Moments after it became clear Australia were going to set up a declaration Sunday, Shane Warne took to Twitter to proclaim that “if the Ashes were decided by who is the best captain on either side, Australia would be 5-0 up.”
It is indeed a shame for Warne and for Australia that the Ashes are in fact decided by who wins more matches. Something that for those, perhaps blinded by Warne’s sentiments or indeed by those of much of the media and Australia’s players, England did comprehensively by three matches to none.
For this has been a summer in which Australia’s public relations machine has been far more productive than their team’s batsmen in winning over fans and media alike with regards to Australia’s competitiveness.
Something that was confirmed by the strangely poignant act of Stuart Broad and Matt Prior Sunday evening when they resorted to retweeting words of appraisal from fans. Their success in their eyes has, perhaps, not been befittingly acknowledged by the much of the media. One retweet said: @MattPrior13 don't get it?? Why you all get slated! 3-0 and that's it! Well Done lads!!
The idea that Australia have been more competitive than the scoreline suggests is supported by statistics such as the number of runs scored in the series, the number of wickets taken, the number of declarations and the number of scores above 400—all of which Australia are numerically dominant.
However, such myopic analysis avoids considering the age-old adage that statistics don’t tell the whole story, and with regards to this series, they certainly don’t.
England did not, by their own admission play anywhere near their best this summer. But pertinently on the few occasions they did; they did so at times of enormous importance. In each of England’s three victories, there were moments upon which the match hinged, and on each of the three times, it was England who seized them.
At Trent Bridge, with England three wickets down and leading by just 60 in the second innings, Ian Bell and the lower-order wrestled England to a competitive total.
At Lord’s with England 28-3 in the first innings, Bell again, this time in partnership with Jonny Bairstow, scrambled England to respectability. Then Australia, at 42-0 in reply, collapsed to 128 all out.
At Chester-le-Street, with Australia 147-1 chasing 299 to win, they were flattened by Stuart Broad to 224 all out.
Such propensity to seize the moment is a far greater hallmark of a high-quality team than runs and wickets scored. Meanwhile Australia’s inability to do so was increasingly emblematic of a team who have forgotten how to win. It is, after all, now 196 days since Australia last won an international match in any format.
England’s almost aloof sense of underlying confidence to everything they did throughout the series reflected that they recognized this shortfall in Australia’s cricket as well as their own proclivity to find a way to win.
Such a mindset was perfectly represented by the way England stayed calm on the fourth evening at Chester-le-Street with Australia on course for victory.
Cook’s choice to bowl the ever-reliable Tim Bresnan at such a crucial juncture in the match may as well have been a written invitation for Australia to self-implode such was the nonchalance with which he threw Bresnan the ball. “Go on Tim, let’em screw it up.”
Of course, there is an inherent danger to England’s kidology. As Graham Gooch acknowledged on his Day 4 press conference, England must improve for the return series this winter. For Australia have, almost by accident, begun to formulate the basis of a more competitive side, and England must be wary of coming to rely on Australia’s ineptitude.
In a quote demonstrative of Australia’s almost deranged summer-long confidence, James Faulkner in Saturday's press conference smugly said, “When England come to Australia, it’s going to be played on our terms.”
And whilst the powers of Cricket Australia are not doubted, whether they can force the ICC to change the “terms” of the series from Test victories to something more endearing to Australia’s hopes is highly unlikely.
Thus, regardless of the improvement they’ve shown of late, Australia are going to have to remember how to win Test matches again, because as England know, the only statistic that truly matters is that of “matches won.”