January 5, 2007

Ashes

Six moments which defined England's series

Nishi Narayanan
Andrew Flintoff awaits his turn at the nets at the Gabba, Brisbane, November 21, 2006
 © Getty Images
Enlarge

RELATED LINKS

Preparation

Andrew Miller

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.

Selection

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.

That wide

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.

That drop

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.

Andrew Flintoff surveys the wreckage as Duncan Fletcher looks on impassively, Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane, November 25, 2006
 © Getty Images
Enlarge

Flintoff's isolation

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.

That win

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.

Nishi Narayanan is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo

RSS Feeds: Nishi Narayanan

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Daza on (January 5, 2007, 11:56 GMT)

An excellent synopsis! Now what for the future of both Australian and English cricket?

Posted by David Hemsley on (January 5, 2007, 11:39 GMT)

The one thing that haunts me is how familiar this performance is with many of the England touring sides of the last two decades - there is some pride missing, seemingly replaced by an 'oh dear, failed again, well I'm just being paid to do a job' outward appearance. It always seems to me that fight and determination and team pride is something that happens to other teams, and so seemingly rarely to England. It would be an utter insult to suggest to a NZ or Aussie cricketer that they weren't trying to win - yet as much as I want to believe otherwise, I just get the feeling that England would rather be at home ... Heaven help us in the one-day series and the World Cup ...

And I'd add another defining moment: a reliance on tried-and-tested stock phrases, without apparently acting on them. Forget just talking about "putting the ball in the right areas" - watch videos of McGrath bowling, and DO IT!

Posted by Michael Pyke on (January 5, 2007, 11:30 GMT)

All very true but also disastrous was England's mental preparation. Their reaction to winning the 2005 series was excessively triumphalist and lacking in humility. (The MBEs should have been politely declined until the Ashes had been retained). Instead of building on success by identifying key areas in need of strengthening, England simply marked time through a winter and early summer of meaningless drift, from which they seemed to learn nothing. When they did improve in late summer no lessons were learnt. Reassembling the 2005 team of "mates" seems to have been their only strategy. Stupidity has been the root cause of their undoing.

Posted by Richard Hamilton on (January 5, 2007, 11:29 GMT)

I agree with most of the points, but not on "Selection". Pakistan were very strong in middle-order batting, but not in bowling before The Oval, and I think the changes were necessary for our lower-order batting to be strengthened. I would only have changed Anderson for Mahmood or possibly Panesar, although at the time Anderson looked better based on the warm-up games.

Posted by Michael Smith on (January 5, 2007, 11:12 GMT)

I thought Englands attitude was terrible throughout the whole series. Its as though they got here and thought it was all too hard and gave up. Their attitude in interviews, especially KP, Harmison and Flintoff, was quite ordinary. Almost as though they didnt care? One more point. It doesnt matter how old you are, if your a better team you will win.

Comments have now been closed for this article

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nishi Narayanan
Staff writer Nishi studied journalism because she didn't want to study at all. As she spent most of the time at j-school stationed in front of the TV watching cricket her placement officer had no choice but to send out a desperate plea to the editor of ESPNcricinfo to hire her. Though some of the senior staff was suspicious at that a diploma in journalism was the worst thing that could happen to ESPNcricinfo and she did nothing to allay them, she continues to log in everyday and do her two bits for cricket.

All articles by this writer