January 06, 2014

Horse 1587 - Ashes Five-Nil Whitewash

Even the most one-eyed of English cricket fans can not help but admit that this five-nil series loss is an absolute pasting. Only Warwick Armstrong in 1920-21, Ricky Ponting in 2006–07 and now Michael Clarke in 2013-14 have led 5-0 whitewashes in Ashes history.
It was fitting that the same eleven who started the First Test at the Gabba, played all five tests and even more resounding that the last wicket of the series, Boyd Rankin, fell into the hands of the Australian captain Michael Clarke.
Full credit to Australia for beating England because that's what sport is about - not taking your foot off your opponent's throat, even if they're choking.

The truth remains though that this was an utterly dour Australian side which won five-nil. It just happens that they were facing a horrendously poor England side, who after the Third Test at the WACA, lost heart once the series was a lost cause. In fact this was very reminiscent of the ill-fated Indian tour of England in 2011, when they too suffered a series whitewash (and in the process handed over the Number One Test Ranking). It also bears noting that this really wasn't the same England which played in England.

If you look at the England side from the First Test at Trent Bridge and compare it to the one which played in Sydney, there was no Joe Root who was dropped, Johnathon Trott who didn't tour, Matt Prior who was dropped in favour of Johnny Bairstow as keeper, Graeme Swann who announced his retirement from all cricket when England were 3-0 in the series and Steven Finn who "suffered a loss of form" though I wonder how you suffer a loss of form when you don't actually play.
This is quite apart from the curious case of Tim Bresnan who was effective in England but not Australia and Monty Panesar who should have excelled on a Sydney pitch but was allowed to do so.

I think what we did see was a side that gave up and then having done so, try and blood new players. To throw four debutants into the fire of Test Cricket against a side chasing a whitewash is pretty cruel I think. The experiment might yet prove to pay off but in the meantime and during an English winter, the press will be calling for the heads of all an sundry at the ECB. Maybe Tim Flower already knew that he was on a hiding to nothing and was resigned to the fact that it literally can not get worse than a five-nil whitewash in a series.

On the upside, Joe Root has already proven at test level that he's capable of centuries; Michael Carberry looks very composed as a batsman, even though he shows a weakness to deliveries which are fired across his body rather than through the supposed corridor of uncertainty. I suspect that when 2015 rolls around that these two will be the opening pair with the Sledgehammer Of Eternal Justice*, Ian Bell, moved back to first drop.

Australia in 2013-14 were made to look fantastic by an England side who were walking about like wilted lettuce, left behind on the market stall at 3pm. Of course they were going to get five/fors but a series which yielded only one 500 plus score when the opposition was as dire as England, really makes you wonder how good Australia actually is.
I suspect that this Australian side will probably hit a very hard wall in South Africa. Beating England is one thing but to come up against the Number One Test side at home will be a very difficult task. Admittedly it will only be a three test series but Australia could find themselves bringing their tails behind them on their own 3-0 series defeat. The likes of Hashim Amla and Graeme Smith will offer a greater degree of resistance than England did. Also, Australia's top order needs to be rescued often by the likes of Haddin and Clarke and that could prove problematic in posting defendable scores. Whitewash? Maybe a case of wallpapering over the cracks.

Yeah, five-nil. Australia deserves their day in the sunshine. It's just that it might not last too long.

*NICKNAME ALERT: Sledgehammer Of Eternal Justice, Ian Bell - thanks to Andy Zaltzman. 

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