Australia v England, 4th Test, Melbourne, 4th day December 29, 2010

Whitewash lessons guide England to glory

Andrew Strauss was part of the team humiliated 5-0 on the 2006-07 Ashes tour, but those harsh lessons have served England well

For nigh on two decades, ever since Australia broke away from the pack to become the undisputed masters of world cricket, the Australian way has been the only way forward for teams in search of success. After a defeat of staggering magnitude in the fourth Test at Melbourne, that may not be the case for much longer, but nevertheless, the seeds of England's triumph can still be traced back to the lessons they themselves were handed out on this same campaign four years ago.

The whitewash series of 2006-07 is not a topic that England have been keen to address publicly on this trip, and with some justification, given the range of humiliations they suffered in each of their five Test defeats. Privately, however, the memories of those matches and the methods that the Aussies used to stifle England's ambitions have been taken on board and turned back on their tormentors, with a considerable degree of success.

Tim Bresnan is no Glenn McGrath, and for all his confidence and trickery, Graeme Swann is not yet Shane Warne, but at Melbourne each produced a performance that would have graced the records of those two legends. Much the same could be said of James Anderson's first-innings incisions at Melbourne and Adelaide, or the fearsome discipline that Chris Tremlett has shown since his recall in Perth. England's mantra on this trip has been: "Do unto Australia as they've always done unto us." And with the Ashes secured for the third series out of four, that is exactly what they have achieved.

Andrew Strauss was one of six Englishmen in this Melbourne match who suffered at the hands of the Aussies in 2006-07; this time he will depart as one of only three English captains to successfully defend the Ashes in Australia. "It was the lowest point of my career and a lot of guys felt similarly," he said. "But in a lot of ways there were some important lessons learned. The one thing that struck me as an opening batsman in that series was the feeling of being suffocated from both ends all the time. I think that was the basis of our strategy out here, to make sure Australia never got away from us, and if we did that well and consistently it would bring us wickets."

That is precisely what transpired in the key first innings at both Adelaide and Melbourne, where Strauss's confidence in his team's planning was showcased by the decision to bowl first - a no-brainer in hindsight, but a bold move nonetheless. Speaking at the end of the first day, James Anderson admitted that England's only gameplan had been to go at less than three an over, for pressure is everything in Test match cricket. The magic balls tend to be the ones that beat the bat. Constant and unrelenting application, from first delivery to last, is how McGrath and his cohorts broke the spirit of their opponents.

"When you had Warne and McGrath and those guys in your side, that was something we were always able to do and maintain for long periods of time," said Ricky Ponting after the match. "As a batsman, having experienced it a few times in my career, it just makes batting so much more difficult. Some have got the skill and the patience to know how to be able to do that for long periods of time, which at different times of this series, England have been able to do particularly well."

While Strauss acknowledged that the absence of Australia's greats of yesteryear had been a factor in their success, it is one thing to take on a team whose stature had diminished, and another thing entirely to raise one's own standards to fill the vacuum created. "It's easy to say that Australia missed someone of Shane Warne's quality, but it's true," added Strauss. "He could attack and defend at the same time, and they had the likes of McGrath, and at that time, Stuart Clark and Brett Lee, who were doing an excellent job as well."

Where McGrath would once have reigned, England instead had the unlikely lad, Bresnan, who fittingly had Ben Hilfenhaus caught behind for a duck to complete his Test-best figures of 4 for 50, and the exemplary match analysis of 34.4-14-75-6. But his efforts would have been diminished without the diligence of Swann at the other end, whose 22 overs on the third afternoon went for 23 runs, before Peter Siddle and Brad Haddin cut loose in a lost cause on the fourth and final morning.

"Yesterday afternoon was a really good example of how they were able to do that," said Ponting, "with their quicks going at one end and Swann pretty much tying up the other end. That just creates pressure in Test match cricket. As a batter you want to score runs but if you're finding that difficult, the bowlers are generally creating chances somewhere. It's one thing to learn that. It's another to be able to do it as well as they have."

The pressure that England were able to generate was two-fold, however, because just as was the case in Australia's glory days, their sheer weight of runs created an extra set of circumstances for their under-pressure opponents. With that in mind, Strauss recalled the second innings at Brisbane as one of the most critical junctures of the tour, when England banished the memories of their nervy first innings at the Gabba with an unanswerably vast scoreline of 1 for 517.

"Getting big runs on the board suffocates you as well, so we were fortunate in that second innings in Brisbane that we got stuck in and proved that we could get big scores out here," Strauss added. "The confidence builds, you get guys in good form, and suddenly it's hard to keep those guys from scoring. It's always a number of very small factors that allows one team to get on top of the other, and it's important to say that we're only 2-1 up in the series so there's still a chance for Australia to square it. That's not something that we want to happen."

The likelihood of that happening - even allowing for the heroic amounts of celebrating that the squad can expect in the coming hours - is slim in the extreme, however. Australia may have bounced back to square the series at Perth, but they did so on a lively track that Strauss admitted had been "out of the ordinary", and in so doing had relied on a spell of fast bowling from Mitchell Johnson that was freakishly brilliant. The East Coast of Australia, on the other hand, has been much kinder to England, and with Swann in the right form for a star turn on the most spin-friendly track in the country, a 3-1 scoreline now seems the likeliest denouement.

"We were reasonably comfortable in the fact that we could say that Perth was a bit of an aberration for us," said Strauss. "It did knock us a little bit and Christmas Day was a little more nervy than it might otherwise have been, but we also knew that our formula had worked for us pretty much throughout the tour - not just the Test matches but the preparation phase. As long as we got back to that sort of formula I thought we'd do fine."

That is because England's planning for this campaign has been exemplary. David Saker, their Victorian bowling coach, not only knew the five Test venues with the intimacy that only a Sheffield Shield veteran could bring to the equation, he also instilled in his pace-bowling charges a discipline and determination to be ready for action at all times, and a trust in their own abilities that no bowling coach in England's history - not even the feted Troy Cooley - would have been able to match.

"The way David Saker has worked with them and made sure they are ready from ball one is exceptional," said Strauss. "Often when bowlers are not playing they lose rhythm, and the fact they are suddenly thrust into a Test match can affect them pretty badly, so credit to him and way they have worked as well. But there's no rocket science involved. We always look for secret formulas, but generally there is isn't one. It involves graft."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 30, 2010, 20:58 GMT

    And when you take into account the young players coming up through the system in English cricket-both in domestic and international level, English cricket is set for a golden generation in Test/ODI levels for the next 5-10 years.

  • Dummy4 on December 30, 2010, 6:25 GMT

    is it possible 4 Australia 2 have been @ the pinnacle of test cricket for 30 years when for 17 long years & 8 series between 1977 & 1994 they lost all but 1 series against west indies which they drew 1 all ? it has not even been 20. its more like the 14 years between beating west indies @ Sabina Park in 1994 & losing @ home to South Africa in 2008/2009 series

  • Campbell on December 30, 2010, 3:27 GMT

    @JohnN... if you'd bothered to read, Strauss is only the 3rd to DEFEND the Ashes in Aus, the other 7 occasions, the Ashes were won in Australia from Australia.

    The current Australian side has a dearth of form. Hughes, Ponting, Clarke, North, Smith, Hilfenhaus, Johnson. With the exception of Johnson, none of these players have made any meaningful contribution to this series. Any wonder why we got thrashed.

  • bharath on December 30, 2010, 2:32 GMT

    It is very disappointing to see the Aussies slip so much after the retirement of their greats - Langer, Hayden, Gilly, Warnie, and Piegon. Somehwere down the line, i'll blame the past and current selection of this Australian team. I find it unbelievable that someone of the calibre of Stuart Clarke is not playing, whereas we see Hilfenhaus and Johnson having an extended run.. I still fail to realize why they gave away Gillespie when he failed in one Ashes series i.e 2005. I'd say that was the arrogance of having one Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne in your bowling lineup. it was fine as long as they were around, but once they were gone, there was no transition to the next generation of bowlers..The unfortunate injuries and the consequent retirements of Brett Lee and Stuart McGill also didnt help. But i hope they bring back Stuart Clarke, Dougie Bollinger, because they are ur best bowlers and give them an extended run as in case of Johnson and Hilfenhaus and plan to win back the urn

  • Vikas on December 30, 2010, 1:16 GMT

    @richard gauntlett Why creating dead tracks or turners by Indian team is bad? But green tops by SA, England or Australia are normal and accepted. If England wants to blunt Indian or for that matter subcontinent spinners or expose some Indian batsmen frailties to pace and bounce they Can create green tops ( pretty much what SA is doing right now).

    Now, if we create a spinning track or dead track we are called names.

    Some one please explain this. Why suiting your strengths and exposing weekness in opposition is bad.?

  • rahul on December 30, 2010, 0:54 GMT

    I am an Indian fan. but have to admit this Eng team is the best team in test cricket right now. They have good balance in the bowling unit with a quality spinner in Swann and while their batting might be lighter than SA or Ind on current form they would be able to matchup with those sides.

  • thomas on December 29, 2010, 21:42 GMT

    @crimsonbull: I for one am looking forward to India's trip to England next summer - will likely try to get a ticket for Lords. If India can flog this England attack in English conditions, I want to be there to see it. Likewise, if England demolish India, I want to see it too. @Popcorn: No, we all seem to forget that the Australian way is to field a team and administration of native Australians only, right? Or perhaps we'd better not go there? Whatever the Australian way is, it's not working at the moment, so perhaps now is the time to change direction? As the saying goes: "When you find youself in a hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging".

  • Dummy4 on December 29, 2010, 19:57 GMT

    @popcorn, it's not just the english way, Sri Lanka,Pakistan, India, WI,NZ,Zim,SA all have or have used foreign coaches in one capacity or another, your point is rubbish.

  • Andrew on December 29, 2010, 19:32 GMT

    I find it interesting that people are quick to put the bott in when the Indians - currently riding on a bit of a high - are probably bigger sledgers thatn Australia in any case. Yes, Ponting has been there a while, but he probably still has 2 or 3 seasons left in him, he's just out of form. Incidentally, Steve Waugh retired, he was not pushed. Australia have just had 30 years at the pinnacle of world cricket. When West Indies, India, South Africas or an of the other nations can boast a similar record, then I might be repared to admit that there are some problems with Australian cricket. This is merely a changing of the guard and the Australian cricket team will probably bounce back stronger than ever within 5 years at most. Personally, I find it good that England are back as a cricketing nation after so many years in the wilderness. Now if only the West Indiesw could make a return...

  • Steve on December 29, 2010, 18:30 GMT

    See.... when he's not argueing with umpires and trying 'talk up' the Aussie game Ponting can talk some sense! It's a shame about the popcorns and jonesy2's of the Aussie fan base - but I guess they make the rest of them seem intelligent! I can't see the point of widespread changes for the Sydney test. I don't think it'll matter too much who the Aussies pick - England should continue their dominance and why give Aussie newbies a bloody nose and possibly damage their future confidence? Ricky Ponting has been a great player and servant of Australian cricket and please don't crucify him - just because the Aussies lost to a far superior and much more professional side! He deserves better and his poor personal form must be punishment enough! But as they say "form is temporary whilst class is permenant". He'll be back! Reports of his death are premature......

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