The Ashes 2010-11 January 8, 2011

Cook the best of England's terrific team

England's Ashes campaign was meticulously planned and superbly executed. They won a series in Australia for the first time in 24 years, and in so doing, inflicted three innings defeats on their oldest opponents. ESPNcricinfo assesses the men who took part

Alastair Cook
Titanic. In the build-up to the series, Australia obsessed about Cook's technical weaknesses, but completely neglected his mental strength. The upshot was a series that might have been torn from the sepia annals of the 1920s or 30s, as Cook booked himself in time and time again, refused to flinch when the ball passed his off stump, and ground out his runs with scarcely a false stroke in 36 hours and 11 minutes at the crease. His hundreds in Adelaide and Sydney were crucial to the cause, but it was his phenomenal performance at the Gabba that made everything else possible. His first-innings 67 was an early reassurance that things were going to be okay, his second-innings 235 not out made possible the iconic scoreline of 1 for 517, and was the prelude to a series of unfeasibly prolific run-making.

James AndersonThey said he'd never front up in Australia, they reminded him endlessly of his five wickets at 82.60 on the whitewash tour, and they scoffed at his match-winning feats with the Duke ball back in England. The Kookaburra, cloudless skies and flat Aussie pitches would neuter him, they said. They've all changed their tune now. Anderson was magnificent, right from the moment he bowled without a modicum of luck on the third day at the Gabba. At different stages of the series, and on a variety of different surfaces, he found conventional swing, conventional seam and reverse swing, and allied all of those skills to a relentless attacking line and length. Dale Steyn may be quicker and his outswinger may be the world's most wondrous fast-bowling sight. But Anderson has got the full arsenal now …

Jonathan Trott
Bloodlessly brilliant from the Gabba through to Melbourne, a modern-day Chris Tavare with more runs, more shots, and just as many infuriating mannerisms that ensured he crawled right under the Australians' skins, and refused to budge. Briefly took his average in Ashes Tests to 100.83 before a duck in Sydney, but his work by then had been done, particularly in Melbourne when Australia's tea-time dismissal on the first day gave him permission to set his own tempo and crush them for an unbeaten 168 that spanned more than eight hours. His fielding was a revelation as well, and that direct-hit from midwicket to run out Simon Katich without facing in Adelaide was one of England's moments of the tour.

Chris Tremlett
Yet another England quick who confounded all expectations. Tremlett's reputation preceded him for years, with Shane Warne, his former captain at Hampshire, questioning his desire while at the same time remarking that he had all the attributes to be the best fast bowler in the world. Warne's fellow Victorian, David Saker, however, took no notice of the doubters and instead backed a man with the physique of a rugby lock-forward to make a big splash on the big stage. Eight wickets on a Perth flyer was just the start of his contributions. His twin lifters to Watson and Ponting in Melbourne were superb, and it was he who had the honour of claiming the final wicket of the series to cue the mother of all celebrations.

Ian Bell
His maiden Ashes hundred was tainted by a UDRS controversy, but there could be no quibbling with the fact that he had earned his landmark. The Shermanator of four years ago became the Terminator of 2010-11 - Shane Warne's words, not mine - a player who, pound for pound, looked the most fluent and classy batsman operating on either side. England persistently batted him too low in the order, so that on the two occasions when he really looked the part, at the Gabba and in Perth, he ran out of partners before he could make his form count. But in his fourth Ashes campaign, he transformed his reputation, and by 2013, he'll be ready to be the big noise.

Matt Prior
Started the series with a wafty drive to set up Peter Siddle's hat-trick, but finished with a brutal century to hoist England to their highest ever total in Ashes campaigns in Australia. In between whiles he did what he had to do with scarcely a foot out of place. His six catches in the Melbourne rout equalled the Ashes record, and his final tally of 23 was a testament both to his improved standards with the gloves, and to the number of opportunities that England's relentless attack created.

Andrew Strauss
The first captain to defend the Ashes in Australia since Mike Brearley in 1978-79, Strauss has earned his place in the English sporting pantheon, but he had to do it the hard way. His flapped cut to gully from the third ball of the series was a staggering moment of theatre that threatened to topple the equilibrium of his team, but Strauss to his immense credit blocked out the bad juju and responded with the first of England's nine centuries in the series. Thereafter he was the rapier to Cook's bludgeon, dealing in momentum-seizing cameos, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney (once he'd worked out the right length to leave on these pitches). On-field leadership was rarely spectacular, but it rarely needed to be either.

Kevin Pietersen
Aside from one formidable double-hundred in Adelaide, it was a series of missed opportunities for Pietersen, whose fury at his shortcomings was never more obvious than during the Perth defeat. Nevertheless, he served his purpose superbly in the series, not least because the Australians spent so long in the build-up obsessing about the threat he posed, they completely neglected to take any attention of the rest of the top-order, least of all the key man Cook. He struggled to be the ultimate team player, with Lamborghini escapades, Twitter rants and attention-seeking press comments all causing a fuss at various moments of the trip, but he was never anything less than professional in his preparations - as has always been the case.

Tim Bresnan
Extraordinarily effective when he was given his chance in Melbourne, Bresnan was not only England's fastest seamer in the final two Tests, he was also the most consistent reverse-swinger, and relentlessly hostile from a full, stump-threatening length with a hint of jag off the deck. The lessons learned on the pudding decks of Bangladesh in March held him in good stead for the biggest moment of his career, in front of 85,000 expectant punters on Boxing Day, and he brought the house down in both innings - not least with his 3 for 2 in 18 balls in the second dig. He made a cameo with the bat in Sydney to remind everyone of his allround potential, which might come in handy on the slow decks of Sri Lanka next winter.

Graeme Swann Less of a match-winner than might have been anticipated, but on the one occasion he was really obliged to front up, he duly did so, with five second-innings wickets in the innings win at Adelaide. Michael Hussey kept him under the pump in the early exchanges, taking a shine to him in Brisbane before beating him clean out of the attack in Perth, but the festive Tests provided the stage for the showman to return. His spell of 22 overs for 23 runs in Melbourne was one of the finest spells of attacking yet containing spin bowling since Warne was in his pomp. On a separate note, Swanny's video diary gets 10 out of 10 for providing the most candid dressing-room insights imaginable.

Stuart Broad
Two wickets at 80.50 and a first-ball duck were hardly the returns that Broad would have envisaged when he set about emulating the Ashes-winnings feats of his father Chris in 1986-87. Nevertheless, his influence on the squad was massive in those opening two games, and only properly appreciated in hindsight, when England regrouped after the Perth defeat and returned to their original game plan of bowling for maidens and suffocating their opponents into mistakes. Broad's economy rate of 2.30 was never bettered in the course of the series, but as things turned out, the reserve seamers were well enough drilled to cover for his absence.

Steven Finn
At the age of 21, his time will surely come again, and when it does, he will have the memory of six first-innings wickets at the Gabbatoir to remind him that his temperament is rock-solid. Fronted up brilliantly in Adelaide as well, sharing the new ball when Broad went lame and making sure that England's perfect performance did not peter out in disappointment. By Perth he was looking jaded, and his inability to hit the right length for the conditions was a key reason why Australia wriggled off the hook and were able to transform the contest. But he'll know better for next time. And for the time after that ...

Paul Collingwood
An extra mark for sentimentality? Or for recognition that team spirit is a fundamental requirement on a tour as arduous as an Ashes campaign, and this is a man who possesses it in spades? Collingwood's batting form was woeful throughout the series, and had he not chosen to retire from Test cricket in Sydney, his tally of 83 runs in six innings would probably have done the deed for him by next summer. But his tidy offcutters claimed the invaluable scalp of Hussey in Sydney, while his catching was invaluable. Of his nine takes, the most by any outfielder on either team, none was more symbolic than the salmon leap at Perth to scythe down Ponting. Keeping Australia's captain under lock and key was an integral factor in England's success.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • John on January 11, 2011, 3:48 GMT

    5wombats, I think you missed my point. Unless you were asking Marcio WHY he was called Marcio? In which case, I'd guess it's either because that's his name or simply what he prefers to be called. Just to clear it up, "Wherefore: An intent or purpose; Why, for what reason, because of what; Therefore; Because of which". Moving on, in my opinion, any of the top 5 teams can be great on their day, and in spite of what the rankings say, there is very little between them all. England may well reach number one, but you can bet they won't be there for long before someone else displaces them.

  • H on January 11, 2011, 1:26 GMT

    @Simon Lewis England's strategy for winning the Ashes was strangling the runs, which Broad did pretty well. There's no way we'd have been able to carry Finn's erratic bowling without Broad's economy (hence the real reason Bresnan was selected ahead of Finn later in the series). @James Adams-Pace Broad out-bowled Finn all series, despite the way the stats look. As for bowling consistently short, Broad was far less guilty of that than Finn, who bowled short at the wrong batsmen (Hussey in particular, who loves it short) far too regularly, and then overcompensated. It was as if Finn had no real plan for what he was doing and just ran up and bowled. I'd agree that Tremlett and Bresnan bowled well enough to make Broad's return to the side far from guaranteed, but he's a country mile ahead of Finn who has all the talent but lacks a cricketing brain. Broad was unlucky not to pick up a hat-full at Brisbane and I was certain a 5-for would have come his way later in the series had he stayed fit.

  • H on January 11, 2011, 1:05 GMT

    @Something_Witty I figure that bit about "So to say that "Oh if England player X gets a this, then Australian player X must surely get an X-1, because he was even worse." Just seems a tad confrontational." was aimed at my comment? I was merely responding to the bit where you said "Peter English obviously grades people more harshly than Andrew Miller." and pointed out how, if your standard for some of the English players were adopted by Andrew, Peter's ratings were even more generous. So I stand by those remarks. I will, however, acknowledge that calling you deluded was harsh. You've clearly shown I was wrong, in both your statement that England were brilliant in this series, and that it doesn't mean that England are the new Australia. They're not, and while I disagree about their talent (I remember commenting after Cook's debut that he'd be a genuine star, and I stand by that, and feel similarly about Bell and Jimmy), there's plenty of sense in England realising what got us this far.

  • fabian on January 10, 2011, 20:45 GMT

    Well done England. A TEAM FULL OF TALENTED GUYS + SELF BELIEF = SUCCESS Just remember this formula Andrew Strauss & I am certain you will do well....very well. As a Pakistani supporter who supports you as well as the place of my birth it was good to see the positivity in which you played your cricket. All I can say is if you carry on with the same positivity the rest of the world of cricket needs to watch out...GOOD LUCK in your future Endeavours. And just a quick note to Alistair Cook - Have you ever thought about auditioning for the Bond role when you retire?

  • Martin on January 10, 2011, 12:32 GMT

    @Something_Witty; wrong again -Juliet: O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name; Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love And I'll no longer be a Capulet. So - I guess this is love over the oceans! Anyway - no one, certainly not me, would claim that England are the "new australia". Far from it - there is plenty of work to be done. Perth showed that - "Great" teams just don't get whipped in that fashion, beaten by just a few good performances by the other side; Harris, Johnson and Hussey pretty much beat England on their own in that Test - and this is what needs to be eliminated from Englands game in order for them to improve.

  • Dominic on January 10, 2011, 9:44 GMT

    "Anderson should be a bit lower on a 7 or so, he still doesn't take wickets if the ball doesn't swing."

    I think there's a kernel of truth iin that, though what Anderson is getting better and better at is getting swing when conditions aren't necessarily conducive to it, and also getting reverse swing with the older ball. He's also developed an accuracy based game for when it isn't swinging which dries up the scoring rate and helps the bowler at the other end - I think you could attribute several of Finn's wickets to Anderson's economical bowling at the other end for example. Finn was more like the 2006/7 Anderson, but with more support from the rest of the unit keeping it tight at the other end. That's why I think the mark is fair enough. That's been one of the things the series has really shown, this England unit works very well as a team.

  • John on January 10, 2011, 7:19 GMT

    Firstly, 5wombats, you should know your Shakespeare better, being English and all. Wherefore means "why", not "where". Secondly, the key to England's success in recent times has not been through a star-studded team producing brilliant performances, it has been through a bunch of skilled and disciplined players playing to their strengths and knowing their limits. Without any genuine stars, it will be hard for them to stay this strong for extended periods, so predictions of them being "the new Australia" are merely hyperbolic and very premature. They're looking good at the moment, and with the brainless cricket we are currently playing, I'm expecting them to sweep the limited overs series as well. (Sadly).

  • John on January 10, 2011, 2:59 GMT

    @Something_Witty: fair enough. I don't think you and I are far apart in our evaluations. I thought Tremlett bowled very well, but I wouldn't rate him quite as highly as that. I thought he had a couple of uninspired spells in the first innings at Sydney and at times bowled too short. Nice of you to compare him with McGrath, but he's got a long way to go before being mentioned in the same breath as Pigeon. I'd also give a 10 for a quadruple century, or if a bowler had taken 19 wickets in a test. Since both feats have only been achieved once in the history of test cricket, I think any debutant who did it would have the right to the maximum!

  • Martin on January 9, 2011, 21:16 GMT

    The Thoughts of Chairman Wombat. Cook=10 Superb - has to be 10. Strauss=7.5. Trott=9 unflappable. KP=7.5 would have wanted to do more . Colly=(and I'm ashamed to say)- 5. Bell=8. Prior=7. Broad=6. Bresnan=7 a revelation. Tremlett=8.5 really a fantastic performance considering he was not an England regular before this series. Anderson=9 Superb. Swann=7.5. Finn=6 but sure to improve. For me, the "line" is 6. Anything 6 and over is OK. The one player who didn't rate 6 was Collingwood (sadly) and he knew what to do. Australia had most of their team under 6. Ponting in particular, was very very poor. He needs to be as big as Collingwood - and recognise that the time has come. Trouble is - ponting is not big, just stubborn. As for Clarke - frankly, he was hopeless - but if he can move out of the little mans shadow he might be OK.

  • joel on January 9, 2011, 20:41 GMT

    Blimey i never realised how completly deluded some Aussie fans are , something witty and jones2 . You were completly outclassed ! . And the only thing that is hard to understand is how bad ponting and clarke were .

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