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.