One of the great Test innings from Ben Stokes has seen England win the Third Test by one wicket- but the Aussies had two golden chances to retain the Ashes.
When England arrived here a month and a bit ago, my one concern about them was they may lack hunger for this tour.
Having retained the Ashes three months before, they weren’t given the usual gloating time.
Normally England teams that win Ashes series reserve the remainder for the year for open-top bus parades, meetings with influential English figures and MBE awards.
The short break between series, however, dramatically favours Australia, as they clearly have more to lose.
Moreover, England have only had a couple of months to prepare for this tour – a far cry from the calculated and methodical campaign three years ago, which was planned many months in advance.
England showed up at the Gabba looking like a team with no fire, just going through the motions. Everything they spoke about was regarding the past rather than the future.
They robotically mentioned up what happened “last time” in Australia, as well as how they “won convincingly” in England “without playing their best cricket”.
There was a sense the team was on autopilot.
Players like Kevin Pietersen and James Anderson didn’t seem their sharp selves in Brisbane, and looked lazy at crucial moments.
The only Englishman who seemed to have something to prove was Stuart Broad, who has handled everything magnificently (so far).
The local media should be wary not to wake the bear, as the recent humiliation and hurt may drive England to performing near their best.
On paper, England are still the vastly superior team. If their best six players play somewhere to their potential, those six could beat Australia on their own.
The Adelaide Oval will most likely be a good pitch – a featherbed – so Australia’s batting will really come into focus. There is no way they can make 295 in the first innings and win the game in Adelaide.
Australia’s batting still doesn’t appear to have the class of England, and players such as Shane Watson, Stephen Smith and George Bailey will need to literally ‘bat above their average’ to compile a decent first innings total.
Moreover, Watson may need to bowl a lot of overs. Ryan Harris and Mitchell Johnson simply must play in Perth, and with a three day turnaround between Tests, Michael Clarke must ensure they aren’t over bowled in Adelaide.
If Watson strains a hamstring bowling and has to miss Perth, then so be it. His absence would be far less damaging than that of one of the strike bowlers.
I tipped England to win 2-1 at the start of the series and now I am tipping a 2-2 draw. England are too classy to repeat their dismal Brisbane performance, but if anything can hold them back it’s Alastair Cook’s rigidity.
He may play 15 different musical instruments and have had a scholarship to the finest school in England, but that doesn’t count for much as a leader and tactician on a tough, long tour.
Cook appears inflexible, unimaginative and unable to make his players relax. The apparent siege mentality England has adopted is a prime example, and not a smart move in my opinion.
The English, like Broad has done, need to learn to relax and revel in their role as the enemies. Enjoy the banter and realise the Aussies cop as much in England, and there are two sides to everything.
If Australia don’t lose in Adelaide, they become big favourites. This all depends on whether they can repeat what they did toward the back end of the Tests in England – apply themselves, bat time and pile up decent scores in the first innings.
If Australia bat first and pile up 450+, with England’s negative batting tactics, 2-0 by Perth is a real possibility.