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SPIRO: The Ashes haven't been won back, yet

Michael Clarke is set to return to the Australian set up. (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)
Expert
9th December, 2013
116
2544 Reads

The last time a side won back the Ashes in Australia after being losing the first two Tests was in 1936/37, when Don Bradman was captain and rescued a seemingly lost series with a sequence of blazing innings.

There are no Bradmans in the England side. Right now, England’s best batsman Alastair Cook, who rivals Wally Hammond for Test centuries, is playing withe composure of an ice skater who has lost his boots.

The basis for Cook’s game is patience and a careful choice of a limited range of strokes.

But in this series so far Cook has played like a batsman who knows (or believes) he is not going to last long, so he has indulged himself in shots that are best played in his dreams.

Not shots that should be played in the opening overs of an innings with the new ball zipping around.

For reasons that are not entirely understandable, the England batsmen, with a couple of exceptions, have lost all their form and their nerve to tough it out. Admittedly, this has in part been due to some ferocious bowling from Michael Johnson.

Johnson reacts emotionally to what is happening with his bowling. The secret to taming him is to tough out his good deliveries and wait for his arm and his confidence to fall.

Instead of letting short pitched deliveries whistle through to the wicket-keeper, the England top order, not instinctive and confident hookers have tried to thrash the deliveries out of the ground.

The result has been a series of catches at long leg which have been splendidly caught. But the catches should never have been offered in the first place.

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It is hard to avoid the accusation that England came into the series in an arrogant frame of mind, with the belief that they only had to turn up, as in the past two series, and Australia would hand the game to them.

Let’s imagine now, though, that at Perth the England batsmen start to play professionally like they have in previous series.

And then imagine that a decent score is posted after England win the toss for the first time in this series.

And then Jimmy Anderson reaches back to the form of the past couple of years and produces some magical spells of the swing and length bowling that has put him, over the years, into the Alec Bedser-class for great England medium-pacers.

Can this Australian side, which is riding so high right now, continue to play with the belief and aggression that has been lacking for some years?

The fact of the matter is that in this series England has not put Australia under any great pressure.

Has time run out, very quickly, for an England side that relies on the great players of past series? Are they past it? Or have these players, especially Anderson, got a couple of last hurrahs in them?

What all this means, as far as I can work out, is that a team (Australia) who many experts, including Australians, thought might lose the series 5-0 is now in the enviable situation of being able to reverse these predictions and create a 5-0 winning series of their own.

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There is still the possibility (in theory essentially) that England could win the next three Tests, and do a Bradman.

A draw and two wins by England would mean that they retain the Ashes.

Both these possibilities, on the evidence of the first two Tests where the Australians performed magnificently, look most unlikely.

In my post before the first Test I argued that Michael Clarke had ‘to make Waugh, not love’.

He and his players have certainly done that, to such an extent that the pushing and jostling might just be getting a bit out of hand (or shoulder).

But there is no doubt in my mind that the aggressive nature of the Australians has unsettled the England stars who have been too used to having things their own way in past series.

I like the way, too, that the Australian batsmen have generally been looking to attack the English bowlers, with even Chris Rogers not afraid to strike fours if the opportunity presents itself.

Clarke has handled his bowlers splendidly. His use of Steve Smith when Ian Bell comes in has been brilliant and successful.

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You have the feeling that Darren Lehman belongs to and espouses the Australian method which is to attack when in trouble.

There has been a modern tendency, epitomised with the coaching of John Buchanan, to complicate the uncomplicated equation that the side that takes 20 wickets and score the most runs will win the Test.

Ian Chappell, for one, always argued that the elevation of the coach was the crucial element in a winning Test side was a fallacy and folly.

Shane Warne, as a player, was adamant that Chappell was absolutely correct in his dismissal of the Buchanan nonsense about boot camps and statistics and complicated match plans.

This Australian side resembles the successful sides of former years in that the players are the leaders, not the coaching staff. Whether batting or bowling, the players and their captain are dictating the terms of the game.

This was always the Australian way right up to the time when Bob Simpson was appointed coach and the cult of the coach started to be highlighted.

Modern coaching methods, in most of the major sports, are going back to the past in a way in that the senior players form a leadership group and this group, rather than the coaches who are their for technical advice in the main, takes on the burden of driving the side to excellent results.

Clarke seems to have tapped into this leadership group notion with Brad Haddin, Shane Watson, Peter Siddle and Ryan Harris leading the way forward with him.

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There have been calls for a fourth fast bowler to be included and Nathan Lyon to be dropped to take advantage of the bouncy, fast Perth pitch.

This would be a silly thing to do. The Fremantle Doctor and a bouncy pitch could make Nathan Lyon a tougher proposition than another fast bowler.

The adage, too, that you don’t change a winning side is part of the conventional wisdom of sport because this is the truth of the matter. It is sporting wisdom. Let’s put away the nonsensical rotation policy into the rubbish bin of stupid ideas.

The Australian IX that has won the first two Tests of the 2013 Ashes series so splendidly deserves their chance for the glory of finishing off the job by finishing off the seemingly shattered England side.