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No 'ifs' as the better team are in front

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Expert
11th September, 2019
29

If that 15-foot putt on the 18th at Whittlebury Park a few years ago had dropped it would have been the first sub-par round of my life.

If this fullback’s conversion from wide(ish) on the right had gone over Sponne School would’ve won the Year 9 County Schools Rugby Cup in the early 1990s.

If Lancashire’s no.6 hadn’t gone too far across his crease in a National League fixture in Northampton in 2004 he wouldn’t have been bowled round his legs second ball by his brother.

If Steve Smith hadn’t been playing, England would’ve walked all over Australia.

There you have the scenarios, now you can have the respective outcomes which won’t come as much of a surprise.

Australia Old Trafford Ashes win.

Australia retained the Ashes (Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images)

It didn’t as a tentative effort drifted by on the low side. I’m yet to break par.

A well-directed attempt crept under, rather than over, the crossbar meaning the spoils were shared in a 12-12 draw.

He did and the scorecard will forever read A.Swann b G.Swann 0.

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Well he was and they didn’t.

Admittedly there isn’t really a great deal of relevance, or any come to think of it, between a handful of episodes from my sporting past and the current Ashes series but it shouldn’t work the grey matter too strenuously to spot the trend in the aforementioned examples.

And it was a tweet from an anonymous England supporter – not quoted verbatim but definitely mentioning the ‘walked all over’ element used above – in the aftermath of the Old Trafford Test that both annoyed and provided the idea for what you’re now reading.

‘If’ gets bandied around in all manner of situations and there has plenty of post-Ashes use. Sometimes it’s used as a perfectly reasonable argument so this is no all-encompassing condemnation but often it’s a pointless attempt to, for want of a better term, make a point.

Watch, read about, discuss any sporting event and you will almost be guaranteed to hear something along the lines of ‘If he/she had/hadn’t done x then y would’ve happened’.

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No explanation, no rational logic, no pause to think about what’s being offered up, just a substance-free soundbite which would barely stand up to the most basic scrutiny. Place it in the past tense and the statements become even more meaningless.

Quite simply, how do you know? How does anyone? Until the Back to the Future Delorean actually becomes reality, then that is how it will always be.

The presence of Smith in the Australian side was a key factor in their retaining of the Ashes – how could it not be given he is the best Test batsman in the world at the current time and he’s reeled off close on 700 runs in five innings?

However, to simplify the contest into one variable among many is so wide of the mark as to render it as merely gibberish.

Australia are ahead in the series because their batting order, despite its flaws, has performed better than its English counterpart, their bowling attack has been more consistently penetrative and they have been the better all-round outfit.

Travis Head.

Travis Head played an important hand in the second Ashes Test at Lord’s. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP)

In the most basic terms, you aren’t going to win many series, and especially against very good bowling units, when three of your batsmen can barely muster a score and a couple of others only spasmodically.

England have had their moments: reducing Australia to eight for not many and Rory Burns’ hundred at Edgbaston; Jofra Archer at Lord’s; Stuart Broad’s excellence; Ben Stokes’ outrageous century at Headingley; but these have been against the tide as opposed to with it.

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And Australia would be able to counter with their own: Smith; Matthew Wade’s century and Nathan Lyon’s performance in Birmingham; the emergence of Marnus Labuschagne; the outstanding Pat Cummins and relentlessness of his seam-bowling colleagues; all have enabled the tourists to dictate for the most part.

Yes there was the twitchy afternoon on day five at Lord’s and the subsequent capitulation in Leeds but the balance for the majority has been weighted in Australia’s favour and if this isn’t apparent, even to the most ardent England fan, then they’re looking in the opposite direction.

Smith has been a cut above anything else on show in terms of individual performance, and he has been nothing short of exceptional, but just take a look at the whole picture and not just the most eye-catching part.

The superior team have the urn and that’s that.

If only Jimmy Anderson had been fit …

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