We’re certainly not the type to blow our own trumpet here at 51allout (we don’t even own a trumpet, although we do have a stylophone kicking around somewhere), but when we predicted a landslide English win in our series preview, some thought us very foolish indeed. It turns out we look foolish for suggesting Australia could win even the one game, but the point still stands. This hammering could be seen a mile away by anyone who isn’t Michael Clarke or Mickey Arthur. Yesterday’s one sided romp in a typically sunny Manchester was the series in a nutshell. The Australian batsmen never got going, tied down by a frankly pretty brilliant England bowling attack (in these conditions we add), while the English batsmen needed to do little more than release the handbrake and role sedately towards the finishing line. It was fun to see England take on Australia, but beyond the sheer visceral pleasure that can be taken from a diving Steve Smith save in the outfield, a rank five wides from Mitchell Johnson, or a spilled dolly from Eoin Morgan, it was a dire series from any perspective.
However poor the series may have been in terms of a contest it wasn’t a complete loss though, and in the spirit of those courageous spectators who braved the English summer for the chance to see the legendary Steve Smith in action, we’re committed to doing our best to find a positive in the past fortnight’s ‘entertainment’. And so it is in this vein that we’re determined to squeeze every ounce of meaning out of the series, both in terms of upcoming Test and ODI contests but also, inevitably, with one eye on next year’s Ashes.
In this respect it must be galling to those critics who pooh-poohed pyjama cricket on its inception in the early 70’s to now see the format spoken of as a legitimate arena to test skills more suited to the longest format of the game. But with T20 now the premier form of hit and giggle going around, ODI’s have assumed a more respectable position within the cricketing pantheon, and it’s one that it’s not entirely unsuited to, particularly with the return of new balls at either end levelling the field between bat and ball. Sure, purveyors of left arm filth aren’t as in demand in Test cricket as they are in the shorter form, but enough skills crossover between the two formats to make direct comparisons not as daft as they might have been even a few years ago.
So the incessant talk in the build up to the ODI series about it being a preview of next year’s Ashes, whilst tiring, was not exactly unwarranted. Both teams have come in out of the rain with valuable lessons learnt, although for Australia it would all probably have been a damn sight easier if they had just stayed at home and shot fifty thousand of their own fast bowlers a week.
The problem with England’s summer so far is that their wins have been so straightforward it’s been difficult to really take anything from them. In the Test matches West Indies were competitive for brief periods but neither they nor the Australians managed to really trouble England in the one day arena. With that in mind, it’s important not to get too carried away with their performances. England are a good side at home, that was never in doubt; they beat both Sri Lanka and India last summer, as well as Pakistan and Australia in 2010. As much as Australia’s number one ranking is misleading, England’s would have been similarly so had they taken over the mantle with a 5-0 victory.
The biggest positive has been that all of their Test players have continued their good form ahead of the South Africa series, and that includes Ravi Bopara, who will surely fill the number six spot at The Oval next week. Consistent runs allied to regularly tearing through the Australian batting lineup with the ball have put him in pole position for the one vacant place in the side. If he can withstand the ‘best attack in the world’, he should be able to cope with Steyn, Morkel, Philander, de Lange et al in his sleep.
Like a sex education lesson from your parents, the lessons the Australians learnt this series, whilst useful, were probably not really worth the humiliation involved. For the new generation of Australian batsman, such as David Warner, George Bailey and Peter Forrest, the tour can only be described as a disaster. Of the three the only one to show any real application was Bailey, but even he usually threw his wicket away after absorbing an inordinate number of overs in attempting to get settled. That these players all struggled was shown by the fact that they failed to work the ball around and rotate the strike, leading to the innings becoming bogged down, an often fatal mistake, no matter what the format. David Hussey was, unsurprisingly given his experience in English conditions, the only batsman to really look at ease. This is a bit of a mixed blessing though. On the one hand Hussey looks set to receive his first Test cap in the near future and you could put your house on him making the Ashes squad. On the other it’s more than a little depressing that a player who is just about to turn 35 is the best ‘new’ option available.
The bowlers might seem to have had their reputations taken down a peg or three, but truth be told the Aussie quicks have been rubbish in ODI’s since well before last year’s World Cup. They may have bullied an uninterested India at home in last summer’s triangular series, but the Sri Lankan batsmen, who were considerably more interested, consistently made them look distinctly second rate. With Xavier Doherty as the fifth option in an underwhelming attack, it’s not hard to see why Australia have had so many problems containing teams of late.
What changes Australia could make in the short term to fix things are difficult to see. The obvious omission from the team at the moment is Peter Siddle, but with the selectors keen to keep him safely encased in bubble wrap outside of Test matches, a recall for Siddle is purely a last case scenario option, and things haven’t become quite that bad yet. It’s even worse with the batting. Dumping Ponting with no clear successor in place was a ridiculous option at the time and just looks even more so now. The upcoming Australian domestic season will hopefully provide some answers, but right now there is simply no-one capable of filling his boots as the Australian number three. The one clear change that needs to be made is the replacement of Brett Lee, whose initial selection for the series was controversial in that he clearly is not in the selectors’ long term plans and was seemingly only on the tour to retain fitness ahead of the upcoming T20 World Cup. Pat Cummins is his obvious like for like replacement, but given his injury record he’s perhaps best treated as a Test only option like Siddle.
So what have we learnt from this series? Not much. Which was precisely the complaint raised about the series before it began: one-off ODI series are meaningless in themselves, particularly when rain washes away their only possible meaningful outcome, that of England becoming the number one ranked ODI team. Australia will walk away making all the right noises about rebuilding. Which they will. While England will make all the right noises about not getting ahead of themselves. Which they won’t. The main positive outcome is that two batsmen in particular on either side, Bopara and Hussey, made statements that may in future come to be seen as turning points in their respective careers.
Otherwise England are gearing up for their struggle for Test supremacy with the visiting South Africans, which kicks off in nine days, whilst those Australians who are gluttons for punishment will be hanging around for the Australian A tour that begins later this month. Both series will of course be covered here, albeit the Test series will naturally receive rather more attention. Even the most patient amongst us are getting a bit tired of these useless Aussie cloggers, and it’s becoming ever harder to come up with new ways to express ‘utter crap’ when describing their performances.
And as for the Ashes? Well, if Australia can’t dig up a proper batsmen or three in the next twelve months they are doomed.