January 14, 2018
After the seemingly unexpected first test drubbing by 10 wickets; James Anderson and Chris Woakes rallied together and ran through the formidable Aussie line-up to dismantle them for a paltry 138 in the second innings of the second test. And the Ashes was breathing again.
But, as a stern and ardent fan of this age-old rivalry, we witnessed this as the only moment when there was nearness, off-the-seat thrill, and set-up of a fightback. 354 looked like a tough trek to climb, but given the liveliness of the English with the ball, and charging Barmy Army urging them through, we knew anything could happen. Joe Root and Dawid Malan combined together to forge a rock-solid partnership after a few opening jitters. But, that was that. Once this partnership broke-up, there was nothing of substance left. And England bundled out for 233, handing the hosts a comfortable 120-run victory. And the hopes of a triumph in the series were all but gone.
Next 3 tests were all about how England could avoid further humiliation. They did manage to put a strong performance in the 4th test to pull out a draw, which they would look pleasingly as the whitewash-savior. But in all, an unwavering Aussie side, and under-watch Smith wrapped up the decisive test in SCG and complete a 4-0 rout. This was the moment of celebration for Australia, but more than that, it was England who was relieved that it ended at last. Of course, the talk through the last test was the illness to stricken English captain, Joe Root, and how we came out to bat to put a single-handed fight, the result was inevitable.
Performances – Dismay for England, Rejuvenation for Aussies
With Ben Stokes out from the series, England were already depleted of a star performer. And the onus on Moeen Ali to fill-in his spot vigorously resulted in a debacle, even so bad, that Moeen was at the worst performance level not only from his outstanding career point of view but also of the entire team. Joe Root could be termed as the only shining grace (only from batting perspective). James Anderson was the leading wicket-taker for the English, but even then he seemed non-threatening entirely. And for other players, they were just filling in the spots with occasional bursts.
Aussies, on the other hand, culminated a string of performances worthy of Cricket-Oscars, most notably the marathon-esque class and run-show from their leader at front. Smith notched up 687 runs and was unarguably the Man of the Series. With over 300 runs more than the highest scorer of England, you could assess how dominant and fluent he was throughout. The Marsh brothers – ever-evolving Mitchell, and not-so-consistent Shaun also put their hands up and add to the hammering of the English attack. The fact that Cummins played throughout the series without sustaining any injury underlines how strategic and meticulous the Aussies were in their plan and implementation. Combined with Hazlewood and the dangerous Starc, along with cunning Lyon, there were never immense moments when England batting line-up threatened them at all.
A Disappointment, Let-Down, Agony for Test Cricket
The Ashes was coming at a time, when there was a heated discussion about the future of test cricket and how new implementations like 4-day matches and day-night affairs could be the only savior for the zenith of cricket formats. Many had pinned their hopes on this series to revive the story, bring alive the class that had been witnessed only at a few occasion, most famously in the 2005 Ashes series.
After the series had been concluded, all a cricket-lover and diplomat could mutter was – Disappointment. This was a series where every test went on the fifth day, first time after the 1994-95 Ashes, yet was a big let-down in the face of Cricket. It was a lopsided series.
Although the English squad was inexperienced and were coming to a fiery Aussie summer, this was not the gentle, often-passive English squad of earlier times. The transformation of England in the past few years have seen emerging belligerence, players who knew how to take back the fight, who knew how to match wits with wits, charge with charge, intent with intent, doggedness with doggedness. This was reason enough for many to put their money on Joe and party.
Not a majority expected England to win, yet they wanted, or I would say, believed, that there will be resistance, there will be determined, and a series which would be closely fought. There were some encouraging performances, but none in the combined manner. And it all summed up what has been a real disappointment.