I’m always inwardly pleased when the Headingly Ashes Test finishes. It generally means I don’t have to put up with the Poms carrying on about 1981. They have a national holiday in Yorkshire (no, that’s not a contradiction in terms, the Western Australians will understand) to celebrate Sir Ian’s heroics.
At times it seems like the whole body of English cricket has THAT match as its base.
The English have learned through their folklore and storytellers that cricket matches are won by individuals performing one in a thousand heroics.
This is of course leads to the expectation that miracles will happen every Ashes series. They don’t, and even though the ghosts of Botham, Dilley and Willis were invoked yesterday as Broad and Swann swatted the bowlers to all parts, no manner of prayer or invocation were going to get England anywhere near a repeat of 1981.
England were outplayed in all departments.
The Australians have displayed some schizoid tendencies during the first three Tests but fortunately the improvement curve has been trending in the right direction since day three at Edgbaston.
Mitchell Johnson has emerged from his horror stretch of akimbo body angles and spreadeagled wicketkeepers to approach some reasonable consistency and the occasional inswinger.
He still has a way to go before restoration as the strike bowler but at least the Australians have bowled as a team unit at Headingly with no one man being outstanding.
The four seam bowlers each made a useful contribution to the victory and I believe they can do much better, and that is bad news for an ailing English batting lineup.
Marcus North has shored up the lower middle order with measured and thoughtful methods which can make extensive partnerships with batsmen either side of him.
The only worry at the moment is Mike Hussey whose rate of decline has decreased but is still trending downwards (I read that phrase on my superannuation statement and like Mr Cricket’s batting it didn’t fill me with reassurance).
Last week the big question for Australia was ‘could they get the 20 wickets for a win?’. The same now applies to England.
Without the talisman Flintoff and the luminant Pietersen, England have lacked an inspirational spark in both attack and defense.
Andrew Strauss is a solid citizen rather than a demagogue but he will have to find both actions and words to get his troops motivated for the final battle.
Firstly he must erase the memories of this debacle and then he has to lift the morale and the performance level in the manner of Mike Brearley (did I mention that I’m trying to forget 1981?).
Perhaps the miracle England are seeking is the restoration to useable health (just for one Test please, please, please) of the 21st Century Botham. Andrew Flintoff may be the most pampered and medicated man in Britain over the next ten days. And he can certainly expect hourly calls from his nervy captain.
It would indeed be a fairytale if Freddie can get fit and deliver a Test win, an Ashes recovery and career finale to match no other.
They wouldn’t bother with a Knighthood, he could move directly to Saint Freddie.
The problem for England is finding ten others who can play well enough to back him up and be inspired by him.
Australia’s main trouble will be who to leave out given the success of spinners at The Oval.
My one last note of caution is based on the most curious of notions: the form line of this series has been jagged. No straight lines on the graph for consistency in skill or failure indicates that England might bounce back as they did at Lords after a woeful performance and lucky escape at Sophia Gardens.
It doesn’t really make sense, but then again neither did the events at Headingly 1981.