My pre-Ashes comments and predictions have proved substantially incorrect. Thank Heavens for that. See Apologia, in bold, below.
There are too many softies in the current English batting line up. The West Indies, South Africa and Pakistan have all demonstrated that. Alastair Cook is a gimme, with a test average of 27.60 in Australia. In Perth, he was bowled for 5 by a Leicestershire 2nd XI trier called Steve Magoffin. Kevin Pietersen has declined significantly since he was last in Australia. His pre-tour form, in England, South Africa and in the Australian warm-up games is poor – as it has been for over a year. Neither Bell nor Collingwood frighten the Aussies. They’ll respect Strauss, remembering all the while that he was ranked the 11th best batsman of the 2006/2007 series, with an average of 24.70.
WRONG: Where to start? England scored nine centuries, with an average partnership of over 50. Their 644 in Sydney was their biggest ever score in Australia. For some, the difference in the batting averages second time around is staggering: Ian Bell, a passenger in 2005 with an average of 17, just clocked 65.80 for the series. Alastair Cook’s average has gone from 27.60 in 2006/7 to a ridiculous 127.66 in 2010/11. Cook, especially, has improved his technique, but the overall impression is of a focused batting unit facing an Australian attack that has completely lost its way.
Lack of Stayers
Full credit to Mr Trott for finally nailing a double ton for England vs Bangladesh in the summer. At last someone has done it; the last player to do so anywhere for England was Rob Key, versus the West Indies in 2004. In other words – Bangladeshi heroics aside – this is a team with a proven track record of not scoring the kind of big ton which is a critical element of a successful tour down under.
WRONG: The daddy hundreds have made the difference and won matches for England. Cook’s appetite was enormous, but credit also to Trott and Pietersen for registering big scores. Given the fact that this tour featured only the 4th and 5th double centuries ever by England players in Australia demonstrates the rarity of the achievement.
What on earth are we thinking? Typical Australian scores in Brisbane at the end of day one: 2/321, 3/344…These guys are bred to occupy the crease for hours on end, and the longer and hotter it is, the more they like it. There is no way this quartet is going to survive a five match series, let alone snaffle up 20 wickets a go. Expect some brutal days in the field.
WRONG: The four man bowling attack worked. Sometimes Australia were blown away, as in Adelaide or Melborne , but more often it was a case of death by suffocation . Australia pegged back at 50 odd-1 in the morning session in Sydney, with just the one boundary, was one of many examples of the England attack strangling the life out of the Australian batting. What was impossible to predict was that Bresnan and Tremlett would come in midway through the series – with England still sticking to the four man attack – and bowl so superbly.
Terrific against Pakistan in the summer, but the conditions in Australia are the opposite of Jimbo-land, and we know from previous experience that when the shine goes off the ball on a day of blue skies and hot sunshine, then the great Jimmy starts to go for some, and then some more, and some more….Rewind just one year to the tour in South Africa, and Jimmy’s 1-104 at Centurion or his 0-111 at the Wanderers. Is he really that much better now?
WRONG: On the press day before the first test, JA was asked to bowl in the nets at a helmet on a stick to impress the journos; one ball, no run up, and he smacked it bang on target. The guy was clearly in form, but back then it was still a fair question to ask: is Jimmy really that much better than he was last time out Downunder? Oh, yes. He was 625 overs of awesome, from his wicketless new ball bowling in Brisbane to his final masterclass in Sydney. He’s even improved from last summer, when he was quite brilliant but still sent down the odd loose delivery. It’s the ‘cold and calculating’ element to his game that is so impressive.
He is by far the best batsman in either side. Yes, Ponting has the burden of captaincy on his shoulders, but he remains the real deal: obdurate, destructive, hungry. You’ll remember that he wasn’t at his best against England in 2009, struggling to a series of average of…just over 48. That’s the thing about this guy – his wicket is so precious that we forget how expensive it is to acquire it. Playing at home, against a side he’s successfully bashed about for years is likely to bring the best out of him. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
WRONG: I don’t feel sorry for Ricky, as some England fans do. He’s had a great career, and has been lucky enough to captain an incredible team, only to watch the overall standard around him fall off a cliff. Usually, however, Ricky Ponting has Ricky Ponting to rely on, and regular watchers may feel that it just doesn’t feel right seeing him so unmanned by the England attack. It was actually embarrassing by the end. His series average of 16 compared to his career average of 50+ is a reasonable indication of the strength of this England bowling attack, and Anderson’s glorious outswinger to dismiss Ponting in Adelaide – the 3 for 2 ball – was THE moment of the tour.
Australia lost the 2009 Ashes as a direct result of Mitchell Johnson’s abysmal display in the Lords test of that year. He was so bad that even Cook filled his boots. All the signs are that Johnson has long since got his mojo back and – being the best and fastest bowler on either team – that’s bad new for England. Even including the Lords debacle, Johnson still took 20 wickets in that series, compared to Broad (18) and Anderson (12). Playing back home in his favourite conditions, don’t expect the wheels to come off again. MJ’s got unfinished business to attend to.
WRONG: Oops. The wheels did come off again: a duck and 0-170 in Brisbane. If Troy Cooley is such a coaching genius, how could he allow MJ to start the test series in such terrible form? Steve Harmison was better prepared in 2006. Getting Johnson ready for the Ashes should have been their top priority. Instead, Johnson was dropped after a dreadful start, before coming back for a one-off blitz in Perth, with 6/36 still the best bowling figures of the entire series. MJ is sometimes very good with the bat and sometimes unplayable with the ball. And yet, if Strauss had the option to include a Mitchell Johnson in his team, would he be selected? No chance. Too unreliable.
Look, mate, Australians are always going to enjoy watching an England team struggle. But an England team as full of itself as this one, a team so quick to assume the mantle of favourites, with that bloody Graeme Swann mouthing off… The Aussies are really going to love watching the slide from The Hill in Sydney. All this Australian pre-series doom and gloom…you’re not really falling for it, are you?
WRONG: They only sing when their winning. The famous MCG walk out – the Australian fans, that is, not their batsmen – demonstrated the fragility of the local support. In contrast, all credit should go to the loyalty and good humour of the Barmy Army (speaking as a brief member myself – Perth, WA, 1994, which is a long way to go to watch England lose by 329 runs).