Tag Archives: 2015 Ashes

Where 2015 ranks in Ashes history

Well hardly anyone predicted that England would regain the Ashes did they? I didn’t (see previous post “Ashes to Ashes?” for evidence). And no one predicted they wold regain them with a Test to spare as they would have to be two matches up with one to play to do this (Australia as holders would have retained them with a draw so if England had been 2-1 up not 3-1 the Ashes could still have been salvaged at the Oval) but it wasn’t to be. Congratulations to Alistair Cook and his team for a magnificent achievement that no one predicted as recently as July 19th when England were humiliated at Lords.

But where does 2015 fit into Ashes history? England have regained the Ashes seven times in post war history (1953, 1970-71, 1977, 1985, 2005, 2009 and 2015) so I decided to rank the seven in order of what I think is the best achievement with the top one coming first. I should say at this juncture that regaining the Ashes is always a magnificent feat but some Ashes retentions are harder than others. So here we go with where in my opinion England’s seven post war Ashes regains rank in history.

1.1970-71(won 2-0) This one in my opinion easily tops the list. First of all it was the only one of the seven where England regained the Ashes away from home.  The Ashes have changed hands thirteen times since the war but only on this occasion and Australia’s win in 1989 was the feat done by the away team. That alone earns 1970-71 big points. Also England had not held the Ashes since 1959. Add to that the fact that captain Ray Illingworth had to deal with tour manager David Clark who wanted vice captain Colin Cowdrey to get the job (Illingworth had got the job by accident back in 1969 when Cowdrey got injured and a lot of people thought Cowdrey should have got the job back once he was fit) so the manager and captain did not get on well to put it mildly. Also England did not get a single lbw decision from the Australian* umpires in the whole six Test series. But England thanks to Illingworth’s captaincy and a fine team effort lead by Geoffrey Boycott with the bat and John Snow with the ball overcame the odds – but still won the final seventh** Test when Boycott wasn’t fit to play and Snow got injured halfway through. Illingworth called it the highlight of his career. It is also the highlight of England’s post war  Ashes history. (Guy Fraser-Sampson’s book “Cricket at the Crossroads, Class, Colour and Controversy from 1967 to 1977” – pages 127-168 – has excellent writing on this series).

The next two are far harder to separate and no 2 beats no 3 by a short head.

2. 2005 (won 2-1) Often called the greatest Test series ever and with some justification. The middle three Tests – Edgbaston (which England won by 2 runs) Old Trafford (draw with Australia having only one wicket left) and Trent Bridge (England won by three wickets after threatening to choke a la Australia in 1981) must be the greatest trio of Tests ever. Three things rank this series highly. First England had not held the Ashes since 1989. Secondly the excitement of the cricket and the outstanding individual performances of Andrew Flintoff, Kevin Pietersen, Simon Jones, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath among others. And thirdly this was a great Australian side – yet England inflicted only their fourth series defeat in 21 years (and they would not lose another one for three more). Only the fact that it was in England stops this being number 1.

3.1953 (won 1-0) So many similarities between this series and 2005. Again England had not held the Ashes for a long time – they lost them in 1934 – and (like 2005) this series captured the nation’s imagination as it was the first series a large number of the country could watch on TV (TV only really became popular in the UK in June 1953 when a large number of people bought their first sets to watch the coronation of the current Queen). There were great performances from Trevor Bailey, Willie Watson and in the last decisive match spinners Jim Laker and Tony Lock. The reason this is no 3 is that there was a lot of rain and defensive cricket. As Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 2003 (page 59) put it “the slow batting, and all the rain, means that 1953 cannot be ranked as the greatest Ashes series of them all”.

4. 2015 (lead 3-1 with one to play) Always hard to judge a current series but mid table is fair. It has ben a great feat for Cook to overcome the trauma of the 5-0 disaster in Australia back in 2013-14 and the stick he got for the axing of Pietersen last year and for his own poor form of most of 2014.  For long spells he was more hated than UK Prime Minister David Cameron! It also took courage to change his team’s dour defensive approach for a more attacking one which I thought (see “Ashes to Ashes?”) was beyond him. The performances of Joe Root and Stuart Broad in particular will go down in Ashes folklore. 2015 can only be ranked fourth as Australia’s batting has been awful and after all England held the Ashes as recently as 2013 (unlike the three occasions above where they regained them after long periods of Australian dominance). Still a very pleasant surprise in a year full of surprises.

5.2009 (won 2-1) The luckiest of the seven. England’s series batting average was 34.15. Australia’s was 40.64***. Australia scored eight centuries to England’s two. Yet somehow England won. This was due to the heroics of Paul Collingwood, James Anderson and Monty Panesar in turning certain first Test defeat into a draw the batting and captaincy of Andrew Strauss and inspirational bowling spells from Flintoff, Broad and Grahame Swann. But the fact that this came so soon after the Lord Mayor’s Show of 2005 plus the luck that was involved sends this down the list.

6. 1977 (won 3-0) Similar to 1953 in that the Ashes was regained during a summer of Royal celebration – the Queen’s Silver Jubilee this time – it loses points because the Australians were divided among themselves  between those who h had signed for Kerry Packer’s World Series cricket (thirteen of the seventeen man squad) and the minority who had not.  Dennis Lillee then the best bowler in the world and former captain Ian Chappell  had according to Wisden 1978 “left their flannels at the cleaners until the Packer fortunes became available” thus weakening the team. Plus the fact England only lost the Ashes in 1975 made this feat less remarkable. It is still memorable for the batting of Bob Woolmer, the fast bowling of Bob Willis and two significant events. Boycott scored his 100th career hundred on his home ground of Headingley in the match where the Ashes were regained and a young all rounder called Ian Botham made his debut during this series took five wickets in an innings in both his first two Tests and went on to have a reasonably good career!

7.1985 (won 3-1) Similar to 1977 in that Australia were weakened by the loss of sixteen of their best players to a rebel tour of South Africa and that England had only lost the Ashes in 1983. Captain David Gower was outstanding scoring 732 runs and Botham took 31 wickets in his last great series as a bowler. But the fact that Australia’s bowling apart from Geoff Lawson and Craig McDermott was as awful as their batting has been this year means that it is the least impressive feat of the seven times that England have regained the Ashes in the post war era.

However it is still a great feat. Anything that has only happened seven times in sixty years is always impressive. But some are more impressive than others. I should say the list above is subjective my opinion and I suspect not everyone will agree with it.

*Ridiculous as it must seem to fans of other sports all cricket umpires (there are two on field umpires in cricket) were from the host country until 1994, and it wasn’t until 2002 that two neutral umpires became the norm. Some dinosaurs still want home umpires to return but we don’t want umpires who are perceived to be biased even if they are not. I’m not saying the Australian umpires in 1970-71 were biased (I wasn’t even born) but that lbw statistic is suspicious to put it mildly.

**The 1970-71 series was scheduled to have six Tests. When the third Test was rained off the two cricket boards agreed to add an extra seventh Test to the schedule (over the heads of England’s players who disapproved of the idea). That explains why there were six Tests played but seven in the series. It is the one seven Test series in Ashes history and means England will have a 100% record in seventh Ashes tests for ever as a seven Test series has never been – or ever will be – scheduled.

***As in baseball the higher the batting average the better the performance is.


Ashes to Ashes?

The 2015 Ashes begins tomorrow. In the wrong venue and at the wrong time. Apart from that it is perfectly timed! The cricket event between England and Australia is usually held every four years in each country (2001,2005,2009,2013 in England, 2002-3,2006-7,2010-11 in Australia for example). But to prepare England for their pathetic World Cup campaign the last Australian Ashes took place in 2013-14 instead of last winter (which meant there were back to back Ashes series a disaster for England). It also meant that the next English series was brought forward to this year instead of 2017. To my mind after 2013 the next Ashes should have been in 2015-16 – this winter – and the next English one should have stuck to 2017.

This is relevant because I’ve never known an Ashes series to get less publicity. The unexpected success of the Women’s Football World Cup has not helped but three Ashes series in two years is one too many. It might have worked in the 1970s where they were three in two and a bit years (1974-5,1975* and 1977) but the Ashes was far less hyped in the press back then and there was less sporting competition (no women’s football World Cup in the 1970s for example). This series could be “a series too far”.

Of course if England played well one suspects the country will get interested again. Problem here is that the First Test is in Cardiff which is not even in England has no tradition and the ground only exists as a Test quality venue because it was paid for by money from the devolved Welsh Government (thanks Tony Blair for the constitutional hooliganism!) As England have only ever played two Tests there for all practical purposes England have very generously given up home advantage for the First Test. Would Australia ever play the first Test of an Ashes series in say Darwin? Er no..

That said how will the series go? Again England are the victims of their own incompetence. The England team is rebuilding after the trauma of the Ashes whitewash of 2013-14 and the awful World Cup this past winter. They have a new coach in Australian Trevor Bayliss. Australia did the same before the 2013 Ashes when they sacked Mickey Arthur and appointed Darren Lehmann. It didn’t improve Australia at once – in the second Test of 2013 it was probably the worst Aussie team I’ve ever seen – but as there was a home Ashes for Australia later that year Lehmann could use the 2013 Ashes to improve his team. By the end of a 3-0 defeat they had improved and with the help of 95 mph demon bowler Mitchell Johnson and English complacency the 5-0 whitewash of 2013-14 occurred. But as the next Ashes series is not until 2017-18 in Australia England cannot use this series to improve – as they could have done if another country was here and the Ashes was not until this winter. They must hit the ground running now.

And if they are to do so the captain Alistair Cook must get runs. He has only had one good series against Australia – in 2010-11 when he averaged 127.66. In four other series against Australia he has not averaged more than 27.20. Since the strength of Australia is their fast bowlers- Mitchells Johnson and Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Peter Siddle – and Cook is England’s senior opener he must see off the fast bowlers with the new ball and get hundreds. Especially as his opening partner Adam Lyth and no 3 Gary Ballance have played one Ashes test between them (a sign of how much England have been rebuilding as this as mentioned above is the third Ashes series in two years). Also if Cook gets runs it sets up England’s counter attackers at numbers 5,6 and 7 – Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Joss Buttler – to hammer tiring fast bowlers. I’ll go as far to say if Cook does not get runs England struggle to compete in this series never mind win it.

Cook is important in another way too. His captaincy is far too safety first and conservative and it must change. For example England must target Australia’s off spinner Nathan Lyon. Captain Michael Clarke will aim to use Lyon in long spells to give his fast bowlers a rest. If he gets hammered he has to bring the fast bowlers back on they do more work and they get tired. In a series that sees five Tests between July 8th and August 24th tired fast bowlers could very well be a factor. Cook’s county Essex hammered Lyon in a warm up match and England must do the same. He also must attack when England are fielding especially when aggressive Australian opener David Warner is batting. Warner can take a game away from you very quickly and in my opinion the only way to contain him is to get him out and stop him batting. At some stage in the series he will run riot and England must stay calm don’t panic and don’t fall back on defence.

Sadly I think Cook is incapable of doing this. We will know tomorrow. If Moeen Ali is still in England’s team and Adil Rashid is not we will know fear has won. Why is Moeen in the team? It is not for his batting or else he would be higher than no 8 in the order. It is not for his bowling or else Cook would bowl him more. Rashid is a risk but he takes wickets and Australia struggled against leg spin on their recent tour of the Caribbean. You need to take 20 wickets to win a Test. Australia will target whatever spinner England play. Both could well get hammered but Rashid could get wickets. Besides England have Joe Root who can bowl off spin but no leg spinner. And leg spin could baffle Australia’s lower order – who made too many runs in 2013 and 2013-14 and must be dismissed quickly for England to compete.

Is there hope for England ? Yes. Australia have not won here since 2001 and no member of this current team has won a series in England. Plus Australia struggle away from their own fast bouncy pitches as defeats in India in 2013 and the UAE in 2014 (against Pakistan) show. Pitches in England are not fast and bouncy and the fast bowlers (none of whom apart from Siddle have a good record in England) could be neutralised. If they are and England target Lyon there is a chance. Plus go after the weak link. Wicket keeper Bard Haddin was a key player for Australia in 2013-14 but has barely made a run since and is past his best. Since the wicket keeper is a key player in a team if England can get Haddin struggling it could rub off on the whole Australian  team.

That said I fear this series has come too early in England’s rebuilding phase. They are not as good as in 2013 while Australia are better. If I was to predict the result I would say either 2-1 for Australia or a  2-2 draw (there has not been a drawn Ashes series since 1972 so you could say it is overdue) which would mean Australia as holders would keep the Ashes. Which would mean England would pay the ultimate price for their administrator’s incompetence.

*And the 1975 Ashes was not meant to take place. It was arranged as a replacement for a South African tour which was cancelled due to that country’s apartheid policies.

Why aren’t England being Tested?

It has been an eventful – to say the least – year for England’s cricket team. I would call it “The Year of the Long Knives”. Of the England eleven that played in their first Test of 2014 five of them have not played Tests since and three of them probably never will again. Then there was the Kevin Pietersen affair, the loss of two coaches and the team’s spectacular fall and rise during the summer’s Tests. And somehow it seems fitting that the last act of a chaotic year will be a series where England are in the wrong place, at the wrong time and playing the wrong type of cricket.
England’s seven One-Day International (ODI) tour of Sri Lanka has all the potential to be a complete disaster. First of all it serves no purpose. It doesn’t prepare for the World Cup next year as this tour will be on low, slow Sri Lankan pitches when the World Cup will be played on fast, bouncy Australian ones. Nor does it prepare for next year’s Ashes series as England are playing no Tests. In fact, England will play no Tests between August this year and April next year. That is the longest time they have gone without playing a Test since August 1988-June 1989 – and that was only because a tour of India was cancelled. You have to go back to September 1975-June 1976 for a longer planned break from Tests. England are only playing ODIs between now and next April. Every other Test playing country is playing Tests this winter. England’s plan is either very clever or very stupid.
The tour is a problem for England in another way. England’s ODI form in 2014 is not good – won 7 lost 11 – and it is even worse as two of the wins were in dead rubbers and one against Scotland’s part-timers. So they could do with winning this series to boost confidence. The problem here is that what wins in Sri Lanka is not guaranteed to work in Australia. An example. Moeen Ali will probably open for England as they reckon – correctly – they will need two spinners in Sri Lanka. But they won’t need two in Australia – and even if Moeen comes off in Sri Lanka he might not be the most suitable candidate in Australia. He struggled during the summer against the short-pitched ball and the 95 mph Mitchell Johnson will scent easy meat. They should persevere with young Alex Hales who they look like dropping after just four games. A classic example of England’s “hire and fire” approach to ODI selection.
And all this assumes cricket takes place. November/December is the monsoon season in Sri Lanka and it can rain heavily. In the last three years that Sri Lanka have hosted ODIs in November/December (2010, 2012 and last year) thirteen should have been played. As it turned out, the weather in 2010 was so bad the five ODIs were postponed until January. In 2012 and 2013 eight ODIs were played – of which three didn’t produce a result and five more produced a result but had to be reduced from 50-overs a side. In other words in the last four years not one 50-over a side ODI has been played in Sri Lanka at this time of year. They have all either been reduced or abandoned. And England’s tour has not got off to a good start weather wise. Their first warm-up game was reduced to 43 overs from 50 and the second one never got started. if this pattern continues the only skill England will be able to improve is that of sitting and watching the rain fall!
England should not be touring Sri Lanka right now (they should have toured in March this year. it would have been a perfect place to prepare for the World 20-20 in Bangladesh). What they should have been doing is touring South Africa – and playing Test cricket. This makes so much sense I’m not surprised the ECB didn’t think of this. First of all England are over due a tour of South Africa – they haven’t been since 2009-10. Secondly the conditions in South Africa are as near as you can get to Australia without playing in Australia. Thirdly the world’s best Test team would have tested how much England really have improved as a Test team. And it would ease next year’s schedule which is overloaded. Between April 17th next year and January 26th 2016 England will play SEVENTEEN Tests against five countries (West Indies, New Zealand, Australia, Pakistan and South Africa). God knows how tired the players will be after that little lot. The sensible thing would have been to go to South Africa this year and cut that schedule down. I also think England’s two best Test players – captain Alistair Cook and bowler James Anderson – needed to be rested from the ODIs to save them for next year’s Tests. Besides neither are as good ODI players as they are Test players and keeping Cook as ODI captain resembles keeping Ed Miliband as leader of the Labour Party. In both cases it seriously reduces their chances of winning in 2015 and only gives hope to their opponents . In fact with Cook as captain England have no chance of winning the World Cup. In an era where batsmen can score 264 runs in an ODI innings – as Rohit Sharma has shown for India – Cook is an analogue batsman in a digital age. A relic. He should be replaced by Eoin Morgan who is more in tune with the ODI game as it is played in the rest of the world – who play it in a totally different style to England.
This Sri Lanka tour has all the potential of a disaster. The very fact it is taking place at all shows up the ECB’s incompetence. And that is why among the three England teams that are playing in major World Cups next year (women’s football and rugby union being the other two) the cricket team has by far the least chance of doing well.