December 30, 2010

The voice of New England

The MCG result tells us things about the visitors and the hosts both: one young and ambitious, the other inept and fretful

England's comprehensive victory in Melbourne meant that the Ashes had been retained. It is an outstanding achievement. It's one thing to win the urn on home soil, another to venture overseas and protect it.

Andrew Strauss's side has accomplished a historically difficult feat, and with a game to spare. Unsated, in the way of true champions, they seek to inflict a heavy series defeat of the sort Australia seldom suffer, and even the West Indians have avoided in these years of decline and difficulty. That is the stuff of ambition.

Although the visitors will not agree, the match itself was a letdown, largely because the issue was settled on the opening day, and perhaps even before tea had been taken. It ended before lunch on the fourth day and with supporters still trying to get into the ground. Australian journalists regretting the loss of the three-day Test match of previous years - reporters appreciate a free day as much as the next man - found that it had most unexpectedly been revived in another guise. Truly the boot was on the other foot.

It is curious that three of the Tests have been one-sided and the fourth became a batting bonanza. Spectators yearn for a tight contest at the SCG, with the teams going toe to toe and ending up neck and neck. (Assuming, that is, readers can manage the mixed images!) Although it has been fun watching a visiting team so efficient that at times it has resembled a slick rugby side, a close match provides the tension upon which sport depends. Many Australians who were bored by the easy victories of previous seasons now feel the balance has shifted too far in the other direction. Cricket counts amongst the most cut-and-dried of games.

So many points arise from the contest that it is hard to select a couple for consideration. That sport tells us something, though by no means all, about the state of a nation widens the debate. Indeed the recent and most laudable trend in cricket writing has been to take the game out into the world, where it belongs, and not to pretend that it exists in isolation. Of course that attaches a responsibility sport ought to welcome. That all 22 players appearing at the MCG were pale skins ought to perturb both participants.

Two facts emerged from the match with particular clarity. Australia cannot quite so easily be put into a cosy package and labelled arrogant or condescending or any of the other epithets commonly applied by the occasional visitor moving in a small circle for a short period and nevertheless prepared to pass judgement. Certainly, like the fauna, local newspapers can be a trifle colourful and loud, but it is silly to assume that the entire nation treads that path.

Englishmen were startled to find upon arrival a few weeks ago that hardly any locals expected their own team to win the series. Had they tarried a while longer and listened a little closer they'd have discovered that not many Australian even like their side. If anything, that view goes too far. The players have their faults but they hardly wear horns. Just that none of the moderns has quite captured the public imagination in the way of folk heroes like Doug Walters or naughty champions such as Shane Warne. Visitors don't observe these things because they do not fit the stereotype.

Australians support their team from patriotism not nationalism. Admittedly punters were willing to back the hosts but cricketing folk were pessimistic. Having cast the Aussies as unrepentant loudmouths, these observers were taken aback. Had they not been informed on previous trips that they were doomed? Had not these remarks been only partly humorous? Where was the cocky Australian?

In fact all the assessments were realistic. And all proved correct. Perhaps the truth is that Australians don't stand on ceremony and have a keen understanding of sport. Of course they like to win and wear their desire on their sleeve. As far as can be told, though, they have not resorted to pitch- or ball-tampering to do so. Despite its image, too, Australia comes closer than most countries to attaining the noble goals of the French Revolution.

The sight of an England team dancing a jig in front of thousands of travelling supporters, none of them inclined to take themselves too seriously, was encouraging

England's victory has also offered insights into the state of that nation, all of them positive. The sight of an England team dancing a jig in front of thousands of travelling supporters, none of them inclined to take themselves too seriously, was encouraging. In much the same way one of the pace bowlers had posed for the front cover of a magazine considered in some quarters to be vulgar and dubious, and another has taken to sending entertaining tweets and making lively videos.

Previous England teams have tripped the light fantastic but none of recent memory has been remotely as relaxed and yet single-minded as this outfit. A supposedly uptight nation has produced a splendidly outgoing team. Starched shirts have been sent packing, and so have the wild ones. Meanwhile their opponents are surrounded by spin doctors anxious to massage the message and conceal all warts.

The second point to crop up from the MCG was that England's back-up players are not only superior to their opponents but also more mature and confident. Whereas the local replacements floundered, Chris Tremlett took the ball in Perth and promptly emerged as a match-winner. Tall, muscular and persistent, he worried every batsman and deserved his wickets. Adjusting his length he bowled just as well in Melbourne but wickets somehow eluded him. It's not so long ago that Tremlett was regarded as a softy. No less an authority than Shane Warne, once his county captain, tried to goad him into action, to little affect. Somewhere along the way the current team management has been able to transfer him from tentative outsider to strong-minded insider. Presumably the metaphorical carrot and stick were employed. Tremlett embraced both his talent and opportunity.

Much the same can be said about Tim Bresnan. He looks like a Yorkshireman - somewhere between a lump of coal and a porkpie - and he also plays cricket like one. So much of the best of England can be found in its south-west and north-east corners. Honest and skilful, Bresnan landed his fast-mediums on the spot, worried every batsman and kept going throughout a long and probing spell. Jonathan Trott's carefully constructed hundred alone denied the speedster recognition as man of the match.

By all accounts Bresnan is as likeable as he is capable - he was certainly popular during his stint in Sydney club cricket - and he too grabbed his chance with both hands. No hint of fear or doubt could be detected in his work. Plain as day the team's think tank has fostered belief in the rooms. Plain as day, too, a role has been assigned to every player. Bresnan was not asked to take on all Australia, merely to play a part within his capacity, one he had practised a thousand times before.

Contrastingly the Australians seemed to be living on a wing and a prayer. It has been a super reversal, engineered by astute leaders, executed by gifted players, carried out by a disciplined outfit. It has, too, been an expression of New England, with its classless babble. Suddenly Australia looks inept and fretful. It will last as long as England stays young and ambitious and dares to look forwards, and as long as Australian cricket dithers.

My guess is that Australia will take an entirely young side to England in 2013 and that the result will be much harder to predict than might currently appear likely. After all Australia is a modern, intelligent and literate country that celebrates sport and loves winning. The current hullabaloo might seem harsh but it is a necessary part of the restoration.

Peter Roebuck is a former captain of Somerset and the author, most recently, of In It to Win It

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • P Subramani on January 2, 2011, 5:30 GMT

    England have not lost a series under Strauss. The closest they came to doing so was in South Africa in 2009 when in two tests they hung on by the skin of their Onions.That was pure Strauss luck.Much the same has gone on in the Ashes and will probably go on for some time.So the latest sprinkler dance will not be a source of amusement for watchers just as yet. They would think that this is indeed the champion stuff that they have been waiting for which these Englishmen are churning out.But whatever, it is nice to read that even the sedate stars like Tremlett are joining this new breed of uninhibited personalities from Ole Blighty.To the many who have seen him, Chris Tremlett comes across as a breath of bresh air at a time when international cricket has ceased to be the gentleman sport cricket was meant to be.

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2011, 2:30 GMT

    Being a pom living in Melbourne its been amazing to see the team play as well as they have. I think theres more to come from this Engalnd side over the next 5 years. they are all of a good age to be maturing into fine cricketers. Looking at the Australian team does puzzle me alittle.I feel there's a sense that they still believe that they are the best. The one main problem they have is with there dominance over the last 15 years, that the second tier players that would have made up the australian A side are all of the retirement age. There was a time a few years back that australia wanted to play their A side against the lower ranked sides. How times have changed. I think that the young talent is thin on the ground at the moment here in Australia. Once they give the younger guns a go it takes time for them to horn their skills. With Australians winning ways there could be more downs then ups for awhile to come.And really is Ponting the guy to take them forward?

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2011, 1:13 GMT

    The dramatically different results in Perth and Melbourne makes one wonder if the Perth result was to get the crowds to Melbourne. Was the who think a set-up? Perhaps one should check with EasyBet???

  • Dummy4 on January 1, 2011, 3:25 GMT

    India will remain no.1 for 1 or 2 years, but after the Big Three retire, things won't be easy for India. So I expect England or South Africa to take over from then.England have the most balanced bowling attack in the world, but I would rate SA's batting as more formidable.

  • Steve on January 1, 2011, 2:12 GMT

    Almost every single Indian fan on here is biased. Not one of you can give credit where it is due. India this, Sachin that. Get over yourselves, you're not that good and you have perhaps the shittest bowling attack in test cricket.

    India does not have a "god-given" right to be number one. The sooner you get that into your head the better.

  • Sundar on December 31, 2010, 20:40 GMT

    India will be no.1 team for atleast 3 more yrs...thats when the legendary Sachin, Awesome Dravid and Special Laxman will give a hint of retirement....plz stop dreaming my English friends and hail India, for the sake of cricket...

  • mayank on December 31, 2010, 14:45 GMT

    i love the way you end it mr. roebuck....on a positive note.... i feel luck has not been goin aussie way....that was bound to happen after ruling world cricket for 11 years. i have no doubts watsoever that the kangaroo-emu which are not known to take a step back will make a big move forward with young blood and result would be again complete dominance of england......

  • Sumit on December 31, 2010, 9:21 GMT

    Give me a break. ENG #1 team. Can't stop laughing. Poms only because you beat a declining Aussie side you think you are the #1 side. Pommies, dont forget your big daddy INDIA are the proclaimed and the real #1 team. They have been playing exceptionally well for last 2 years. And their recent performance in SA is a proof of that. So stop dreaming. The player performaces and wins against the Aussies were purely out of the ASHES adrenaline. Much like the fizz in the soda bottle. Wait for the next series and you will be back to your old ways. And for one Darren, no body gave a damn about you as a player when you were playing and certainly no body does now when you say that "Poms can beat India every day of the week". Ex-Poms have this habbit of gaining mileage out of the scarse Pom's wins. He must have thought, by saying this he himself would feel the pleasure of beating Aussies in ASHES, which during his playing days he could not experience. He was a waste bowler you got smacked around.

  • Dummy4 on December 31, 2010, 8:47 GMT

    feeling bad 4 aussies but ALL STAR 11(england) was better than them

  • Dummy4 on December 31, 2010, 6:31 GMT

    The English Media is a Big Mouth and so are there supporters. The reason for their elation and happiness is obvious.After so many years of thrashing from the Australians, they have earned a rare feat. However, it is ridiculous of former English players like Darren Gough to report that "England can beat India every day of the week outside India." Firstly, currently India is not playing England currnently.Secondly, if England cannot beat India in India,then obviously he means England can beat India everday of the week in England which even India can do to England in India.In my opinion , Indian's batting is far more superior than the English team and bowling is as Good as them,if not better. I firmly believe , England will lose the forthcoming series of 2011 with India to be played in England just like they did in 2007 series. But till it happens Darren Gough and others will have to wait.

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