Before the cricketing world starts dissecting Australia`s disastrous Ashes campaign, spare a thought for the two respective captains at the end of another breathless Test match at Trent Bridge.
Both Michael Clarke and Alistair Cook deserve massive credit in the way they spoke during the many interviews which followed England`s crushing win. They spoke immaculately when questioned as individuals of a team and when speaking about their team.
Two vastly contrasting people brought together with remarkable similarities as cricketers. Clarke is from a working class background in Sydney`s tough inner west and a former lover of fast cars and supermodels. Whereas Cook was privately educated and a choirboy from Bedford school who prefers sitting on a tractor at his wife`s farm rather than pursuing the celebrity trail. And yet, there was unquestionably considerable respect between both of them and their teams as the last rites of the presentations were being administered in Nottinghamshire.
Captain Cook silences the doubters (including me)
Both Cook and Clarke have followed very similar paths to success as well as the hard times. Cook has somehow kept his dignity and his belief when everyone (including yours truly) thought he should have walked the plank as England captain last year. Sri-Lanka had beaten England during 2014`s troubled summer, following on from England`s dreadful Ashes debacle in Australia and frankly, Cook looked lost.
Lest we forget that Cook then had to suffer in silence when he was subject to a ridiculous tirade from Kevin Pietersen. KP, in writing his book and with the support of his social media friends like Piers Morgan, proceeded to smash into English cricket and in particular Messrs Cook, Strauss and Moore. All the while, Cook remained calm and polite during that chaotic period in English cricket.
Add to that the disappointment of not adding to his incredible batting record as England`s leading centurion, Cook would not have been a lesser man if he had said, that`s it I am done. Instead, he worked his socks off and in collaboration with Andrew Strauss and Paul Farbrace (both of whom deserve very honorable mentions) masterminded a new England, which no one thought possible even just four weeks ago.
Unlike Hollywood, sport at the highest level does not always allow the nice guy to win; in this case sport has thankfully relented.
Farewell, Pup. Top knock
Michael Clarke, rather like his good friend and fellow great Shane Warne, has not always been Australia`s favorite cricketing son. Probably in part due to his extraordinary talent and in his earlier days not necessarily falling in with the traditional values of the baggy green.
Thankfully, he takes his bow with his reputation intact as one of the all-time greats of the sport. The way Clarke conducted himself during the tragic accident of his mate, Phil Hughes, endeared himself to the whole of Australia as well many other countries; and not just the cricket nations. More importantly his emotional speech at the funeral and his immaculate behavior as Australia mourned, spoke volumes about Michael Clarke as a person.
Sadly, old Father Time is counting down the minutes on his chronic back condition, and I suspect the emotional pressure which comes with the job of being captain of an expectant nation has finally caught up with him. Before the critics come calling and dare to question Clarke`s commitment, it is worth noting that he would work for two agonizing hours every morning in a bid to get his body in a condition possible to be fit for international cricket.
It has been a terrible series for Clarke as a batsman and captain but he has made the correct decision to step down. The way his own teammates and his English adversaries stood to applaud him – including his bête noir, Jimmy Anderson – was an indicator of how well Clarke is regarded in the game.
So, where does Australia go from here?
There is no obvious answer. Boof and Rod Marsh brought an ageing team with the hope that talent would persevere over creaking bodies.
The loss of Ryan Harris was a big blow before the series even started, given his track record in English conditions and the ongoing struggles in form with the likes of Shane Watson, Brad Haddin and of course skipper, Michael Clarke.
Despite this, there was not a sane person in either Australia or England who thought that the Ashes would be won by the conclusion of the fourth Test, and in England`s favor. Much talk will go into the state of England`s pitches but England also had to bat on these tracks. These grounds should have suited Hazelwood in particular and watching Mitchell Starc swinging the ball quite beautifully at 90 mph in the latter stages of England`s first innings at Trent Bridge, further confuses that theory.
Quite simply, Australia`s batsmen did not apply themselves with the professionalism you would expect from the number one team in the game.
A most unexpected Ashes
Steve Smith will undoubtedly cement his place as one of the world`s best batsmen over the next decade, but he will regret stating that his team should win easily when the series had not even begun. Very rarely does that kind of prediction turn out to be true. Australia had swept all before over the last two years so it was reasonable to expect them to roll over an England team in transition. They underestimated the fact that Root, Broad, Cook, Stokes and Anderson were on the wrong side of that 5-0 hammering down under. All of them at some point in this series played a key hand in Australia`s downfall.
It has been an extraordinary Ashes, not least because of the unexpected nature of England`s dominance and the cricket being played at run rates more akin to a 50 overs match. England have confounded all of their many critics by winning the little brown Urn back; especially from where they were in all formats of the game, culminating in that humiliating World Cup performance.
There will doubtless be rumors and stories circulating from in and around the Australian camp but that must not gloss over what has been a terrific English triumph.