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January 5, 2007
If you believe the likes of Dennis Lillee and Ian Chappell, England's Ashes campaign was doomed from the moment they opted to shirk their responsibilities at the ICC Champions Trophy, and treat the tournament as an inconvenient obstacle rather than a means for gathering momentum. England in fact erred twice in India - firstly by failing even to pretend they were interested in winning, and secondly by flying home for ten days' R & R immediately afterwards - a decision that Lillee slammed as "stupid". Australia, meanwhile, were runaway winners, with runaway momentum.
Ashley Giles for Monty Panesar, Geraint Jones for Chris Read, Jimmy Anderson for Sajid Mahmood. Three integral members of the side that had defeated a strong Pakistan were stripped away like dead wood... to be replaced by dead wood. Giles later admitted that the team bus had been "a quiet place" on the way to the Gabba on the first morning of the series, and little wonder. With Andrew Flintoff also feeling his way back to fitness, England had done exactly what they vowed never to do again after the last Ashes Down Under, and loaded their team with unfit and unfocussed players.
The contrast was so stark it was scary. At Lord's in 2005, Steve Harmison had torn into Australia's batsman, clattering Langer's elbow and drawing blood on Ricky Ponting's cheek. It was a skirmish that set the tone for the war that followed. This time, Harmison's first ball landed in the hands of his best mate, Andrew Flintoff, at second slip. In a single moment, the hype and the houpla had been sucked out of the stadium, to be replaced by a nagging, dreadful familiarity.
Poor Ashley Giles may never play Test cricket again, and if he doesn't, he will take with him visions of that awful moment at Adelaide, when he let Ricky Ponting off the hook at the most critical moment of the tour. England had ground their way to a tedious but towering 551 for 6 declared, and Australia in reply were wobbling at 74 for 3. Ponting - still livid at a perceived beamer from Harmison - swished angrily at a long-hop from Hoggard, but Giles, ten yards in from the rope, couldn't cling on as he leapt. He went on to add another 107 runs.
It's a lonely job being England captain, but the one thing that Andrew Flintoff was expected to bring to the show was camaraderie and the ethos of mateship. Sadly, nothing of the sort manifested itself in the performance of his key lieutenants. Marcus Trescothick never made it to the side, Andrew Strauss was mystifyingly out of sorts despite hardly looking out of form. Harmison was a lame duck throughout. And he never seemed to gel with his coach, either. Duncan Fletcher failed to cop the flak as he might have done for Nasser Hussain and Michael Vaughan, preferring instead to share the blame with his overworked skipper.
The single biggest factor in England's humiliation. Australia's desperation to atone for their loss in 2005 vastly outweighed any English desire to build on the foundations of that glorious summer. Australia were derided as Dad's Army by Ian Botham, but their selectors' faith in their old lags was fully justified. Warne admitted he would have quit after 2005 had the series gone his way. It's no wonder they were unstoppable in their bid for vengeance.
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