Australians cricket fans living in the UK were rewarded for pulling all-nighters to watch the Ashes as Steve Smith’s team won the series in emphatic fashion. It was a glorious time to be an expat as the ‘Poms’ were torn apart time after time and Australia secured a 4-0 victory. However, fast forward a few weeks and English frowns have turned upside down the ODI team gained sweet revenge.
Eoin Morgan’s men won the first three matches to secure a thumping series victory with two ODIs to spare. You could hardly get two series that were more chalk and cheese if you tried, so what happened? Did England drastically improve, or did Australia absolutely capitulate when they switched from Tests to white ball cricket?
Well, the answer probably lies somewhere between those extremes. Firstly, Australia were utterly brilliant during the Ashes, make no mistake about it. The superstar trio of quicks – Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood – was in absolutely devastating form. The English simply could not live with the pace and aggression that was constantly hurled their way, whipped up by passionate crowds at iconic dens of hostility like The Gabba. Meanwhile Nathan Lyon became the leading wicket taker of 2017 as he bullied England’s elongated tail mercilessly.
Smith was the man of the series by a million miles. He lived up to his billing as the world’s best batsman and then some. He kept his cool while those around him faltered, and batted on with grim determination to steady the ship time and time again. He hit 687 runs at an average of 137.4, including three centuries, and no batsman came close to matching those numbers. Shaun and Mitchell Marsh hit two centuries apiece, while David Warner hit 441 runs, the third best tally after Smith and Shaun Marsh. Usman Khawaja blew hot and cold, but came good when his team needed him, and Smith’s leadership throughout was exemplary.
England sent a largely inexperienced team to the Ashes and so they needed huge performances from their senior players. James Anderson aside, they flopped badly. Former captain Alastair Cook put in a tremendous performance in the fourth test to lead his team to a draw, but he was otherwise dreadful and averaged just 47 overall. Captain Joe Root also struggled and was regularly removed for paltry scores. Anderson had the best bowling economy out of any player in the series, but Stuart Broad was a disappointment as he could only take 11 wickets, while Moeen Ali had a disaster with both bat and ball.
England badly missed the suspended Ben Stokes, who was left out while under investigation for assault, and the tail looked extremely weak, while England relied too heavily on Anderson and Broad in the bowling department. A couple of the rookies delivered – Dawid Malan finished as England’s leading run scorer, with 383, while Chris Woakes showed promise as he took 10 wickets – but England were outfought, outthought and outplayed throughout the series.
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They needed a fresh injection of life ahead of the ODI series and they got exactly that. White ball specialists that were not dejected from surrendering the Ashes came in and brought renewed optimism along with them. Liam Plunkett and Mark Wood displayed the sort of pace and seam that was lacking for England’s meek attack during the Ashes, and spinner Adil Rashid has been a dangerous weapon. Jason Roy showed England’s failing batsmen how it is down by producing a record-breaking knock to inspire England to victory in the first ODI. Another newcomer, Jos Buttler, was the hero in the third.
The greatest turnaround of all came from Root, who breathed a sigh of relief after passing over captaincy duties to Morgan for the ODIs and then played with freedom throughout. Two superb unbeaten knocks drove England to a 2-0 series lead and the tourists benefited from Root doing what he does best: displaying world class acumen with the bat. He also showed he is handy with the ball in the second ODI.
Australia failed to match the intensity that defined their thumping Ashes victory when it came to the limited-overs series. England have a vastly superior record to Australia in ODIs over the past three year – in fact, they have the world’s best record – so they were not to be taken lightly, but Mitchell Marsh admitted to an Ashes hangover – one presumes metaphorical – when the hosts surrendered the first ODI. Australia’s big players from the Ashes simply could not hit those heights again. Smith was thrice removed for the scores of a mere mortal.
Australia rested Hazlewood for the first ODI and then Cummins for the second, and the hosts could not find a way to dominate their opposition with the ball. Lyon also continues to be overlooked for ODIs, which seems a travesty when he is playing so well in the Big Bash.
It remains to be seen whether England’s level of performance will continue into day 4 and 5 of the ODI with the series now wrapped up, but be sure to check the latest cricket spreads for the remaining games.
Perhaps England are just better suited to white ball cricket, but Australia’s performance level has most certainly dipped. The home team has now won the Ashes in seven of the last eight series, so Smith’s men will need to produce something special if they are to hold onto them in 2019. England will need to begin a painful assessment of their Test team’s limitations, and the same is true of Australia and their ODI setup, thanks to these madcap chalk and cheese series.