England Cricket – A Tale of Two Ashes 2013/14

Jimmy Anderson by Lilly Allen for The Substantive

A successful England test team was taken apart in Australia, leading to wholesale changes and three new call-ups for the first test of the summer against Sri Lanka this week. A look back at some of the key moments for the England team of the back-to-back tests against Australia that went from triumph to disaster.

Australia v England, The Gabba, Novemeber 2013First Day at The Gabba © Mel Gomes

It is hard to think of any England cricket tour that has produced so much carnage.

First Jonathan Trott, who looked like his was found out in the English summer yet still taken on tour, looked all at sea in the heat of battle at the Gabba and flew home the day after the first test. Another staple of the successful side, Greame Swann, whose intelligent, beguiling over against Ricky Ponting against Edgbaston in 2009 will long-live in the memory, found it hard to get any bounce or spin; he boxed up all his records and a head full of ideas after the third test. Steven Finn, a genuine match-winner, wasn’t given a look in before he was sent home before the one-dayers began. Andy Flower, who had hinted the tour would be his swan song as coach, didn’t even get to make the choice himself before being given his marching orders upstairs. Further changes followed, including the end for Mustaq Ahmed and a still despondent Graham Gooch; Ashley Giles hides his humble hopes now and Geoff Miller is no longer chief selector. And of course the most talented and successful England player of the generation since he practically clinched the 2005 Ashes on his own, Kevin Pieterson, was the convenient scapegoat. What dark arts he performed in the dressing room that meant the team couldn’t bat, bowl or field, we may only fully find out when the confidentiality clauses end.

Pieterson’s comments in the media that the dressing room wasn’t a pleasant place to be are no surprise, but he points to the fact players couldn’t cope with the pressure, which is worrying for English cricket. Just as significant in today’s report in The Independent are Kumar Sangara’s comments that a mix of personalities in a dressing room is natural, but one that has to be managed. England may thrown out the bath and the baby, while the bath water voluntarily went down the plug hole.

Watching Pieterson and Ian Bell bat together at Chester-le-Street on the third day of the fourth test was one of the highlights of the English cricketing summer of 2013. The Australians were metaphorically on the floor. The Ashes had already been retained with the draw at Old Trafford and England were dominant, with Pieterson and Bell batting beautifully.

England v Australia, Chester-le-street, Durham, The Ashes, 2013The yellow and green contingent in the crowd at Durham were trying to keep a lid on their anger as England were heading for a third consecutive Ashes win and fourth test series victory of the five from 2005. England were in control without needing to be in top gear. Captain Cook looked in nick as England started their second innings that day and only the desire to play aggressively too quickly after the break saw him play a false shot rather than going onto to get a big personal score that looked to be on the cards.

While not scoring the weight of runs he is associated with, Cook had had a decent summer. It was his captaincy that had recognized that Ravi Bopora is an essential ingredient in the one-day team which was borne out in the ICC one–day tournament that preceded the Ashes. There was a comfortable series win against New Zealand, where he weighed in with a ton. While not the most pulsating of team performances, with Cook accompanied by Nick Compton and Trott in the top three, it looked like a couple of successful pre-season friendlies ahead of the main event of the summer.

The need to put a bit of life in to the top order for The Ashes was clear and Root moved to his county position as opener to partner Cook. The stagnant approach had to be changed and Root’s promotion looked vindicated with a big hundred at Lords. But it was a one-off with the uncertainty of the position a glimmer of light for Australia.

Although expected, Cook had already retained The Ashes at the earliest opportunity, but seemed a reluctance to go for the kill, perhaps a legacy from the conservatism of Andrews Strauss’ captaincy. In selection and tactics England seemed to play safe, despite the opportunity of a whitewash or the even more ambitious, improbable 10-0 that was still on after the first two tests against a side who were on a losing run.

There was some flair though and that came from the English star of the summer and England Cricketer of the Year, Ian Bell. When in form there is no better batsman to watch, arguably the most fluent English batsmen since David Gower. His second innings hundred in the first test at Trent Bridge, the only ton of the match, was vital as England hung-on despite a spirited Australian tail that nearly achieved the improbable. Another hundred followed at Lords, vital in an otherwise disappointing first innings, and 74 more in the second innings, overshadowed by Root’s score, in a crushing 347 run win.

Michael Clarke, hit a classy big hundred of his own after first winning the toss at Old Trafford, which finally put the visitors in control. Pieterson responded with a ton and there were further half-centuries from Bell and Cook in the first innings as England seemed content with a stalemate as Clarke saw The Ashes slip out of his grasp.

At Durham Bell scored another hundred in the second innings after a middle order collapse in the first innings gave the Australians false hope. Stuart Broad tore into them in the last innings of the game and gave England a 3-0 lead. Broad, the pantomime villain for the travelling fans after not walking when caught at slip in the tight first test, once again showed his capacity to be a match-winner while thriving when the heat is on.

The Ashes, The Oval, 22 August 2014 (C) Mel GomesRather than applying further pressure ahead of the second series to come, England’s selectors decided to experiment with Woakes and Kerrigan for the fifth test at The Oval. Australia won the toss made the most of it, with Shane Watson and Steve Smith this time both getting hundreds. The first session on the second day was the first time in the series when rain wiped a whole morning’s play out and when Smith got his ton that afternoon he looked assured and full of promise as England toiled in the field. A sign of things to come. It was Clarke who forced the matter in the end with an early declaration to try and get a long-awaited Test win, but England’s batting still had too much and the game ended in farce, England frustrated by light readings and customer unfriendly ICC rules from a 4-0 win.

Michael Carberry, Ben Stokes and a batch of attacking fast bowlers of Finn, Tremlett and Rankin were called up for the winter as England looked to continue their Ashes dominance. Both Bell and Pieterson had the chance to with their fifth Ashes and there were England fans all around the impressive Gabba on the first day on the first test on a sunny November Brisbane day.

In the weeks before the first test the Australian media continued a daily regime of knocking an England team who just months ago had beaten them 3-0, imagining scenarios of injuries, ridiculing the meticulous preparation that included detailed dietary requirements and specific practice regimes, and trying to belittle players, in a concerted effort to try and lift the confidence of notoriously brittle sporting nation.

It came across as grasping at straws and perhaps not surprising from a thin skinned sporting nation that just the previous summer included New Zealand’s Olympic medals to create an amalgamated entity to boost their own standing in the medals tables. This time round the media were giving the Kevin Pieterson the moniker of “South African born”, throwing stones from a glass pavilion at Stuart Broad with regards to gamesmanship, repeating stats about The Gabba and dreaming up an injury crisis might strike the tourists. Coupled with a buoyant one-day series in India there was suddenly a pre-Ashes fever and wave of optimism from the hosts that there hasn’t been in England since 2005.

Then, a successful England genuinely fancied their chances of getting a first-series win for 18 years, and duly did, despite going 1-0 down; meanwhile, Australia were coming in to this return having not won any of their last nine tests, the final five of which were against England. Yet, the Australian players seemed to have been lifted by their media’s own propaganda on day two of the first test as they capitalised on poor England batting and as a result gained enough momentum to win the game.

England started off well at the Woolangabba, Queensland Cricket Club. Unaffected by previous stats, local media hype or torrents of abuse for vocal home fans they were confident the previous day in the nets and there seemed to be no doubting the desire win back-to-back Ashes in a calendar year and enforce a superiority by making it five Ashes wins in six series in eight and a half years.

Jimmy Anderson bowled with line, length and pace from the Vulture Street end to start with while Broad, undeterred by much of the home support calling him a wanker, got over a poor first ball to make the batsmen play with pace. He got a well deserved wicket for the team in a tense and tight first hour.

He struck again just before lunch, this time from the Vulture Street end and he got Michael Clarke early just after the break before taking his and the team’s fourth, to leave Australia reeling, seemingly striking every time there was collective abuse from the stands. The Australian lower order came to the rescue again though, with Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson scoring aggressively and shifting the balance of the game after England had been on top.

When England batted Cook and Carberry started off solidly before Cook fell, with Trott quickly following. Australia bogged England down, Pieterson the first to lose his nerve before Carberry, Bell and Prior all went on the Aussie bogey score of 87, the whole team all out for 136, over a hundred runs behind, with only Broad showing some resistance and the only other player apart from Carberry who got out of the teens.

David Warner, now opening with Rodgers with Watson at three in a much better balanced Australian team, jabbed away the memory of the Rocky theme tune on a trumpet that followed him around in the summer with a hundred in the second innings, a feat his captain also achieved. Despite a 500+ target Cook and Pieterson looked comfortable at the start of day four, after a horror show from Trott. Then, with Australia not really creating any danger, a misjudged Pieterson hook let Australia in. After that not even a violent electrical storm with heavy hail could save England from a crushing four day defeat that set the tone for the series from which England never recovered.

Pieterson dusted himself down from that massive disappointment on his hundredth test to be smiling in pictures he tweeted from the Steve Irwin Zoo the next day, a day he had off simply because England failed to take the game into the final day. But despite that it is hard to imagine this player who knows cricketing history, values milestones and records, and understands the sense of occasion, just didn’t care. He was out playing an attacking stroke which he would argue has in the past been what has elevated his game. It was a poor shot though at the wrong time and Australia never looked back.

Four more crushing defeats followed, and although Pieterson got more runs than any other England batsman (just ahead of Carberry and then Stokes), only Broad and Stokes were successes in the tour, with Carberry showing bottle while all around him were falling. For that reason it’s harsh that Carberry isn’t retained for this week’s first test against Sri Lanka, while Stokes is a victim of his own undoing, having missed cricket through the self-inflicted injury caused by punching a locker door. Short of getting a gun and shooting himself in the foot, it’s an injury that typically summed up the catastrophe of the England international side since the second day at Brisbane.

The emergence of Chris Jordan in the ODIs is cause for optimism and a future middle order that has both Stokes and Moheen Ali will increase bowling options, but again much will depend on Broad and Jimmy Anderson, two of the last men standing now with Cook and Bell in an otherwise decimated team. Matt Prior is back after being dropped for the last test in Australia, but it now looks a weaker team. Post Swann there is no genuine spin threat, without Pieterson there is a big gaping hole in the batting and the sooner a firing Steven Finn can return to the attack the better.

After a decade of largely progression with the odd blip, the first Ashes of 2013 now looks to be the final fling for England followed by destruction down under. There is a need to start again on Thursday.

MG

Mel Gomes is the author of the e-book Glory Nights from Wankdorf to Wembley which documents the escape of travelling to watch sport. It is available to preview for free and download in full from Amazon and Smashwords. More details, including photos and links to reviews, here.

Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley

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