The Ashes 2009

How we won the Ashes

Andrew Strauss

Andrew Strauss holds aloft the Ashes to spark wild celebrations, England v Australia, 5th Test, The Oval, 4th day, August 23, 2009
The England team celebrate their Ashes 2009 victory © Getty Images
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Plenty has been - and will continue to be - written about the 2009 Ashes. Journalists and supporters alike have been surprised and even shocked by what exactly went on. How can a team go from being trounced by an innings in the Fourth Test to a historic victory in the deciding match that started little more than a week later? How could a team who scored far more centuries, as well as having the three top wicket-takers in the series, end up losing? Much of the series defied logic, and that is what makes cricket such an alluring game. I am supposed to be shedding some light on how England won the Ashes in 2009. If Australia were statistically so superior, how were we able to defeat them? I would like to say that there was a great masterplan, generated in the months before the series, using all the latest technology and scientific dissection of the Australian players, which allowed us to find weaknesses that other teams had not been able to decipher. I would like to say that there were huge tactical victories, where my knowledge of the local conditions allowed me to outfox Ricky Ponting, my opposite number, and in doing so lay the foundations of our victory. The truth is that neither of these played a significant part. I do believe, however, that as a side we made some important progress, both before the series and during it, which ultimately allowed us to step on to that podium at The Oval and receive the Ashes urn.

An Ashes series is the pinnacle for any English cricketer. We know that we are judged more on our performances against Australia than against any other country, and we also know that our country takes more than a passing interest in our performance against the "old enemy". It would be wrong, therefore, not to treat an Ashes series differently from any other. Steve Bull, the England psychologist, talks about athletes having to get their heads around the fact that the Olympics are not like any other meeting. They have to prepare themselves differently; if they are not careful, the pressure of the Olympics is likely to jump up and consume the athlete at the most important moment.

With that in mind, we did spend more time than usual preparing for the series. Just as Australia had Justin Langer's dossier on our players, so we had one on theirs. We also tried to include in at least some of our preparation all those players who were likely to play a part in the Ashes. It was vitally important that we all knew how we were going to deal with unforeseen circumstances that might crop up during the season. How were we going to cope with the media? How should we react to sledging? What type of cricket were we looking to play? We needed answers to these questions and countless others before the Tests started. And quietly, over a series of dinners with the players in the preceding months, the answers became apparent.

I do still maintain, however, that the planning aspect was not important. It might have been if we had not planned at all, since we would have been at a huge disadvantage. But by planning properly, we simply made sure we were taking part on a level playing field: Australia had done their homework too.

Andrew Strauss acknowledges applause for a very patient fifty, England v Australia, 5th Test, The Oval, 3rd day, August 22, 2009
Andrew Strauss was the leading scorer in the series © PA Photos

So, were individual performances responsible for our victory? Well, yes and no. We would have lost at Cardiff if it hadn't been for Paul Collingwood's dogged resistance, continued by James Anderson and Monty Panesar in the final overs. We certainly wouldn't have won the Lord's Test if I hadn't got a century in the first innings, and Andrew Flintoff hadn't got five wickets in the fourth. In the decider at The Oval, we would have struggled to bowl Australia out cheaply if Stuart Broad hadn't produced an inspirational spell of bowling at just the right time; we wouldn't have been in such a comfortable position going into the final two days without Jonathan Trott's fairytale century on debut; and we certainly needed Graeme Swann's eight-wicket haul to finish them off. There is a huge individual element to the game of cricket, and without players having the ability and will to put in match-defining performances, victories would seldom be achievable.

But while the media love to create heroes from Ashes victories, and villains from defeats, I think it is entirely wrong to single out individuals as being responsible for England winning the Ashes. To win a five-Test series, there is no doubt that you need every single member of the side to contribute. What about Graham Onions taking two wickets with the first two balls of the second day at Edgbaston? What about Matt Prior's counter-attacking batting at No. 6 throughout the series? What about James Anderson's priceless wickets at Lord's and Edgbaston? Players are selected to perform, and if they don't perform collectively, you won't win.

So if our victory cannot be attributed to tactical acumen, superior planning, or inspired individual performances, what can it be attributed to?

I believe the answer lies somewhere in what people like to call the unity, or spine, of the team. It is hard to go into this side of the story without descending very quickly into what cricketers like to call "psycho-babble", the sort of language you hear in self-help or motivational books, so I will attempt to keep this clear and concise.

As a side we went through a huge amount of upheaval in the 12 months before the Ashes series. First, we lost our long-term captain, Michael Vaughan, during the previous summer, leaving a rather large hole to fill in a short space of time. Shortly afterwards, the team had the huge opportunities and even larger pitfalls of the Stanford 20/20 to contend with. By the end of the year, we were confronted with the Mumbai bombings, and their effect on us as individuals and cricketers. At the start of 2009, English cricket was again in turmoil with the new captain, Kevin Pietersen, and the coach, Peter Moores, being relieved of their positions.

On the surface, it looked as if these occurrences would be the perfect way to ensure that we wouldn't win the Ashes series less than eight months down the line. However, I believe strongly that shared experiences, the type of which don't happen every day, are actually what bring teams together. Which club side doesn't at some point look back to its worst defeat, and laugh about it? Which batsman doesn't look back at his most horrific run of form and realise how much he learned from it? It was the same with this England team. We needed some stability, which Andy Flower and myself tried to bring in as quickly as possible. We needed some honesty about where we were as a side, and how hard we needed to work to go forward. Above all, though, we needed as a group to use our experiences to bring us closer together, and I am absolutely certain we did: that was the critical factor.

How were we able to overturn the humiliating defeat at Headingley? Because we had been there several times in the recent past - like the Jamaica Test - and learned from them. How were we able to win a series in which we scored fewer hundreds and took fewer wickets than Australia? Because we had become accustomed to relying on each other to get us out of sticky situations. If the top order failed, we could rely on Prior, Swann and Broad to eke out some valuable runs. If Anderson wasn't taking wickets, we could rely on Swann or Broad. If Flintoff or Pietersen was unable to play, we knew we could make up for that loss. It is very powerful to have that belief in a side, especially as that belief generally comes from repeated success over a long period of time. We didn't have that luxury.

Many people will look back at the Ashes of 2009 and say that the quality of cricket was not as high as in 2005, or that the public's imagination was not captured quite to the same extent. I don't think it matters. The Ashes series is about the cricket teams of two proud nations doing battle to the utmost of their ability, hoping to make their supporters proud. In that sense, this series was no different from any other, and it is for that reason we will remember the Ashes of 2009 so fondly.

Andrew Strauss is the captain of England in the Test and ODI formats

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