Australia rounded off a thoroughly impressive Ashes campaign with another resounding thrashing of England in Sydney to complete a 4-0 series win.
Much has been said about England being competitive at times during this series, but the reality is that the gulf between the two sides was far wider than we all initially thought.
England bowled over by pace
In the searing Sydney heat, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazelwood delivered the last rites to a mentally and physically battered English outfit – particularly in poor Joe Root’s case, with an unfortunate visit or two to the porcelain gods during England’s second innings. There was something almost poetically ruthless with the ease at which Australia wrapped up proceedings.
Australia won the battle from all possible outlets, starting with their preparations, strategy and execution. They said that they would launch the cricketing equivalent of an air-to-air missile assault on the English batsmen and, after a slow start in Brisbane, they did exactly that. For all of England’s talk of quelling and preparing for this attack, they never got close to finding an answer. Australia are blessed that they have three bowlers who can bowl consistently at 90 mph but they still had to go out and deliver. Messrs. Hazelwood, Cummins and Starc were outstanding.
The key battle going into this series was how the two skippers, Steve Smith and Joe Root, were going to fare. On the face of it, this should have been a thrilling confrontation between two of the most exciting cricketers in the world. It sadly never materialised, with Steve Smith wining the all important leadership contest hands down.
The Ashes is the most intense battle on a cricket calendar and for Smith to bat the way he did, especially in the early days of this series when England’s bowlers were fresh, was exemplary. Smith did not have it all his own way as he had to deal with much chatter from England’s fielders and also some class bowling from Jimmy Anderson. This makes his series run tally of 687 at a ridiculous average of 137.4 – just short of Donald Bradman’s record 139.14 Ashes average in the 1930 edition – all the more impressive.
The Australians got their selection right at the start of the series. They were massive calls to drop Renshaw, Neville and Handscomb, as they are talented players who will surely come again in the future. Tim Paine (if only he could keep quiet behind the stumps for just one over), Mitch and Shaun Marsh, all delivered in this series. The only concern is the form of Cameron Bancroft who could not get going after his promising start in Brisbane.
You cannot afford to have passengers in an Ashes showdown and the glaring differences between the two teams in that regard were laid bare in Sydney.
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There are many questions marks over the English cricket squad and no doubt we will hear more over the coming weeks as the debrief gets underway. Undoubtedly, changes need to happen and fast if we are to see a competitive series Down Under in four years’ time. England lost the PR exercise off the field before the series even began, which did not help matters, and there can be no excuse to say that these incidents were minor. They are all grown up men with a support network that is far stronger now than it was 30 years ago.
On the field, England lacked the firepower and variation in their bowling to derail Australia’s batting line-up. Jimmy Anderson aside, the English bowlers were disappointing. The abysmal returns of Moeen Ali have been well documented and this was a key battle when previewing the two teams before the first Test got underway. England never got close to getting parity in this part of the game. Nathan Lyon did a wonderful job in picking up wickets as well as being economical from one end, allowing Steve Smith to rotate his pace trio to great effect.
Batting wise, England’s all-too-familiar failings came to light again. England’s first innings in Sydney encapsulated the story of their batting all tour. No less than eight players reached 20 or more and yet none of them could kick on to a century.
James Vince and Mark Stoneman are of immediate concern from a selection viewpoint. Atrocious shot selection led by Vince and, sadly, Joe Root as a major contributor, consistently stalled England’s ability to post 400-plus totals and therefore a platform to put Australia under pressure. Until England’s batters learn how to accumulate an innings (Steve Smith would be a useful blueprint to follow), they will continue to lose Test matches, especially overseas where the conditions are less familiar.
That run out
The big moments were always won by Australia, starting in Brisbane with the run out of James Vince by Nathan Lyon, which was a momentum killer for England. Lyon produced a moment of magic to get rid of Vince, when the latter was well set and everyone could sense that the Aussies had got the shot of inspiration they needed to run through England. Who knows what might have happened if Vince had gone onto a maiden hundred and England into a substantial first innings lead?
Stars of the series
Steve Smith was the obvious superstar but the credit should be shared among his teammates. I would pick out Pat Cummins for a special mention as he put the frighteners on all of England’s batsmen, and then also impressed with his batting. Cummins’ contribution in partnership with Smith at the Gabba during Australia’s first innings reply was massively important given the initially impressive first-up England bowling performance.
Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazelwood were both excellent as well. The way Hazelwood softened up both England openers, Cook and Stoneman, as the series wore on was a fast bowling master class in intimidation and skill.
The emergence of Dawid Malan as a Test match batsman was heartening for England as was the perennial excellence of Jimmy Anderson. Other than that, all the positives remain on the side of the baggy green.
The next encounter
The 2019 Ashes will present the Australians with a great chance to cement their dominance over England as they have a young team who are realizing their potential. The conditions will be different and that of course gives England a sniff.
There is much cricket to be played between now and then but the problems facing England will not go away overnight and Australia will have every reason to be confident of overcoming an 18-year absence and holding onto the Ashes on foreign soil in 2019.