Ashes 2013: Spare your sympathy – this is payback time for Australia
Defeating tourists inside four days is long overdue retribution, writes Michael Calvin
Monday 22 July 2013
Rejoice, as someone once said in arguably inappropriate circumstances on the steps of 10 Downing Street. It is payback time. At precisely 6.42 this evening, as shadows stretched across the verdant acres of the world’s most storied cricket ground, James Pattinson was trapped leg before by Graeme Swann. England had won the second Test.
The prospect of Australia regaining the Ashes, by winning the last three matches in the series, is reassuringly remote. One could get better odds on a Yeti being sighted in Yarmouth. Their shortcomings are manifest, multi-faceted.
This may even be the worst team to have worn the baggy green. They are certainly the most discordant and dysfunctional party to visit these shores for several generations. But their problems should not be permitted to overshadow the viability of England’s victory inside four days. To borrow a phrase used to promote the American golf Tour, “these guys are good”.
Lord’s, an anachronistic venue, clinging self-consciously to Victorian values while systematically fleecing red-trousered corporate types, staged a very modern form of hero worship. The old ground echoed to the chant of “Roooooooot” in recognition of a newly-installed national treasure.
Joe Root, man of the match by a country mile, may have only added two runs to reach 180 before being caught off a bizarre scoop shot on a grey morning, but by the time the sun had come out, and he had taken two wickets for a solitary run in eleven deliveries, the game was almost up. His shades were at a jaunty angle, and he had shed all inhibitions.
We didn’t have to look far for supplementary excellence. James Anderson remains one of the world’s most effective bowlers. Tim Bresnan more than justified his selection. Ian Bell has finally found his niche. Swann spared us a fifth day’s formality. Smugness might not be a British trait, but it is justified.
Pessimism, and the understatement which tends to accompany underachievement, is so much easier to deal with than triumphalism, and the realisation that an Ashes whitewash is on the cards. The culture shock may be profound, pitiful in its predictability, but superiority, however unaccustomed, should be a source of celebration rather than contrition.
Those with short memories, and shorter attention spans, might seek sympathy for the tourists. But let’s be clear. Defeating Australia, inside four days in the incomparable setting of the home of cricket, is hardly the sporting equivalent of drowning a sackful of winsome kittens. It is long overdue retribution, karmic justification for years of colonial condescension.
Statistics, cold, bloodless and one dimensional, merely hint at the seismic nature of change. This is the first time England have won four successive Ashes Tests since 1928/29. Australia have lost their last six Test matches. The odds of their having lost 14 Tests on the bounce, by the time Alastair Cook’s squad return from Sydney next January, are shortening rapidly.
Yet the horror stories, selected from sixteen years and 92 days of Australian dominance, between June 1989 and September 2005, still invade the consciousness. They leap out from the pages of Wisden, like apparitions emerging from the shadows on a ghost train in an ancient fairground.
David Gower puts Australia in at Headingley on June 8, 1989. He repents at his leisure as they score 621-7, and set up the first of four wins in a six Test series, which features two draws. Darkness begins to fall over the shire. The era of Steve Waugh, and his Invincibles, has begun.
Nasser Hussein, another England captain known to a new generation as a master of modern TV commentary, makes the same mistake in Brisbane on November 7, 2002. Australia win that First Test by 384 runs, and overwhelm England by an innings in the following two Tests, to retain the Ashes.
There’s more, following the brief respite of that breathless summer of 2005, but we will spare Steve Harmison the embarrassment of the first-ball wide at the Gabba which signalled England’s disintegration on the Club 18-30 tour of Australia in 2006-07.
This England side conforms to a different blueprint. It is a product of the modern sporting culture, in which the aggregation of marginal gains over a sustained period underpins strategic advancement. It has a degree of stability, and an element of inner strength, the Australians cannot hope to emulate.
They, by contrast, are a broken team. They lack the credibility of a strong core, which militates against the best form of transition, the introduction of new players on an individual basis. They have been so abject at Lord’s, there seems little option but to make wholesale change, to alter the dynamics of the series.
Adam Gilchrist, one of the many legends who have not been replaced, admitted: “I think everyone would prefer that the next Ashes series was 18 months away. I know Darren Lehmann has ideas of players he would like around. A number are in the Australia A team and they will be closely monitored.
“I don't have any ready-made answers but it has been a big step in the right direction getting Darren involved, because what any successful organisation needs is a strong and happy culture. Certainly Darren will create the right environment, he knows how to handle these situations in a very calm natural manner.”
Lehmann is a universally popular character, level-headed and inclusive in his management style. He has had a daunting inheritance, because of the schisms which eventually did for his predecessor, Mickey Arthur.
The toxicity of David Warner’s presence was reinforced yesterday by another case of emotional incontinence on social media. This time it was his brother Steven who climbed on to the global soapbox of Twitter, and abused Shane Watson.
Watson is a polarising figure, whose technical failings suggest he is barely worth tolerating. He was, to no-one’s great surprise, trapped leg before by Anderson. Ten out of his 18 dismissals in an Ashes series have been lbw. He has been out in that manner more than any other batsman in Test history.
He hasn’t learned, and he looks lost. He is not the only one.
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