Right verdict, wrong team

In 1986, The Independent sent a newbie reporter to Australia to cover the Ashes series. An England team packed with characters of the order of Ian Botham and David Gower lost miserably in the tour opener to Queensland, and by the time it mucked up its next warm up game, the knives were out — none so sharp as the rookie’s.

“There are only three things wrong with this English team,” Martin Johnson famously wrote then. “They can’t bat, they can’t bowl, and they can’t field.” England duly smashed Australia in the first Test and sealed the series handily, at which point Johnson wrote: “Can’t bat, can’t bowl, can’t field — right line, wrong team!”

Likewise. 2-1 I said at the start of this Ashes and 2-1 it is — right verdict, wrong team. So, who knew? Specifically, who knew that (1) England would repeatedly find, cometh the hour, a bowler [Anderson one day, Flintoff another, Broad a third day] who could not just take wickets, but blow an innings out of the water? and (2) That Australia’s batting would collapse in such totally un-Australian fashion, not once but repeatedly through this series, and this despite the fact that individually, their batsmen looked in far better form than England’s?

A weekend holding much didn’t give me enough leisure to watch the games, so I’ll stick with the mea culpa and avoid additional comment. Except to say that yet again, as has happened throughout this series, the comparisons between this Australian outfit and the Indian teams of the 1990s. Then, we were the ones who seemed unable to seal the deal, to break through hard enough and often enough with the ball; now it is Australia. Then, we were the ones who on paper had a rich batting lineup; players who through a series would produce great knocks individually — but who, somehow, could never seem to get their act together as a team, to pull off the big moments.

Fitting, then, that the ICC’s ‘Test championship’ reflects this change: South Africa on top, Sri Lanka second [slightly surprising that], India third, Australia fourth in the rankings. If someone back in 2000 had suggested that this is how the Test rankings would line up at the close of the decade…

Over the next few days, what will interest me most is to see how the Australian press deals with the only captain, in contemporary memory, to lose the Ashes to England not once, but twice.

12 thoughts on “Right verdict, wrong team

  1. Prem!
    Troy Cooley : Lot of people gave him (undue) credit for 2005 ashes England win. Now that he could not repeat the same success, on same ground with Australian bowlers, what’s you take on role of bowling coach in this series and in general?

    KP (Kamlesh Pareek)

  2. i was thinking the same thing when i saw Michael Clarke walking back, run out in the most unfortunate manner, after being one of the best Aussie batsmen this tour. i could distinctly feel as if the years had been turned back and Sachin was run out backing up too far or something like that, and me feeling like crap, cos i had invested so much time and hopes in this innings to save us. haha.

    it was an awesome result. i’m so glad the racist convicts lost!

  3. I think the ranking is fair. SL did beat India 2-1 last time they played. Next time when India plays at home against SL they will have a chance to skip over them.

    Regarding AUS, They lack a spinner. With Warne they could win under any conditions. Also SA and ENG simply could not read him. On the Other hand even Eng,SA and NZ all now a decent if not a world class spinner. Second reason has Mitchel Johnson he supposed to be spearhead but turned out to be fodder for the opponents. Actually Johnson’s performance in SA was a surprise to me I never considered him to be match wining bowler and he has always been good to Indian Batsmen ( esp in tests)

  4. First, congraulations to Struass & Co. The English played a very good game, especially after the defeat at Leeds. Plus, kudos to the English selectors (yes, that much maligned breed who got skewered post leeds) + Strauss + Flower for not panicking and buckling under the intense negative pressure post Leeds.

    For the Ausses, the comparison to the Indian team in the 1990s seems so apt – individual brilliance, but inconsistent team performance. The 3 1st innings collapses for the Aussies are so reminiscient of how we played till early part of this decade: Fail in the 1st innings and play catch up the rest of the match, with losses piling up abroad.

    Well, a level playing field has finally been achieved in test cricket with no single team so over and above the rest as the Aussies have been for close to 10+ years.

  5. Why SL’s No. 2 surprised you.

    # ICC rankings award a bonus of an additional test win if you win the SERIES.
    That’s reasonable in a 5-test series … but they do it even for a 2-test
    series! And Sri Lanka always win these 2- or at most 3-test affairs at home! If they beat NZ again in the second test, it’s as if they’ve won 3-0.

    # ICC rankings don’t distinguish between home and away series. SL win very
    little away, but they also play so little.

    • Hey, good to see you on here. And the surprise is for precisely this reason — SL doesn’t play away regularly enough, especially against the bigger teams, to rate this high in the Test ranking. Not suggesting that SL is not a good team — merely pointing out that there is no quantifiable results to justify the position of number two in the world.

  6. There was a time when people wrote that the Aussie team was what they were because of various reasons like administration, their cricket academy, scientific coaching, their support staff, etc. And that it was not because of a few superstars. They said their cricketing structure ensures that they have a strong bench strength and that their domestic cricket championship is so competitive that they produce cricketers who are hard boiled even on their debut.

    What happened to all that? Why is their bench looking so empty? What happened to the hard-boiled-ness? They collapsed repeatedly against normal to substandard bowling in this series.

    the fact that people failed to realize then was that the Aussie team by a freak of nature had too many superstars playing at the same time. Hayden, Langer, Ponting, the Waughs, Warne, McGrath, Gilchrist. Whoever played with them fed off these guys – confident that even if they muck it up, these guys will raise their level to ensure that nothing really happens.

    But now, the tank is empty. They no longer have those superstars around. And the team is struggling even against England.

    The lesson to learn from this – especially by our Indian selectors – is never to get caught by all the euphoria over youth and rush to eliminate our best cricketers from the side. Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Laxman, and Kumble built this team. Sehwag joined them later. These guys have been the mainstays. By forcing these people out and opting for people with lesser abilities just because they are younger, India risks doing what Australia did to themselves – shoot themselves in their collective feet.

    • Hi Kalki,

      I think the trick is in understanding the basic tenet of test cricket – “Test matches are won by the team which bowls the other team out twice”. The selection should focus on the best bowlers – irrespective of their age/ experience/past performance.

      What is true is that Aussies do not have the same firepower in their bowling department which they have had for last 2 decades.


  7. Hi Prem,

    What a match it proved to be. I agree with your verdict that of “right result, wrong team”. Having said that, the team that played better cricket, won the match. I think Strauss, Broad and Swann (not to forget Trott) were phenomenal in this test. And th run-outs definitely changed the course of teh match, otherwise the dogged Ponting certainly had different ideas. How much one tends to dislike Ponting, his game continues to be a super treat to watch.Hussey was good finally and it was disappoining to not to get to see Clark play the same way again as he did in the last match. But, what will remain in the memories of fans is going to be THAT single handed throw by Freddie, the one that changed the course of the match, his last fling in the last test that he played in. Truly, what an engrossing match and series!

    • The run out was sweet. I am sure the English would have told Ricky on his way back that the fielder was not a substitute. And this happening in the decider.

  8. I did a refresh every 5 minutes to see your Ashes comment and it finally arrived….

    As me and few friends burning facebook comments section for some time have been wondering what are the possible ways the Australian media can blame this loss on Harbhajan, IPL and Indian Cricket in General (In same order) , your views.

    Ashes to Ashes , Dust to Dust and Ponting is still hoping to be good for a 2013 joust

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