It was the series England had no right to win. Two century makers to Australia’s eight, two bowlers in the top five wicket takers and none in the top three, and coming from a humiliating defeat at Headingley.
But all of that counted for nothing when Andrew Strauss lifted the Urn late yesterday at the Oval after his team won the fifth Test by 197 runs and claimed a 2-1 series victory.
Peter Siddle, Mitchell Johnson, Ben Hilfenhaus, and Nathan Hauritz tried hard throughout the series, even more impressive for the massive weight of expectation they must play under. These men are judged on those that came before them.
The Glen McGrath and Shane Warne combination that was so successful has been gone for more than two years but their absence will be missed and analysed until a replacement can be found.
Once-in-a-generation bowlers are hard to find.
There is a lot of pride in Australian cricket and once these men can play out of the massive shadows that McGrath and Warne cast over every match they will show why they own a baggy green, because they sure as a hot Aussie summer aren’t given away.
England’s two victories were memorable for some brilliant individual performances.
Strauss’ 161 in the first innings and Andrew (Freddie) Flintoff’s ferocious 5-92 in the second at Lord’s coupled with Stuart Broad’s demolition job of the Australian top order at the Oval and Jonathan Trott’s measured hundred in the second innings on debut will go down in folklore as Ashes winning performances.
The gap between Australia’s best and worst made the Great Australian Bite look like an inlet.
When they were good they scored hundreds, bowled and fielded aggressively and their lofty standing in the game appeared assured but when they were bad it was uncomfortable to watch.
Paul Hayward of The Guardian may have summed it up best in this offering on his paper's website:
England's own talent won them the 2005 Ashes. This time the victory stemmed at least equally from Australia's relative mediocrity. If people say this series lacked the supreme artistry of four years ago, or Australia's 5-0 whitewash in 2006-07, it will largely be because Cardiff was a false dawn for Ponting's clan, who tried to fill, with talk and tenacity, the void where individual talent used to be.
With hindsight being as valuable as a Warney flipper it was the botched first Test in Cardiff that decided this series. Australia dominated for large periods but its inability to clean up the tail was a big warning sign of what was to come.
The English dressing room looked on, glancing to the skies appearing to pray for rain. The Aussies of old would have exploited that negativity and skittled the tail quickly and menacingly.
The scenes of James Anderson and Monty Panesar pumping their fists in jubilation when the overs were up and their wickets were safe signalled a shift in momentum.
Again with the benefit of hindsight, Flintoff’s announcement that he would retire from Test cricket at the end of the series was timed to perfection. He willed his team over the line at Lord’s to break a 75-year hoodoo and take a 1-0 series lead.
Rain ruined any chance of a result at Edgbaston and with that the English supporters could smell a victory.
Then, Australia played flawless cricket at Headingley to draw the series at 1-1 after smashing England by an innings and 80 runs.
No member of the media whether it be English or Australian was prepared to give England a chance after their crushing defeat. That included former Australian captain Allan Border who thought the “Poms were shot” before the final Test began and who cut a forlorn figure in the Foxsports studios during each break in play on day four of the final Test.
The selectors will be accused of arrogance and complacency for taking the same 11 men into the Oval even though the pitch clearly favoured spin and that is probably a fair accusation.
It is understandable that winning form is good form but cricket selection is all about horses for courses and the decision not to play Hauritz will be the source of much debate and unrest in lounge rooms, leagues clubs and pubs across Australia until the chance at redemption comes in the summer of 2010-11.