Reflection January 11, 2007

Raking over these Ashes

Tim de Lisle looks at the best and worst moments of the 2006-07 Ashes series

BEST PLAYER Ricky Ponting. The world’s best batsman and a much improved captain.

BEST NON-PLAYER Troy Cooley. The only man to finish on the winning side in both the last two Ashes series. Australia's seamers did this time what England's did last time, working as a team and offering no respite, even with the old ball.

WORST BALL The first, bowled by Steve Harmison. It went straight to second slip – and into Ashes mythology.

BEST INNINGS Ponting’s 196 at Brisbane, which grabbed the series by the scruff of the neck.

BEST TEAM PLAYER Mike Hussey. Australia’s least spectacular batsman, but the one most likely to steer them out of trouble. He forged partnerships that shaped the business end of the series. He added 209 with Ponting at Brisbane, to snuff out England’s first hint of a decent bowling performance; he added 192, also with Ponting, at Adelaide, to see off the follow-on; and he made 74 not out to hold Australia together at Perth when England finally did bowl well. Also chased like a lunatic in the deep, caught Strauss brilliantly at Brisbane, and served his time at boot hill. Every team should have a Hussey. England’s best bet could be Owais Shah.

BEST MATCH The third Test at Perth. Brisbane was one-way traffic; Adelaide was a bore until the last day, when that savage twist arrived; Melbourne went flat after the excellent Hayden-Symonds partnership; Sydney promised much but petered out when England’s top order flopped. Perth became one-sided too, but only late on. The first day, when Harmison was himself and Monty made his entrance, was riveting. Then Australia fought back: after the bloated scores of the first two Tests, it was great to see the bowlers in charge. Then, out of nowhere, came hurricane Gilchrist. Finally England’s young players batted with just enough steel to salvage some honour.

BEST FIELDER Andrew Symonds, prowling the covers in the last three Tests. His strength, reach and pace put him in the select club of fielders who can turn a dot ball into an event.

BEST HITTER Adam Gilchrist. Had a bizarre time, making either 0, 1, 60 or Australia’s fastest-ever hundred, but to finish the series with a strike rate of more than a run a ball was staggering. Managed to make a difference and put his feet up at the same time: in the whole series, he faced only 225 balls.

BEST CATCHER Chris Read. With 11 catches and one stumping out of only 20 wickets to fall while he was out there, he was pure silk behind the stumps. Pure jelly in front of them, but then so was the man he replaced, Geraint Jones.

BEST SELECTION Stuart Clark, the quiet man who ended up not just as the most economical bowler on either side, but the most incisive (26 wickets at 17). When the series began, some good judges were advocating dropping him for Mitchell Johnson, and plenty of fans were clamouring for the raw pace of Shaun Tait. Either could have done well – but not, realistically, as well as Clark.

WORST SELECTION England at Brisbane, making three unforced changes (G Jones for Read, Giles for Panesar, Anderson for Mahmood) which all had to be rescinded later. None of the beneficiaries had significant form, and two of them were less than match-fit. All the selectors needed to do was bring in Flintoff for Mahmood, plus a battle-hardened top-order batsman for Trescothick. The extra changes smacked of panic.

WORST STRATEGY England’s insistence on playing five bowlers throughout, even when it had become clear that this left them with only five batsmen.

MOST UNLIKELY BLOCKER Kevin Pietersen. Bit by bit, Australia’s pinpoint accuracy reduced England’s buccaneer to a barnacle. In the first Test he faced 199 balls and made 108 runs; in the last, it was 199 balls again, but only 70 runs. He batted longer than anyone on either side in the series, yet didn’t score the most runs.

WORST CASE OF SHELLSHOCK Paul Collingwood. His double hundred at Adelaide was a career peak, but afterwards the only way was down, starting in the second innings, when he made 22, hopelessly slowly, as his team mates turned to lemmings at the other end. Didn’t pass 30 again.

BEST BOWLING The Australians bowled so well as a pack that they took 92 wickets with only two five-fors. Their best performance was probably Warne’s 4 for 49 in the second innings at Adelaide, a chilling piece of psychological cricket; he asphyxiated his opponents with a piece of cord woven from their own fears. Best by an Englishman: Hoggard’s 7 for 109 at Adelaide, a masterly display of patience, variation and sheer bloodymindedness.

WORST BOWLING Harmison at Brisbane (one for 177): not so much a spearhead, more a boomerang. Worst by a slow bowler: Warne in the first innings at Adelaide (one for 167), because he stopped being Shane Warne and turned into Ashey Giles on a bad day, aiming outside leg stump.

BEST COMMENTATOR Nasser Hussain. Thinks like a captain, talks like a journalist.

BEST OBSERVATION On the final day of the series, I bumped into Alastair McLellan, a business journalist who once edited an interesting book called Nothing Sacred: The New Cricket Culture. He pointed out that Peter English, Cricinfo’s Australian editor, had done a piece on the Adelaide debacle entitled “Insipid England ruin series”. Written in haste, proved right at leisure.

WORST SLEDGE Most ineffectual: Collingwood laying into Warne at Sydney and keeping him pumped after his standing ovation had faded. Most graceless: Warne to Collingwood at the same time. It’s your final appearance of a glittering career – why spend it descending to the level of a playground bully?

BEST RIPOSTE Ian Bell, when Warne labelled him the Shermanator. He said: “I’ve been called worse.” His bat did the rest of the talking: after floundering against Warne in 2005, he made 121 off him this time for only twice out, using his feet to come out of his shell.

BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN ENGLISHMAN Mark Ramprakash, scoring a perfect 40 with his salsa in the final of Strictly Come Dancing.

SILLIEST FOOL Me, for assuming Adelaide would be a draw when I went to bed that night. I forgot the lesson that is rammed home early on in The Silence of the Lambs, when Jodie Foster is doing her FBI training…

Scott Glenn: How do you spell assume? Foster: Er, A-S-S-U-M-E, why? Glenn: Because when you assume something, you make an ASS out of U and ME.

MOST ACCURATE PREDICTION Glenn sodding McGrath. He finally got one right.

BEST BLOG COMMENTER Kathy from New Zealand – thoughtful, soulful and able to rise above the sometimes toxic banter of more interested parties. Runner-up: the delightful gentleman who remembered seeing Len Hutton. Many thanks to everyone who contributed, and the silent majority who didn’t; to Sambit Bal for bringing the blog over from my site, and to everyone at Cricinfo for their help, especially Will Luke.

Tim de Lisle is the editor of Intelligent Life magazine and a former editor of Wisden