Ashes 2013-14: From laughing stock to legends in just over six months - how England helped Australia look better than they are
Tourists' Ashes defeat the most painful in years
Tuesday 31 December 2013
The last time England were humiliated in Australia, they could at least console themselves with the fact that they were facing one of the game's great Test sides.
The 5-0 scoreline might have been a very public shaming in front of the whole cricketing world, but at least the tar and feathers used were Warne and McGrath, Ponting and Hussey.
However, this winter's abasement, surely already worse than that of 06/07 thanks to the consistently appalling cricket played by England, is all the more galling when you consider in any great detail the side who have inflicted it.
Barely six months ago this Australian side were the laughing stock of world cricket, a seemingly ever-rotating collection of men hardly fit to look at a sacred baggy green, let alone wear one.
Now they are transformed into an unchanged XI that have repeatedly left Alastair Cook's men with more egg on their face than John Prescott on the campaign trail.
Just over half a year ago David Warner was less a cricketer and more the endless butt of a joke, the Walkabout warrior with a mistrust of fake wigs and a love for turtles - his brother's claims that he'd been made an 'escape goat' by Cricket Australia only making things worse.
Now he is the leading run scorer in this series with two hundreds at an average of just under 80 and fewer people are laughing now.
Shane Watson has had a similarly redemptive season, albeit to a slightly lesser degree than his pugilistic teammate.
He started the year as the homework-shy pantomime fool, described as a 'cancer' on the national side by his own captain and with a front pad seemingly so big it was visible from space, and while he hasn't ended it as Keith Miller reborn, he has at least found a settled slot in the side and doubled his Test match hundred tally in the process.
Of course as far as renaissances go, this series has only really been about one man.
If the last Australian Ashes ended up being as close to a nightmare for Mitchell Johnson as possible, every move ridiculed by tens of thousands of boozed-up Brits, then things could scarcely have gone better this time around.
The Barmy Army reveled in Johnson's selection for this series, sensing an opportunity to reopen old wounds but his 31 wickets at an average of just 14.32, via a lethal combination of pace, bounce and good old fashioned English ineptitude with the bat, have brought the Ashes back Down Under for the first time in four series.
To add insult to injury he also averages more with the bat than anyone in English colours.
In fact almost everywhere you look this Australian side are transformed. So many men so recently a joke in some way or another, now find themselves heroes.
It was not so long ago that Steve Smith was in the side for little other reason than that he was fun to have around in the changing room - now he has two Ashes hundreds.
Nathan Lyon was valued so highly he saw his place in the side go to an uncapped teenager at the start of this summer's Ashes, George Bailey is now playing Test match cricket rather than flipping burgers, and Chris Rogers has overcome years spent in the wilderness being passed over for one 'next big thing' after another.
Injury might have made a mockery of an otherwise great Test match career for Ryan Harris, but he has managed to string together his longest run of games yet and England are feeling the consequences.
Even Michael Clarke and Peter Siddle have risen above the respective obstacles of either being incredibly unpopular or being confusingly vegan, while Brad Haddin has cast aside indifferent form and concerns about his age to work his way into the reckoning for the man of the series.
But despite all this transformation it is still palpably clear that this is not one of the great Australian sides and that is what rankles the most - for all the improvement there is still the feeling that Australia are little more than sheep in wolves' clothing and that England have sewn the costumes for them.
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