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HENRY: England capitulate as Australia flourish

Geoff Lawson Columnist

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    Australia's cricketers. AFP PHOTO / Saeed KHAN

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    31.4 overs. A single session of cricket. Capitulation, surrender and embarrassment. And that was just the final Test.

    The term ‘Test’ may have to be revisited. The contest between Australia and England was termed that in the late 1890’s because of the intense struggles between the master and colonists.

    The Ashes were a symbol of contest and pride, adversary and sibling rivalry across 10,000 miles, international diplomacy occurred when cricket niceties were not observed.

    Cricket was a serious game, losing the Ashes was considered terminal to a playing career. One of the countries can see the guillotine over that horizon at the moment.

    The England cricket team have been very good in recent years. They held the trophy since 2009, also winning it in 2005.

    They have beaten India away from home on some vicious spinning pitches after trailing and that is not an easy task.

    Alastair Cook has been a dominant opening batsmen, Jonathan Trott a faithful first drop. KP arrogant and fruitful, Ian Bell an anchor and gauntlet wearer Matt Prior a grizzled unflinching veteran.

    The quick bowlers and support acts, including the mystically retiring Graeme Swann, had taken 20 wickets often enough to get the team to the top of the tree, if only briefly.

    Ageing teams rarely decline quickly, they are more likely to slide slowly down the competition ladder until the powers that be declare the need for the injection of youth through a ‘transition period‘.

    Experience is a key ingredient in maintaining the form of ageing sportspeople, their sharper brains make allowances for the creaking frames, which makes this plummet almost impossible to understand and potentially harder to fix.

    This team disappeared into the dark zone quicker than The Enterprise hitting warp 9.

    The manic disintegration made compulsive and convulsive viewing like a train crash into a fun park, you hide your eyes but peek through the fingers hoping for minimal casualties but you know there will be plenty of tragedies.

    As bad as England were, Australia were good, very good.

    Mitchell Johnson was made man-of-the-series but there was a powerful argument for Brad Haddin to win.

    A point podium would have made perfect sense. Without Haddin, as weird as it may seem, England may have retained.

    His 493 runs at number seven, average 61.62, were second most and highest average. His ‘keeping was immaculate. Any rumours of his retirement are premature.

    He is a tough, uncompromising competitor and has one of the shrewdest cricket brains around.

    Don’t underestimate Michael Clarke’s reliance on his vice captain’s shoulder.

    Australia can get better and will need to if they are to beat South Africa on their own turf.

    Haddin’s numbers prove that the batting needs some reinforcement.

    George Bailey may be a handy white ball hitter but his fellow Tasmanian Alex Doolan should be given a chance at six.

    Given the thrashing and the resurgence of the baggy greens it would be wise to anoint the most improved player of the series.

    Mitchell Johnson is a contender, he is in career best form but the clear winner is the rookie Chris Rogers.

    He knows how to make first class hundreds and now he can make them in Test cricket.

    The dominating second innings at the MCG followed by the sublime 119 on a pitch where no one else could find timing or placement were superior digs.

    He may have doubted himself as a Test cricketer for much of this series, but no longer.

    He is the man most likely to blunt Dale Steyn, Merne Morkel and Vernon Philanderer, Australia’s next challenge.

    Geoff Lawson
    Geoff Lawson

    Geoff Lawson OAM is a former Australian cricketer and the former coach of the Pakistan cricket team. Nicknamed "Henry" after the Australian poet, Lawson was a fast bowler for New South Wales and Australia.

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    The Crowd Says (19)

    • January 7th 2014 @ 6:48am
      Frank O'Keeffe said | January 7th 2014 @ 6:48am | ! Report

      “Without Haddin, as weird as it may seem, England may have retained.”

      This needs to be quoted for truth. This seemingly outrageous statement is true.

      There’s a sense in which the series was completely dominated by Australia. But there’s a sense in which it was closer than people realize. Dareen Lehman ever admitted that Australia needs to fix their frailties in the top order if they’re to challenge South Africa. There were so many times England had Australia by the throat, but then let the foot off. Haddin’s influence is bigger than his stats demonstrate because of the “timing” of his innings. If Haddin didn’t play, Australia would have lost a few Tests.

      I don’t want to compare Haddin too much to Gilchrist, because Gilchrist is the greatest wicket-keeper/batsman of all time, but Haddin reminded me of Gilchrist in that he’d steal Tests away in one session from England. The Test would be up in the air, and Haddin would smack a 50. He was also aggressive like Gilchrist.

      Brief divergence: It bothers me that Gilchrist didn’t retire with an average over 50, because people who never saw him won’t be able to appreciate how Gilchrist took Tests away from teams in one session. 47 as an average doesn’t demonstrate the impact he had.

      How do you assess Haddin’s influence this series? Well I’ll draw a comparison. Tendulkar was often India’s best player by a good margin, but Kumble was necessary to win the Tests. Without Kumble’s marathon spells, India don’t take 20 wickets. Tendulkar was better, but sometimes it felt like Kumble was more important.

      That’s how I would compare Johnson to Haddin. I think Johnson played a little bit better, but Haddin was more important when Australia needed him.

      My final thoughts…

      The last two Ashes series have been a bit weird. In England I thought 3-0 flattered England, because they never scored above 400 and had some batting problems. I said at the start of this last Ashes that if Australia score above 400, they’ll win Tests.

      In many respects, Bell was the difference between the sides in England, just as Haddin is the difference between the sides this series. But Australia nearly won the first Test, the third Test got washed out when Australia was going to win, and they were on top in the 5th Test before they had to declare and make a sporting event of it. England were better and deserved to win, but there was a lot of smoke and mirrors covering the gaps in their side.

      But Australia had hideous batting problems… and I’m not convinced they’re solved even yet. We’ll see in South Africa. I think there’s a bit of smoke and mirrors with this Aussie side, personally. Too many times they were 5 wickets down before Haddin saved them. South Africa will know how to finish them off. Their batting still looks weak to me, though.

    • January 7th 2014 @ 8:49am
      GD said | January 7th 2014 @ 8:49am | ! Report

      “Vernon Philanderer”

      Excuse me while I giggle like a schoolgirl.

      • January 7th 2014 @ 9:22am
        JohnD said | January 7th 2014 @ 9:22am | ! Report

        Way funny.

    • Roar Guru

      January 7th 2014 @ 10:05am
      Chris Kettlewell said | January 7th 2014 @ 10:05am | ! Report

      10 centuries in a 5 test series is pretty impressive. The one thing the Aussie batsmen need to work on is getting starts more often. If they can just convert half the sub-20 scores into 30s or 40s while maintaining the number of 50s and 100s then they’ll be building some formidable totals.

      • January 7th 2014 @ 2:01pm
        Nick Inatey said | January 7th 2014 @ 2:01pm | ! Report

        So basically Chris,

        You want Australia to do what every single first class cricket team in the world aspires to do?

        • Roar Guru

          January 7th 2014 @ 3:39pm
          Chris Kettlewell said | January 7th 2014 @ 3:39pm | ! Report

          Pretty much.

          Actually, often you are looking at scorecards saying that the big problem is that lots of guys made starts and nobody went on with it. I’m basically just pointing out that the problem here is pretty much the opposite. They’ve mostly been pretty good at going on with it when they have got a start, but too often have failed to get that start. It’s really been feast or famine.

    • Roar Guru

      January 7th 2014 @ 10:08am
      Chris Kettlewell said | January 7th 2014 @ 10:08am | ! Report

      I agree with Rogers as most improved. After the first few tests I was thinking he might struggle to see out the series, but he started to get it together as the series went on and finished strongly. He also have both his centuries in Australia’s second innings and along with Warner also needs to work on getting those runs in the first innings.

      I was impressed by both Rogers hundreds, as they both came in difficult conditions when the other batsmen from both sides were really struggling. But outside of the two hundreds didn’t get much else. So when he has got a start he’s gone on with it well, but needs to work on getting starts more often, as do most of the rest of the team. Watson probably the only exception, for whom getting starts isn’t the issue but going on with them is.

      • January 7th 2014 @ 11:37am
        JohnB said | January 7th 2014 @ 11:37am | ! Report

        Rogers did get fifties in the first innings in Adelaide and Melbourne, and in the second innings in Perth, so I’d dispute that he didn’t do much apart from the hundreds. You’re right that it wasn’t good that he couldn’t get to 20 in any of the other 5 innings.

        • Roar Guru

          January 7th 2014 @ 3:40pm
          Chris Kettlewell said | January 7th 2014 @ 3:40pm | ! Report

          Sorry, that was a typo, I was actually meaning Steve Smith in that paragraph. Both his hundreds were really good hundreds scored in difficult conditions when others struggled, but in between he didn’t get much.

    • Roar Guru

      January 7th 2014 @ 10:16am
      Chris Kettlewell said | January 7th 2014 @ 10:16am | ! Report

      It was quite amazing really, 3 wickets down at tea, Australia hoping to get 2-3 before stumps so they could just mop up the tail the next morning rather than have to take too long about it. Then the first over after lunch and Johnson takes two wickets. Wow. Pretty good start. But wait, in the next over Lyon gets two more and suddenly England lose 4 wickets for just 1 run in 2 overs and the end is clearly in sight. I’m glad I can rewind and rewatch things in my TV, as that all just happened in a blink of an eye!

    • Roar Guru

      January 7th 2014 @ 11:49am
      Pom in Oz said | January 7th 2014 @ 11:49am | ! Report

      I think it’s worth mentioning that whilst Australia often were 5 for not much, every batsmen bar Bailey did at some point contribute big runs. Remember back in England that Cook, Trott, Pietersen, Prior and Bairstow failed time and time again. It was very much Bell that kept them in the games. Root made only one big score and that was after he was dropped early on (by Haddin, I seem to recall…who’d have thought?)

      So, whilst a lot of fellow Roarers wring their hands over the apparent frailties of the Aussie batting line up, I wouldn’t be overly worried…

      • January 7th 2014 @ 2:02pm
        Nick Inatey said | January 7th 2014 @ 2:02pm | ! Report

        Yes Pom,

        But the South African bowling line up is talented. I would be worried against them

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