In the midst of an English summer that has been dominated by news of the Euros, torrential rain causing chaos in the Big Brother house, and how much better life is if you can just blame all your problems on immigrants, it comes as something of a surprise to realise that the last Ashes began only 12 months ago. Cricket is currently so far off the public radar that the 2015 series already feels like ancient history. Yet the Cardiff Test began almost a year ago to the day. Since then Australia have become number one Test side on account of some dodgy accounting, whilst England have gone from strength to strength. Just don’t mention the UAE. Or Carlos Brathwaite.
But as Sri Lanka were steamrolled in the most unremarkable Test series since the last time the West Indies played anyone, the hype of the Ashes feels like another world. Of course, the 2015 series itself doesn’t warrant being remembered in close detail; it was shite from beginning to end, dominated by one-sided games and a generally inane standard of cricket. But at least people were talking about it, as opposed to just blatantly ignoring it as they are the cricket being played at the moment. And one of the main talking points was the Cardiff Test.
Standing somewhat apart from all the other lopsided contests, this was a game England ultimately won handily, but probably never should have won at all, considering the seemingly vast gulf between the two teams before the series began. Australia were on the up and looked set to crush England into a pulp. Exactly how Australia subsequently lost this game has never been sufficiently answered, despite a number of potential causes being put forward. Therefore, a further twelve months down the line, we will try and see if any clearer picture has emerged. Of course, we could always just attribute the result to England being the better team. But that would just be boring.
The most immediate scapegoat was Brad Haddin for dropping Joe Root early in his innings, but this never really sat well with us. For one, it was a difficult chance; Haddin in his prime might – or equally might not – have taken it. Second, after already destroying the English top order, criticizing Haddin assumes the Australian attack was only ever good enough to fashion one chance against Root, and makes him accountable for how craply they subsequently bowled. Which was hardly his fault. And that brings us to the second suspect.
Josh Hazlewood would later in the series cop an almighty amount of criticism for the crime of not being Glenn McGrath, as if an apprentice quick, with a dozen caps to his name and on his first tour of the UK, ought to be able to immediately bowl with the consistency of a ten-year veteran. It’s not a fair comparison, and it also largely ignores the likes of Mitchell Starc and, in particular, Mitchell Johnson, who were equally guilty of wasting the new ball.
Which in turn brings us to the selectors, who after the fifth Test received pointed criticism for not introducing Peter Siddle into the starting eleven earlier in the series, particularly after the forced retirement of Ryan Harris. This line of reasoning doesn’t really sit well with us either, as it relies far, far too much on hindsight. Siddle wasn’t part of the first eleven at the start of the series for a very good reason: he had been bowling utter crap for some time, whilst Hazlewood was definitely on the up after a great series in the Caribbean. As it turned out, Siddle might have been the better option, but it’s entirely understandable that the selectors went with Hazelwood.
The pitch was highlighted as yet another potential culprit, having been, it was argued, prepared exclusively to nullify the impact of Johnson and Starc. As was subsequently pointed out ad nauseam, the pitch was fairly typical of Cardiff decks, and so was blameless in that regarded. Mind, it was still a shithouse pitch to play an Ashes Test on though.
In the post-series wash up, this emerged as the most popular theory: Australia simply hadn’t taken England, particularly a revitalized England under the stewardship of Bayliss, seriously enough. This theory has, it must be said, a lot going for it. Australia, in particular, didn’t bat at all well, as typified by Stephen Peter Devereux Smith’s bizarre dismissal (a rare blip on the great man’s otherwise nearly flawless record). But aggressively trying to take on the opposition bowlers isn’t so much overconfidence, as simply the way Australia plays, and if their approach against England bordered on overconfidence, then their approach to the West Indies at home was borderline arrogant. Suffice to say, it’s highly unlikely Australia would have approached the game any differently, regardless of the opposition.
All of which leads to the conclusion that there is no one smoking gun for the abject manner in which Australia folded in the Cardiff Test. Rather, they simply played like absolute shit, and nobody really knows why. This is an Australian team which will do that, and despite passing 500 in nearly every opening innings since the Ashes (the Adelaide Test being an exception), it’s entirely possible they’ll simply collapse in a heap again at the drop of a hat (most likely in India, because, well, that’s what they do there).
Our conclusion: Australia lost in Cardiff because they are simply not that good. And yet they are also the best Test team in the world. Further confirmation that the current standard of Test cricket is at a woeful low point (Devereux aside)? You’d better bloody believe it.