Amidst all the talk of re-connecting with its public, of Joe Root’s Bob Willis impressions (and his drinks carrying) and all the “Would you believe it”s, I detect a slightly strange feeling amongst followers of English cricket. The truth is, we don’t really know what to do. When my son asked me if there would be an open-top bus parade, the idea didn’t just seem wrong, it seemed ridiculous – as ridiculous as 8-15, 60 all out, an innings and 78 runs, 405 runs and all those other absurdities this crazy series threw up.
Reflection and analysis has brought some sense to the aftermath of Trent Bridge 2015 (a match that seems anchored in history already, just 30 minutes or so after its scheduled close – the time right now as I write). The points below are personal and various, but I suspect they will strike a chord with even the most fervent England fan, for Test cricket is not suited to the promotion of blind loyalty – there’s the newly arrived football season for that.
So here’s my Final Over format rolled out to attempt to explain it what us England fans are feeling just now.
Ball One – Australia were wounded before a ball was bowled.
Ryan Harris was not just a fine, maybe even great, bowler, he was also a representative of a certain kind of Australian cricketer of which there have always been many, their spiritual leader being Keith Miller. Harris was supremely gifted, but conducted himself with grace on and off the field, his retirement press conferences full of sadness but not sentimentality, each of his responses to questions as well-considered as his deliveries, and just as accurate. We were not just reminded of the underlying decency of the Australian cricketer – something that is always there at the end of a match – there were echoes too of other press conferences, conducted by Michael Clarke this time, when the subject was not just sporting tragedy, but human tragedy. It was hard to generate even the pantomime booing (literally or metaphorically) of the Baggy Green of 2015 when two such fine men were its first manifestations: the bowling linchpin with the bad knee, the batting linchpin with the bad back.
Ball Two – It was too predictable.
Test cricket’s canvas, like that of a Rothko, shimmers with the layers applied by its artists, one on top of the other, each bleeding a little into the next, the picture never quite resolving in one’s eye or one’s mind. So, on the one level, the wild swings in the teams’ fortunes were unpredictable, momentum, as it does in a Newton’s Cradle, passed from one side to the other with no discernible movement in between. And it wasn’t all that difficult to see what England needed to do (even I could here) nor, in home conditions, (if brutal truth be told) nor was it that hard to execute either. England hit the four balls for four and bowled seam up on an English length. And that proved to be plenty – as some of us thought it might.
Ball Three – The monster never showed its teeth for long.
I wouldn’t have believed it, but I watched it (via television and that was plenty close enough) so I knew it happened – in the era of body armour, helmets and bowling machines, a group of Test batsmen were cowed by a fast bowler. Mitchell Johnson seemed to be both Lillee and Thomson at times during the 5-0 annihilation of 2013-14, destroying the techniques and the spirits of good players with an ultra-aggressive approach that seemed unplayable. Where was it in 2015? Well, Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes found out one Thursday morning in Birmingham, but no sooner had the Kraken stirred, than it disappeared, Johnson returning to being fast, but not furious. If he had bowled twice as many bouncers in this series, Johnson may have bowled fewer overs as a consequence, but surely the Tests would have been closer.
Ball Four – Watching another side break up is just too soon
The parallels between England’s 2013-14 touring side and Australia’s 2015 side are obvious. In that nightmarish series Down Under, England lost (or as good as lost): Graeme Swann; Jonathan Trott; Matt Prior; Kevin Pietersen; Monty Panesar; Tim Bresnan; and Chris Tremlett. It was plainly a step too far for a once mighty team. To see it happening again in reverse, especially to the crocked captain, a shadow of the dancing batsman whose play against spin was a particular delight, feels a little too raw, a little too close to home. At Cardiff, I enjoyed Shane Watson’s comical LBWs and subsequent failed reviews as much as anyone, since it felt like it was an advantage that might help England in a tight series. Now the memory of Watson feels more like that of an old dray horse, just not able to pull the cart any longer, poignant rather than pathetic. Context, of course, is King.
Ball Five – This is only the start for England.
Remarkably (how things turn around in cricket) unlike in both 2005 and 2009, this Ashes triumph does not mark the culmination of a team building towards its finest hour. That’s partly the product of Ashes series piling one on top of the other, before reverting to four year cycles in each hemisphere (and about time too). It’s also born of the expectation that this England team has plenty of room for improvement. Though Jimmy Anderson is coming towards the end of his career, he could well be opening the bowling in November 2017 before the braying Gabbatoir public screaming for vengeance, with Stuart Broad at the other end, milking his villain status one more time. Ian Bell too might still be shaking his head walking off as Alastair Cook forges on beyond 10,000 Test runs. And as for Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Steven Finn, Mark Wood, Moeen Ali and plenty more – well, they’ll be back in 2019 too! The memory of the win is not so sweet as the anticipation of what’s to come.
Ball Six – Ricky don’t lose that hunger!
Who would have thought that the object of every England fans’ ire for all those years would be so personable, knowledgeable and, knock me down with a eucalyptus leaf, such a damn good bloke when given a microphone. (Actually anyone the Big Bash coverage on Channel Ten last winter would, but that rather spoils my point). Ricky Ponting, frozen in time forever swearing and shouting at Duncan Fletcher having been run out by Gary Pratt in 2005, has been wonderfully generous and fair-minded as a commentator, even self-deprecating with his George Bush-like features creasing into smiles no matter the circumstances. And that’s where I came in really – if even Ricky Ponting can’t bring a flush to an English cheek, it’s been a remarkably bloodless win.
But Thank God our boys did it!
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