja only managed 114 in six innings before he was dropped. Ed Cowan lasted just one game. Shane Watson scored 418 in 10 innings, including a century in the last test, but the Australians could not score runs when they really needed them.
The batting lineup became stronger as the tour wore on. David Warner had an astonishing tour. He was suspended after punching rival opener Root in a bar at the start, was banished to a tour in Zimbabwe but returned quickly as Australian form collapsed on England’s seaming wickets, where reverse swing is commonplace. Warner introduced solidity to the batting, as did Chris Rogers. English bowlers like James Anderson and Stuart Broad have mastered the art of reverse swing, but will not find conditions as friendly on the hard, dry wickets in places like Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide.
Broad is likely to face hostility on and off the field in Australia, whose coach Darren Lehmann described the England player’s refusal to walk after clearly edging a ball to slip as ‘blatant cheating’ in a light-hearted radio interview. Lehmann was fined about $3,000 for the comments. The decision on Broad was just one of the glaring umpiring decisions in the series.
For the home team, Ian Bell emerged as the best player in the series with three classy centuries. There was once a time when Australia were Ian Bell’s bogey team. Now, he can’t stop scoring hundreds against them. Make that four centuries in the last five Ashes Tests for England’s new star batsman, who is outshining the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook in what is rapidly becoming a career-defining series. Australia are starting to get sick of the sight of the diminutive Bell, whose unbeaten knock of 105 at Chester-le-Street on Sunday put England in the driving seat to not only win the fourth Test but also win a third straight Ashes series. Before the Ashes Test in Sydney in January 2011, Bell had gone 29 innings and six years without reaching three figures against the Australians. Then he made 115 at the Sydney Cricket Ground and didn’t look back since.
He scored 109 in the first Ashes Test of the recently concluded series at Trent Bridge this year and the same score at Lord’s in the second Test. There have also been a smattering of fifties. His technique has always been highly thought of, but mental strength was often found wanting in the early part of his Test career, particularly on the highest stage, the Ashes. Not anymore. He no longer gets ruffled. England have been three wickets down for between 20 and 40 four times in 2013 series but he hasn’t been flustered. He hasn’t tried to force the runs, or push hard.
Sultan Of Swing anderson
On expected lines, England’s spearhead James Anderson delivered the goods in the series, capturing 22 wickets. He was at his absolute best in the first Test at Trent Bridge, where he picked up the 10-wicket haul of his career which included a ripper of an out-swinger that dismissed Michael Clarke. Anderson moved the new ball both off the pitch and in the air with pinpoint accuracy besides reversing the old ball with great control. His long 13-over spell on the final day was indeed special. Anderson did well in the final Test at Oval too.
awesome swann show
There were speculations before the Ashes that pacers will be more dangerous than spinners on the hard and bouncy pitches of England. But, this was certainly not the case with the world number six Test bowler Graeme Swann. With 26 wickets next to his name, Swann was arguably England’s most consistent bowler in the series. The old war-horse, Swann hogged limelight with a nine-wicket haul in the second test at the well-manicured and hallowed turf of Lord’s cricket ground.
He was at his very best at Lord’s where he sent five Aussies back to the pavilion in the first innings. He continued in similar fashion in the second innings to finish the match on a high, scalping four wickets. He went on to take another fiver in the first innings of the drawn Test at Old Trafford. He chipped in with crucial wickets in every innings for his team.
England celebrated their series win in a freakish manner, by urinating on The Oval pitch in a distasteful postscript to a thrilling finale. Four hours after England cemented their 3-0 series triumph, players moved their post-match party from the dressing rooms to the centre of the field just behind the wicket. Several players, including Stuart Broad and Kevin Pietersen, took it in turns to get up from where they were sitting and wander over to relieve themselves on the pitch. Cleaning staff and other workers weer still present at the ground when the incident happened.
The players were not been punished by ECB which released a statement to explain the weird behaviour. It read, ‘We got carried away amongst the euphoria of winning such a prestigious series and accept that some of our behaviour was inappropriate. If that has caused any offence to anyone, we apologise for that and want to reassure people that it was a simple error of judgement more than anything else.’