December 6, 2013

The Ashes 2013-14

The pendulum swings Australia's way

England slipped behind the eight ball again in Adelaide, facing a first-innings deficit of 535 with nine wickets standing. Many, including our own George Dobell, have begun to wonder if the gig is up for Alastair Cook's team and Martin Samuel, writing in the Daily Mail, focused on how quickly the momentum has shifted after England's 3-0 series win earlier in the year:

So while Test cricket may be a slow game to watch, in a sporting context things can change, and fast. England came to Australia on the back of three straight Ashes series wins, looking for a fourth, a record in the modern era. That should have been the clue. Records stand for a reason.

England have won as many as seven straight Ashes series, but not in living memory. Those levels of domination were attained in the 19th century, when Australian cricket was in its relative infancy and a series could be a matter of two Test matches. So this little trot is exceptional; and changing cycles of superiority are a constant in sport.

Vic Marks, the former England spinner writing in the Guardian, looked for the positives after Michael Clarke had struck a dazzling 148 during a match-turning partnership with Brad Haddin:

This is the Clarke that is beguiling a nation with superb, elegant batsmanship, far more endearing and convincing than when he tries to play the rough, foul-mouthed sledger of old. The pendulum has swung rapidly. Of the two captains heading for Perth and their 100th Test, Alastair Cook is the one feeling the heat of being tormented by the opposition's premier paceman.

But Clarke could not avoid becoming the first victim for Stokes, which prompted a straw-clutching consolation for desolate Poms craving 2010-11 but seemingly witnessing 2006-07. Perhaps down the line Stokes, still only 22 years of age, will be the all-rounder that England always crave.

Clarke might have been out to the first ball he face on the second day, however, slicing Monty Panesar beyond the inner ring of fielders. The Sydney Morning Herald columnist Greg Baum mused on the condemnation that might have arisen if the ball had been caught, as well as Clarke's subsequent dominance:

The ball fell safely to earth. In a way, all that transpired on Friday flowed from that happenstance. Not in the least chastened, Clarke and accomplice Brad Haddin continued to hunt the England bowlers. Here, manifest, was the Lehmann credo.

Clarke's shots constitute not merely a range, but a repertoire. England's spinners chose lines and set fields that required him to come down the pitch and hit against the spin. He did it, repeatedly and unerringly, but don't try that in B grade. In this form, Clarke resembles a skilled carpenter, hammering in nails one after another, never mishitting, never wasting one, though dimly always conscious that a false blow will result at least in a bruised thumb. There were none. How Clarke sometimes must wish that he could handle sceptics and doubters with the lightly worn authority of his batting.

Australia's captain, though hammering another nail into England's chances of retaining the Ashes, fell short of a double-ton. Former Australia batsman Dean Jones, in the Canberra Times, wondered about the difficulty of reaching that landmark for batsmen of the modern age:

Michael Clarke is a man with a taste for big scores and on Friday at the Adelaide Oval he seemed well on the way to his fifth double-century before falling for 148. But despite two double centuries in similarly batsman-friendly conditions in Dunedin this week, there has been a noticeable decline in batsmen going ''big''.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.