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Burnt to Ashes

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Ashes_England_Australia_cricketEngland’s stunning victory in the on-going Ashes has left pundits and aficionados dumbfounded. From a 5-0 whitewash Down Under to wrapping up the Ashes with nonchalant ease, they have done the unthinkable.

Heavily battered, beaten and bruised, Alastair Cook and his men were taken to the cleaners less than 18 months ago. Mitchell Johnson’s aggressive and fearsome bowling was likened to the Lindwall-Miller and Lillee-Thomson times, and with David Warner, Steve Smith, Brad Haddin, and Chris Rogers all firing, it was a perfect series for the Baggy Greens.

Fast forward to the next Ashes series; both the batting and bowling were in tatters. Bar the second Test at Lords where Smith got his act together and the opening pair of Rogers and Warner, who have been the only Aussie batsmen to show some form of resistance, if any, in the past month and a half, the Aussies have been poor.

Johnson was fit and raring to go and he had for company Mitchell Starc, considered by many as the World’s deadliest bowler. But, rather surprisingly, the bowler who has caused the most trouble for the Englishmen is wily spinner Nathan Lyon, who is continuing from where he left off against India. Australia are lacking the genuine all rounders that England possess. Moeen Ali and Ben Stokes have saved England on more than one occasion, most notably Moeen Ali’s 77 and the wicket of Warner in the first test, which turned the match to England’s favour and also Stokes’ useful runs and a 6 wicket haul at Trent Bridge, which sealed the Ashes in favour of England and ensured the return of the urn to English soil.

Australia have in their squad two all rounders who, on their day, can claim to be the best in the world. The problem is, it isn’t often that they have their day. Shane Watson is desperate to be an all rounder who bats in the middle order and dominates like Freddie Flintoff. Then he wants to open the batting and still bowl his full quota of overs. Then he’s happy to move down the order to three, as it puts less stress on him. Then he’s content to bat at four, hoping that it will help him bowl more overs. Now he’ll bat anywhere, but probably gets that his body won’t let him bowl.

That is Shane Watson.

Then there is Mitchell Marsh, the brother of Shaun, son of Geoff Marsh. Two World Cup winners in the previous sentence, yet neither warrant a permanent spot in the side. If someone wanted an example of a precocious talent going to waste, instead of Rohit Sharma, you could state the example of Shaun Marsh. Both Marsh brothers played in this series and, as usual, Shaun did close to nothing and Mitchell did decently, but not well enough to seal his place for the next Test. Well, I always wonder, don’t Australia have a better batsman than Shaun Marsh? Callum Ferguson, Michael Klinger, Joe Burns, Usman Khawaja and George Bailey continue to warm the benches even as Shaun Marsh ruins the next opportunity he gets.

The all rounders have been letdowns for the Aussies, but so have been everyone else. There has been no single player who has delivered the goods consistently this summer. There has been no Root or Broad for Australia, and the latter’s demolition of the Aussies in broad (pun intended) daylight says it all, doesn’t it?

 

The backbone of Australia’s triumph Down Under were Mitchell Johnson, with his sheer aggression and slinging left-arm over the wicket bowling filled with venom, pace, swing, accuracy, bounce, and a handlebar moustache which was the perfect macho look to accompany his destructive bowling; and Michael Clarke, the Captain who outshone his counterpart, the Captain who was adventurous, intuitive, bold, unpredictable, the Captain whose tactics dismantled English Cricket. Both have been big disappointments this year.

Clarke held all the aces the last time these two teams played for the urn. Cook was told to watch and learn. Now, it’s quite the opposite, isn’t it? The qualities that were against the Essex-born English captain have now led to his success. Cook himself hasn’t been in great form this series, but he has more than made up for it with his dynamic captaincy.

Cook’s not-so-good form has revealed another thing- England aren’t dependent on him for their runs. In Joe Root, Gary Ballance, Ben Stokes, Moeen Ali and Jos Buttler, England have found their next generation of players. And with the likes of Jonny Bairstow, Chris Jordan and Mark Wood in the periphery for Test spots, English Cricket looks to be in safe hands.

In particular, it has been the efforts of Root and Stokes which have been decisive. Many felt that this would be Stokes’ Ashes. So far, he has scored a couple of fifties and a handful of wickets. He hasn’t been a ‘Man of the Match’ nor was he anywhere close to it. But, when he performed, it was the closest England looked like a World Class team. Every time Stokes is handed the ball, there is an eerie of silence across the stadium, across the world. Much like Flintoff in 2005, Stokes looks like the man who can make the difference. He doesn’t just run in to bowl, he steams in. He makes his presence felt. His batting has been entertaining and his bowling has given England the luxury of a genuine All-Rounder which they hope to hold on to.

Joe Root. Over the course of the past month and a half, Root has become the darling of the English masses, the number one batsman in World Cricket, and on top of everything, he has been a joy to watch. Exquisite cover drives, confident blocks, audacious hooks and pulls, and a confidence that is not often seen in an English batsman. Root has been beautiful. He has reached a pinnacle which only few Englishmen from the past can boast to have reached. His childlike looks are quite the opposite of his innate toughness. He took on some of the World’s best with consummate ease and dismantled them, brushing past them and weaving his name alongside the great batsmen of England. Everything he does is so charming. Even his dibbly-dobbly off breaks seem beautiful. Root has been the mainstay of this Ashes triumph and he will go the distance.

Ah, Mitchell Johnson and the English pace attack; how things change. At the last Ashes Mitchell Johnson finished with 37 wickets from five matches. He took more wickets than Stuart Broad and James Anderson combined and was rightly named the Man of the Series. Now, after 4 games, he has 11 wickets to his name. Anderson, Stokes and even the once ‘unselectable’ Steven Finn have almost as many with a far better strike rate. Broad has almost double his wickets. Johnson has had a torrid series with his lines going wayward and no genuine pace being extracted. The English pacers on the other hand have had a brilliant series. Finn and Anderson had remarkable games at Edgbaston and Stokes completed the formalities at Trent Bridge. And then, there was Stuart Broad. Broad’s figures of 8-15 are the sort of thing one would expect from a school match. It was that kind of a day for Broad where whatever he did turned to gold. It is safe to say that besides the Lords debacle, England have had one of their strongest showings with the red cherry.

By claiming a series victory against such opposition, England have not necessarily become world-beaters in the course of a single summer. Instead, they have showed the world that they can be as good as anyone. Sure enough, England deserve a pat on their back for their stupendous effort.

Cheers!



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