Australia v England, 5th Test, Sydney, 2nd day January 4, 2014

Australia's excellence shared and sustained

The sustained excellence of Australia's bowling attack - never bettered according to a past great, Glenn McGrath, has brought deep satisfaction to their mentor Craig McDermott

Pressed a few days ago to recall the moment when Australia's bowlers delivered their finest spell for this Ashes series, their mentor Craig McDermott was momentarily short of an answer. After a pause, he remarked that it was actually easier to think of the odd occasions on which they had dipped below that level, such was the sustained excellence provided by Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon.

Watching from his familiar perch at the boundary's edge on day two of the final Test in Sydney, McDermott would only have added a few minutes at most to his aggregate of shifts for the series.

For most of England's innings, including a brief but close to terrifying six overs on the first evening, the standard maintained by the bowlers was unimpeachably lofty. Against batsmen well and truly broken by their weight of failure and now longing for home, it quickly became an embarrassingly lopsided spectacle.

At the moment of Ian Bell's dismissal by Siddle the SCG scoreboard read 5 for 23. What it might have quantified, had Shane Watson held a garden-variety slips catch from Bell's first ball from Harris, can only be imagined.

Either way, McDermott had further reason to be proud of his men's efforts, even more so for the fact they have kept charging in with remarkable hunger and energy despite going unchanged throughout the series. Whatever aches and pains harboured by Harris they were unnoticeable. The only wounds on display were psychological, and exclusive to the England batsmen.

No more was this evident than in the exit of Cook, who will leave these shores as perhaps the most harried captain since the West Indian Jimmy Adams limped home in possession of an 0-5 Frank Worrell Trophy series ledger in 2000-01, and was soon relieved not only of the captaincy but also his place in the team.

Cook scrapped heartily to reach stumps on day one in a period of dull light at the ground and roaring speed from Johnson, but on the second morning lost his equilibrium more swiftly than a jetlagged Englishman catching a cab straight from Sydney airport to the SCG.

Harris' precision against Cook has been a wonder to behold through both series, playing tricks of perception and balance that have made some straight balls appear to move, while other deliveries curling in the air or seaming off the pitch have met the England leader's bat at an angle of the bowler's choosing.

Sometimes the battles have been protracted, but this time it took only two balls. The first was defended stoutly, but the second swung fractionally back from a line Cook was inclined to leave and struck him palpably in front. The moment Cook was pinned, he looked around in a moment of panic, realising too late where his pad and stumps had been. Among Australia's slips cordon there was no surprise, only jubilation.

Ian Bell's promotion to No. 3 had been called for by many throughout the series, but was delayed by an England hierarchy reluctant to move him from the middle order post from which he had warded off so many Australian attacks in the northern summer.

His supremacy in the earlier series was unquestioned, but on faster pitches Bell has had less time to use his cultured hands to make late adjustments to high quality pace bowling. The cumulative result has been edges of the kind he offered up first ball on day two, bat straight but feet on the crease.

"One of the main goals for us was to cut Ian Bell out and I think we've done that beautifully," Harris said. "It's been good. You don't get many opportunities at all to play 10 Tests against the same players. The main thing has been to execute and we've done that, we started it in England and topped it off here.

"We know we've bowled well to them: there's no coincidence they haven't made runs - it's because of how we've bowled. It's just the pressure we've put on the whole series that has not allowed them to play their own games and play the way they want to."

A first-ball reprieve for Bell in England would have caused much gnashing of teeth, but in Sydney when Shane Watson put down a simple opportunity the Australians simply continued to pursue the lines and lengths that would suffocate their quarry. Watson was on hand to claim a catch for Harris when Kevin Pietersen edged an uncertain push forward, before Bell replayed his first ball with a thinner edge from Siddle that Brad Haddin held neatly.

The crowd were rapturous, the Australian players beaming broad smiles. Among those watching was Glenn McGrath, who had generously labelled Australia's bowling in this series the best he had ever seen. But little triumphalism emanated from Harris or the other bowlers, their modest commitment to the trade being as much a key to their success as the speed and accuracy of their bowling and the unity of their purpose.

"Glenn's come out and said those nice words but we don't see it that way, we've got to go out and do our job and do it to the best of our ability," Harris said. "At the moment it's working, and hopefully we'll be able to maintain that for another two years ... I'm getting old so we'll wait and see but we want to make sure we keep putting pressure on whoever we're playing. If we do that, teams won't make many runs."

The respect Harris speaks of now extends well beyond the small group who assembled at McDermott's Brisbane home for a fast bowlers' barbeque before the series began. Much as McDermott had done, there is barely a soul who has witnessed these Tests who would easily be able to choose a moment of brilliance from Australia's bowling attack to outshine the rest of their work in the Ashes summer of 2013-14. That's because, to borrow a phrase beloved of Harris, "It's all good."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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