Ashes 2013-14: How Australia have followed their plan to perfection - and why it won them the series

The hosts identified the weaknesses in the England team and have exploited them ruthlessly

Valeriy Lobanovskyi would have enjoyed watching this Australian cricket team. The Soviet Union’s greatest football manager always liked a plan. Lobanovskyi used to give detailed instructions to his Dynamo Kiev players, covering every eventuality from every position on the pitch. Anyone who deviated from these tactics whether through forgetfulness or unsolicited initiative was immediately substituted. Lobanovskyi’s scientific methods helped Dynamo become the first team from behind the Iron Curtain to lift a major European competition when they annihilated Ferencváros in the 1975 European Cup Winners Cup final.

Very few coaches in any sport have achieved similar success with such a prescriptive approach. Even Lobanovskyi eventually came unstuck. As if dismissal from his position as head coach of the Kuwaiti national team were not humiliation enough, his employers twisted the knife with their explanation: “Lobanovsky has turned the players into robots.”

Yet in 2013 a bald, portly tinny-drinker by the name of Boof has channelled the philosophy of a Ukrainian one assumes he has never heard of to achieve one of cricket’s most unlikely comebacks. After replacing Mickey Arthur on the eve of Australia’s disastrous Ashes tour last summer, Darren Lehmann has masterminded a complete domination of the return series on home soil. The explanation for the turnaround is simple, and most definitely easier said than done: Lehmann has identified plans to target weaknesses in England’s batting and he has found bowlers capable of implementing those plans with precision. As a result England have failed to reach 300 in any of their first innings and none of the batsmen averages anywhere near 40.

ASHES PODCAST: Stephen Brenkley and Tom Collomosse discuss the third day of the Fifth Test. Listen below…

For Alastair Cook, Australia’s plan has been to starve the England captain of anything to cut or pull – his two favourite shots. Just 12% of the 235 unbeaten runs he scored in that memorable Brisbane knock of 2010 were achieved in the ‘V’ down the ground. This time around he has been awarded virtually no scoring alternatives. Cook averages just 29. On the last Ashes tour he averaged 128.

The Australians would not have seen much of Cook’s latest opening partner before the first Test, but it did not take them long to realise that Michael Carberry strongly dislikes facing bowlers from around the wicket. As plans go, it was not a difficult one to fulfil. Simple too was the plot to seize poor Jonathan Trott’s wicket and confidence. It became clear in the one-day series that followed the English Ashes that Trott struggles badly with Mitchell Johnson’s bouncer. The rest, as they say, is history.

Kevin Pietersen may have shown some sparks of resistance but for him too Australia had a plan. As soon as Pietersen comes to the crease Michael Clarke throws the ball to Peter Siddle and packs the leg side with catchers. He knows that Pietersen will refuse to play this vegan banana-muncher with any respect. Two of Pietersen’s greatest strengths – his ego and his ‘Flamingo’ on side flick – have become recurring vulnerabilities in Australia’s hands. When England’s most dangerous batsman chipped Siddle to mid-on at Perth it was the tenth time in Tests he had succumbed to the bowler and the third time in a row this series.

Joe Root and Matt Prior have both been targeted with particularly miserly bowling for different reasons: Root because it exacerbates a tendency to get bogged down and Prior because it is felt his love of strokeplay overrides any patience to wait for the bad ball. Before the 2009 Ashes in the UK, former Australian opener Justin Langer provided coach Tim Nielsen with a crib sheet for each of the opposition players. “The key is he wants to score runs quickly and look good,” Langer wrote of Prior. “Stop him scoring boundaries and he will give you plenty of chances.” The class of 2013 are obviously better listeners. Prior has been dropped for the first time under Andy Flower, as has Root who averaged 27 on tour.

As for England’s hitherto dogged tail, the strategy has been to give Mitchell Johnson the ball and ask him to bowl as fast as he can. Johnson has taken more than half of the dismissals against England’s bowlers, who simply have no answer to his pace. Only Graeme Swann has required anything more complicated. Australia were careful not to offer the off-spinner, whom Mike Selvey rated as one of the finest drivers in world cricket, nothing too full.

These plans have been executed with unerring and unprecedented consistency. Even Ian Bell, in the form of his life after the summer, has succumbed. It would have been entirely understandable had Australia placed a question mark next to Bell’s name, as England’s whiteboards did for Adam Gilchrist for so many years. But as his teammates fell apart around him, Bell has found a way to gift his wicket to a grateful Australia in a series of premature and belated Christmas presents. 

Valeriy Lobanovskyi used plans to “force the opponent into the condition you want them to be in.” That is where England’s dazzling batting line-up has found themselves, and it is a horrific place to be: prone in the unforgiving Australian sun with their weaknesses exposed over and over again. There can be nothing more crushing for an international sportsman than having one’s technical or, even worse, mental shortcomings revealed so frequently.

None of which is to say that England lack their own plans. Andy Flower, the best and most advanced coach ever to hold the office, is an avid user of statistical analysis. According to Steve James’ book on England’s cricketing renaissance, each bowler receives target areas measuring 100cm by 15cm. Their analyst, Nathan ‘Numbers’ Leamon, plays matches thousands of times in a Monte Carlo simulator before the team even gets on the plane. Yet, as Flower’s predecessor Duncan Fletcher told James, “plans to dismiss a batsman do not work unless you can bowl five or six balls an over in that area.” England have rattled through Australia’s top order regularly on this tour, only to abandon their strategies with the job half finished. “We’ve got a little bit carried away and gone away from our plan,” admitted James Anderson in Melbourne. England have had Australia at 132-6, 174-4, 143-5 and 97-5 only to let things slip.

One of the main differences between top level sportspeople and their counterparts in ‘the real world’ is that they are rarely able to realize their plans perfectly on cue. Indeed, sport would not be worth watching if tactics were executed without deviation. But that is what the Alastair Cooks of the corporate and professional world do every day. Top barristers do not forget the most basic elements of their craft in the mode of a batting collapse when faced with tough questions from the judge. Surgeons do not slice the wrong tendon when they are having a bad day at the office. The difference, of course, is that they do not have to deal with a fearsome competitor physically interfering with their handicraft. They do not have to perform in front of the quarter of million people who witnessed the Ashes at the MCG.

In that context it is no surprise that even the best athletes cannot reproduce on tap the results they know will secure victory. Rather, the surprise has been Australia’s ability to get so close to that ideal over the course of this series. Thanks in part to Lehmann’s old-school veneer that masks a precision to rival Lobanovskyi’s, there has been no sense of joylessness in Australia’s painting by numbers approach. Indeed, there is something majestic in the uniformity of their bowlers’ pitch-maps. England’s, by contrast, resemble the efforts of the sprinkler that inspired their victory dance on their last visit down under.

Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser