Ashes 2013-14: Four talking points as Australia reclaim urn
Ashes 2013-14: Four talking points as Australia win the third Test by 149 runs to reclaim the urn from bitter rivals England
The final nail in England’s coffin
It was somewhat fitting that Mitchell Johnson was the man to seal it. With James Anderson caught by George Bailey for just two, Australia regained the Ashes and secured victory in a Test series against England for the first time since 2006/07. In truth, the unassailable 3-0 lead had been coming since the second day in Brisbane, where it was Johnson again who obliterated the tourists’ batting line-up and began an unrelenting assault which culminated in Tuesday’s victory. Rarely did Australia let up and never did England look like mounting any sort of challenge. In fact, despite the apparent one-sided nature of much of the third Test, the 150-run defeat was the best result Alastair Cook’s side had achieved so far. It’s been a dismal tour for England, who’s now sole objective must to be prevent a repeat of seven years ago and an embarrassing 5-0 series whitewash.
Ben stokes the only fire of hope for England
Cook has sunk to his lowest point as an English cricket captain but must grasp at some positives that he and his side can move forward with ahead of the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne. His own form, and that of Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior and James Anderson, will troubling his thoughts over his Christmas dinner but the rise of Durham all-rounder Ben Stokes will at least offer him a morsel of hope. Stokes’ defiant 120 in the second innings at the Waca was not only under extreme pressure, but was also the first century scored by an Englishman in this series (Australia do however still lead that particular contest 7-1). England’s problems at number six have dogged them for the past 18 months and Stokes’ impressive display with the bat and useful contribution with the ball will give the England management and squad a big boost. The selection of Stokes and backing him in this series will be a big plus for Cook. He may even feel it fit enough to reward himself with a mouthful of Christmas pudding as well.
A wilting Flower
Andy Flower’s refusal to commit to his England future isn’t anything new. The Zimbabwean has been vague about his future plans ever since altering his role with England to just the Test side and allowing Ashley Giles to oversee the one-day duties. However, England’s poor showing in Australia and the subsequent series defeat in Perth has called into question yet again Flower’s tenure with the side. Issues around the hunger of the side have loomed over column inches and media conferences since Brisbane and the injection of enthusiasm and fresh ideas that England undoubtedly require once this tour is over may well mean Flower stepping aside. The 45-year-old has been in charge since Peter Moore’s short stint came to an end in 2008 and he has been hugely successful. Flower, in partnership with Andrew Strauss and now Cook, has helped England win three Ashes victories, a series win away in India and taken the Test side to number one in the world. Yet now may be the time to introduce someone who will target a return to Australia in five years time and can help blood in the new emerging talent of English cricket. Flower’s short-term approach cannot be the way forward given the backwards step his side have taken in Australia.
It is remarkable to think that prior to the victory in Brisbane, Australia had gone nine Tests without a victory and were winless in 2013. Three crushing triumphs later and Michael Clarke’s side has completed the turnaround and rejuvenated Australian cricket. From David Warner and Brad Haddin to Johnson and Ryan Harris, Australia have excelled in this series and as poorly as England have played, they have been out-fought and out-thought by an increasingly confident home outfit. Michael Clarke has always been a sharp captain and world-class batsmen but the team around him has now taken shape and look confident and hungry – incidentally, two sticks the media have used to beat the English with. They are a long way from their late 90’s/early 00’s peak, but Australia are once again a force in world cricket. Their surge towards a series whitewash should be commended and admired, albeit it through gritted, bitter English teeth.