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Why Australia lost the Ashes

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Ashes_England_Australia_cricketThey had the more inventive leader. Their pace attack was more powerful, more disruptive; their spinner more accomplished. Theirs was the more settled opening pair, and they entered the series with the game’s top-ranked test batsman. And their keeper, a renowned battler, was one of the toughest men in the game.

Most pundits adjudged them the superior side, and predicted them administering a decisive beating to their archrivals. Additionally, they arrived with their confidence riding high on the backs of the humiliating thrashing they delivered last time, and an almost flawless World Cup campaign.

When both sides last grappled together, during the 2013-14 series Down Under, the Englishmen were simply overpowered. Led by Mitchell Johnson’s ferocious fast bowling and David Warner’s vigorous batting, England were bludgeoned into complete surrender. By the end, they were a team disjointed and in turmoil.

Playing at home on this occasion, no one really expected England to be similarly overwhelmed. Yet despite being staffed by a few aging stars, the Australians were still widely considered mighty enough to win comfortably.

So how did they manage to lose?

In Cardiff, Brad Haddin’s failure to accept a catch offered by Joe Root before he had gotten off the mark was probably crucial to England’s huge victory, but had the Australians not generously donated a few very important wickets through their overly aggressive approach, things might have turned out differently. Steve Smith and Michael Clarke, two of the visitors’ biggest wickets, perished needlessly in the first innings after chasing down the pitch to Moeen Ali. A positive outlook is good, so long as it does not cross the line into recklessness.

This seemed to have been a sign of Australia’s plans for the summer. They arrived in England with an aura of superiority and appeared intent on dictating terms despite the likelihood of their opponents being much more formidable in their own familiar conditions.

It was as if they expected England to scatter in the face of their aggressive onslaught. And when that strategy unraveled they were at a loss as to how to respond. That, in a way, was understandable; one does not abandon carefully laid plans at the first sign of trouble. At the same time, the best teams are flexible, and able to adapt whenever new challenges arise.

The propensity for swing in England is well known, and visiting teams frequently struggle to combat English conditions. Faced with a more than worthy pace attack, led by the game’s most adept swing bowler, James Anderson, the visiting side struggled. Their batsmen were challenged by the high quality of the bowling and the testing nature of the conditions, and were found wanting.

The Australian top order coped well on occasion. Chris Rogers, David Warner and Steve Smith all scored quite a few runs during the series, but Australia’s middle was mostly missing throughout.

 

Close observers of Australian cricket will know that their batting has been overly reliant on just two or three players for a while now. Even as Australia romped to a stunning clean-sweep during the last Ashes contest, their batting was often in early trouble, and required Brad Haddin, in prime batting form, to rescue them in a number of instances. Controversially, Australia’s long-serving wicketkeeper only played at Cardiff, though it is unlikely he’d have been as effective this time round.

Both sides arrived at Edgbaston with one win apiece, but Australia, dismissed for 136 in the first innings, never managed to claw their way back. England effectively secured the Ashes on the first day at Trent Bridge when Stuart Broad flattened Australia for 60. There would be no way back from that stunning misadventure.

Edgbaston was the low point in a summer of inadequate batting by the Australians. But while the bowling was generally better, and the visitors held a definite advantage as far as spin was concerned, their bowlers were plagued by inconsistency.

Josh Hazlewood was largely disappointing and was dropped for the fifth test. Mitchell Starc bowled his fair share of unplayable deliveries, but bowled more than his fair share of wayward balls as well. And while Mitchell Johnson was terrifying at times, he did not manage anything like the hold he had over England’s batsmen during their last encounter.

When Peter Siddle finally came in for the fifth test, he was stubbornly insistent in both length and direction, and gave the tourists the kind of control that might have made a difference had he been in operation from the first game. Still, the selectors made the decision based on the perceived wicket-taking ability of the bowlers chosen in his stead, and Siddle’s omission from the first four games can only reasonably be questioned in hindsight.

Australia’s Ashes campaign was also hampered by their failure to contain Joe Root. Dropped during the last Ashes series, this time he was a revelation. The right-handed Yorkshire-man delivered the most runs in two of the three games England won, and in the third only Ian Bell contributed more. Additionally, the 24-year-old played in the kind of skillful, positive manner that might have caught the Australians off-guard.

As previously stated, most fans and pundits (myself included) thought Australia were the better side and would have won with some ease. We were wrong. Under the circumstances that prevailed during the series, England proved they were better -- even if that’s only until both sides meet again in Australia.



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I am from Jamaica, currently live in USA. Have followed cricket for a long time. Took to writing ab...

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