Tuesday, 18 January 2011

End of the Australian Age of Dominance

If the series losses to India and South Africa in the autumn of 2008 were warning signs, then they are warnings that were not heeded by Australian cricket.  The hammering by England in the Ashes series is a great big huge wake up call for Australia.

When England arrived in Australia for the series, many commentators were cautious about the chances of England pulling off a win, bearing in mind that England had only won 4 test series in Australia since the war (1954/5, 1970/1, 1978/9 & 1986/7).  We needn't have worried as England batted fantastically and bowled superbly – even managing to swing and reverse swing the ball after the 20 over period when the new ball loses it’s shine & hardness. Key to England’s success was their ability to put high scores on the board.  With the exception of their first innings 260 at the Gabba and the woeful performance at the WACA, England racked up huge first innings leads.  Leading the way was Alistair Cook, who emulated Chris Broad and Michael Vaughan by scoring three centuries in an Ashes series in Australia.  His 235* helped to draw the Gabba test while centuries in Adelaide (148) and Sydney (189) set up innings wins.  His aggregate of 766 (at an average of 127.66) is a post war record for an England batsman.

Not that the England batting display was a one man band.  Jonathan Trott accumulated 445 runs during this series, he was the other man during the marathon 329 second wicket stand which broke the Australians at the Gabba – chipping in with 135*.  His 168* in Melbourne cemented England’s position in the game after a mini wobble early on the second day.  The Captain Strauss, Prior and Bell also scored centuries, while Kevin Pieterson scored a double ton in the win at Adelaide.

Cook (235*) & Trott (135*) leave the Gabba
There to profit from the platform afforded to them by the batsmen were the bowlers.  James Anderson  lead the bowlers charts with 24 wickets @ 26.04.  His 4/51 was as key on the first day at Adelaide as his 4/44 on the first day at Melbourne.  Despite only playing 3 tests, Chris Tremlett impressed by bagging 17 wickets @ 23.35 – the best average of the series.  Despite not having the best series, Graeme Swann still took 15 wickets – level pegging with Australia’s best bowler Mitchell Johnson.  Swann’s haul includes the 5/91 that won the Adelaide test before the weather closed in.

However good England were during this series, this Ashes continues the precedent set from the 1970/1 series – that every England victory has come at a time of transition/turmoil in Australian cricket.  The 1970/1 series saw the beginnings of the Chappell/Marsh/Lillee era in Australian cricket (Ian Chappell was appointed captain during this series, while his brother Greg made his debut, alongside Lillee and Marsh ).  The 1978/9 series was played out against the acrimony of the Packer “World Series Cricket” split – a split that resolved itself when Packer’s Channel 9 won the rights to broadcast test cricket in Australia.

Perhaps more pertinent to this series is the circumstances of the 1986/7 win, which came in the middle of Australia’s worst drought in form.  From the series against Pakistan in 1983/4 to New Zealand in 1987/8, Australia failed to win a test series.  They lost two Ashes series and were comprehensively hammered by the West Indies – their captain Kim Hughes famously wept when he relinquished the captaincy after the Brisbane test against the Windies in 1984.  That win against Pakistan saw the retirements of Lillee, Marsh and Greg Chappell from test cricket.  The Sydney Ashes Test of four years ago also saw retirements of players that Australia have to date struggled to replace – Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Justin Langer.

England’s next ambition should be to reach the number one spot in Test Cricket.  Already they have overhauled Sri Lanka to finish the Ashes in 3rd place.  They have the chance to consolidate 3rd place with a home series against Sri Lanka, before taking on the current top dog’s India in a home test series.  However history dictates that Australia come back stronger than ever after a home Ashes defeat.  The 1970/1 defeat saw the seeds of the 1970’s Australia side that dominated test Cricket, with the high-points being the 4-1 win in the 1974/5 Ashes and the 5-1 defeat of the embryonic West Indies side that would dominate Cricket in the 1980’s.   The 1978/9 defeat brought to an end the Packer split, while the 1986/7 defeat  began the process which saw Australia become the best cricket side once again by 1995.  England will hope that this time their side will be able to buck the trend for some time to come.

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