The Ashes 2013-14 January 7, 2014

Australia's Ashes turning point

How a team meeting in Taunton, and an unsuccessful tour of England, set Australia on the path to their 5-0 sweep at home

Sydney crowd celebrate Ashes triumph

In the history of Australian cricket, almost as many pivotal moments have taken place in hotels and meeting rooms as on cricket grounds. Thrilling play on the field has often evolved from moments of clarity and direction off it, from the Chennai hotel celebrations of Allan Border's team following a one-run win over India in the opening match of the 1987 World Cup to the poolside summit called in Barbados by Mark Taylor ahead of the 1995 triumph in the Caribbean.

For the current group, basking in the glory of a 5-0 Ashes sweep over an England team favoured to defeat them scarcely two months ago, one such moment arrived at the Castle Hotel in Taunton on June 24 last year. That morning in Bristol, the shocked tourists had been informed of Mickey Arthur's sacking as coach, and that Darren Lehmann had been drafted in to replace him.

By the time the team bus arrived in Somerset, Lehmann was ready to address the 17-man squad plus support staff, and in doing so offered a simple message about playing aggressive, Australian cricket, and keeping the game in balance with life. Most of all, he reminded the players that this was all meant to be fun. "This should be the time of your lives," he told them. Minutes afterwards, Brad Haddin spoke. His words are worth recounting.

"I'm pretty confident we'll go in the right direction over the next two weeks," he said at the time. "The bottom line is we've got to perform and I'm comfortable with where this group's at. We've got the best cricketers in Australia here and I'm comfortable we can move forward with that. We as a group have to be accountable for where we want to take this team, and we'll see how successful that is."

Success was not immediate, of course. A narrow defeat at Trent Bridge was followed by a vast one at Lord's, the first of two series surrendered in the space of two matches. But critically, the team's attitude had changed, a previously insular, cliquey and put-upon group of players working increasingly towards team-oriented goals while the coaches and backroom team planned and cajoled in equal measure. Enthusiasm for the task grew quickly, even if aptitude for it took longer.

To witness England's disintegration in Australia was to appreciate how critical it was that Australia had not done the same in the northern summer, returning home with a feeling of unity and gathering strength they would back-up with decisive action from Brisbane onwards. Looking back on the two campaigns, the captain Michael Clarke was adamant that victory at home would not have been possible without the regrouping that took place on the road.

"I think it turned around in England," he said. "Our attitude certainly changed, our work ethic I couldn't fault the players in the UK, our preparation was outstanding, it was just unfortunate we couldn't get over the line for a number of reasons. There was a bit of bad luck at times, a little bit of rain around, but we knew as a team we were heading in the right direction, so our preparation and hard work are the reasons we sit here with success today."

For Lehmann, the change in the team's arc was driven by his efforts to give direction to players who had been training intently but without a sense of wider purpose. The direction he imparted included the fostering of an aggressive attitude on the pitch but a balanced one off it. Time to let off steam away from the game was encouraged, while team activities brought levity. The introduction of a joke of the day has been well-documented, but quiz nights orchestrated by the team doctor Peter Brukner also helped.

"I just think direction was missing," Lehmann said. "Direction is all they needed, as a playing group and support staff needed some direction for where we wanted to go and how we wanted to go about it. I was very pleased with the work ethic, they certainly would have worked hard under Mickey and all those things ... it was how we wanted to go about the quality of training and who we were playing against.

"I still say that's one of the best tours I've ever been on, so from our point of view it was a learning tour if you like. You don't want to lose 3-0, every game we play we're trying to win, so that was disappointing. But in essence where we wanted to get to as a playing group on and off the ground it was an exceptional tour for us."

Though Brisbane was the signal instant on the field, as the team rumbled to a first Test victory since the first week of 2013, Lehmann and the players sensed the fruits of their new direction in Manchester, Durham and at The Oval. England may have been victorious at Chester-le-Street, but they were cornered in the other two matches, rain intervening at convenient times. Australia did not come home with a winning feeling, but they had been close enough to touch it.

"I felt that dressing room feeling was there at Old Trafford and The Oval for the way we played there," Lehmann said. "Even Durham, I know we harked back on it was a great learning curve to be 2 for 140 and not get the runs. The pleasing thing last week in Melbourne was chasing those runs and getting them two down. From our point of view learning to win was the big thing, and now it becomes a lot easier to do that, but obviously you've got to go forward as a Test team and we have to win away from home."

The last word on how Australia turned around their Ashes fortunes should probably go to Ryan Harris. While it was Mitchell Johnson who crashed through the visitors in Australia, it was Harris who more than anyone epitomised the determination of this team not to end the two series empty-handed. His skill and heart were never to be questioned, but no-one was more delighted to see something unified and lasting grow around him.

"The group we've got, not just the players but the staff and everyone around us, is just amazing," Harris said. "I've said that many times that I want to be a part of this team as long as I can. It's an unbelievable team. We knew we were close in England. We just had things that didn't go our way, other times we didn't play well enough. I said when we got back from England that we've got to learn from what we do wrong, and we did that.

"We had a couple of sessions even in this series where it didn't go to plan. But we had players, like Hadds and the way he played in partnerships with Mitch and various other batsmen got us out of it. We play for each other. That's the main thing. There's no individuals in this team. That's what we do. There's no surprise we got the results we did."

It is cold and dank in Taunton right now, cricket packed up for some months yet in the dark recesses of a northern winter. But at the Castle Hotel, a few staff members can afford themselves a moment of reflection, for it was within their walls that the vital first seeds of Australia's Ashes success were sown.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on January 9, 2014, 3:02 GMT

    I think Australia need a new number 6, or perhaps more realistically a new batting line up. Number 6 needs to be able to be capable of aggression when chasing fast runs, as well as batting sensibly with the tail and stopping a collapse. I don't feel like bailey can do the latter. I'd suggest dropping watson to 6, but i don't think he can do the sensible batting either.

    Maybe slide smith to 6, clarke back to 5, and get someone in at 4. My choice would be Hughes on form, but Doolan seems the choice at the moment.

  • Steve on January 9, 2014, 0:27 GMT

    @muzika_tchaikovskogo.........outlandish but true, Bell, a world beater at home and on dry dusty wickets and nowhere over here. Cook, racked up runs at will in India,but nowhere here after two seasons of producing pitches to blunt SA and Aust pace bowling attacks in England.

    You can't deny that India have had some of the most talented batsmen in history over the last two decades. Sachin, VVS, Dravid, Ganguly, Sehwag, MS Dhoni and many others and yet they haven't won in Australia. Even now their replacements are ridiculously talented and yet can't crack it on fast bouncy wickets, similar to Aust batting in India. The only difference is we only tour India occasionally, your guys have got SA, Australia, West Indies, England (when they aren't doctoring and I would bet that they don't produce dust bowls when India tours) NZ and UAE.

    The only thing that has stopped India from dominating the sport over the last 20 years is not being able to win consistantly overseas.

  • Cameron on January 8, 2014, 23:02 GMT

    Saeed Iqbal: Australia has NOT lost a test series in SA since their reintroduction to cricket. Another fact: Pakistan has long been an ordinary team & continues to be. Not doing so well currently against an all at sea SL. Perhaps not the best time to shoot your mouth off

  • Patrick on January 8, 2014, 22:03 GMT

    @Saeed Iqbal, India's pitches were prepared with a flat stump to stump lane and crumbling edges to nullify fast bowling lines & assist only spin lines. India picked just 1-2 non-spinners, spinners opened the bowling Day 1. Hardly conditions to test a balanced attack yet still it was poor batting to spin that lost the series. Don't be deceived that all Aust/NZ/SA/Eng pitches aid fast bowling, they don't outright discourage it but it's generally hard work by Day 2/3, that's what we call a good fair pitch. Quicks get some natural assistance days 1 & 2, batsmen own day 3 once movement dies and spinners take advantage of wear by days 4/5. Giving spinners the advantage from day 1 is purely to contrive a home result. Look forward to seeing more of Pakistan's young quicks, we've long had great respect for them in Aust, Wasim & Waqar were certainly capable of sub-20 average tours in their day.

  • Dummy4 on January 8, 2014, 14:51 GMT

    The contest between Australia and South Africa should be near even seeing as Australia and South Africa have played well on their own respective series and how they have played well against one another in previous series. SA are in need of a replacement for Kallis whilst Australia need a No.6 who is consistent. AbD has also sustained a hand injuries with SAs hoping he is going to be able to play, even putting A backup keeper on stand by Australia's reformed bowling attack at this point in time seems to match SAs attack in terms of experience and pace. Johnson vs Steyn, Harris vs Morkel and Siddle vs Philander. Australia's batsmen have also stepped up during the recent ashes series but their skill as batsmen will only be shown after the SAs series.

  • ESPN on January 8, 2014, 12:29 GMT

    Aussie bowlers got absolutely hammered in India because they cannot bowl on batting wickets.

  • ESPN on January 8, 2014, 12:28 GMT

    Aussie bowling is good in their backyard. Pakistan bowlers performance is mainly on dead sub continent pitches. If they play regular in Australia, England or New Zealand where there is more help for bowlers then those averages would be below 20. You will know this soon when Aussie struggle against SA batsman in Feb.

  • Alex on January 8, 2014, 11:11 GMT

    @dlpthomas: it should be obvious that the Aussie team are winning because they are happy. Haddin is still Haddin and Mitch is still Mitch, so what's changed? They are both highly capable and talented players who just couldn't "bring it" when it mattered. Now, both stepped up to the plate in a way they hadn't before - along a path pencilled out by Lehman. Player attitudes were completely morphed by an Aussie ex-international successful cricketer whom current players respected (and Clarke himself played along side of); the dressing room mood completely changed. Ask yourself this: would Australia have drubbed England 5-0 like this under Mickey Arthur? Based upon player comments, I don't think so.

  • Graham on January 8, 2014, 10:37 GMT

    Saeed Iqmal; Junaid 50 wicketes (average 27.5), Ajmal 161 wickets @ 27.1, Rahat 14 wickets @ 40.5 and Bhatti in his second test 5 wickets @ 42.5 - compared to Harris 93 wickets @ 21.5, johnson 242 @ 28.33, Siddle 183 @ 28.6 and Lyon 104 @ 32.5. Stats completely contradict you and the recent performances of the Aussie attack suggest that Johnson and Lyon are better than there career averages at the minute, Australias attack is by far and away better than Pakistan. Pakistan shows some promise with some good youngsters but there is no way that attack is better than Australias. We absolutely smashed an English side who going into the series had 4 batsman averaging above 50 and one of the most prolific keeper batsman in history.

  • Android on January 8, 2014, 10:24 GMT

    Harris and Siddle are proven world class bowlers, add in Johnson's new maturity and the relief and occasional wicket Watson brings and you have to agree it is as good as Pakistan's. I think everyone should holster their opinions until we've seen them play South Africa. Suspect S.Africa bowlers will wreck Australia's batting line up better than England did.

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