With Andrew Strauss being dismissed to just the third delivery in the recent Ashes series, England fans could have been forgiven for fearing the worst. Under the guidance of coach Andy Flower and his backroom staff however, England recovered from a poor start in Brisbane to execute their plans superbly and were worthy 3-1 victors.
The 2010/2011 Ashes series will be remembered for the dominance of an excellent English side over their Australian hosts undergoing a transitional process. It was a series full of record-breaking achievements, notably Alastair Cook’s supreme batting and England’s new-found ability to post scores in excess of 500. Most remarkably perhaps, the series marked the first time that any team in Test cricket has won three Tests by an innings in a series away from home. What were the main reasons behind this magnificent English victory?
Following the 2006/7 Ashes whitewash debacle, the Schofield Review was undertaken to pinpoint the reasons behind England’s humiliating defeat. The ECB announced increased funding to improve the national game, and importantly recognised the need for touring sides to acclimatise to local conditions. As such, the England side arrived in Australia almost a month before the first Test match and played three warm-up games, allowing players to improve their form and fitness as well as familiarise themselves to new surroundings.
Strength in depth:
The introductions of Chris Tremlett for the injured Stuart Broad, and Tim Bresnan for the fatigued Steven Finn emphasised the pool of talent that England currently enjoy. Tremlett proved hostile with threatening bounce and relentless accuracy helping him claim 17 wickets in just three Tests, whilst the underrated Bresnan took 11 wickets in two matches at an average of less than 20. When considered alongside James Anderson and the backup options of Ajmal Shahzad and Graham Onions, the England seam attack certainly competes with the world’s best.
Australian captain Ricky Ponting went into the series with a batting average in the mid-fifties and the reputation of being one of the world’s best batsmen. Ponting left the series injured after four matches, with a series average of 16 having become the first Australian captain to have lost the Ashes to an English side on three occasions. The England bowlers suppressed his talent and, in doing so minimised the threat of his team. His authority dwindled throughout the series and his position came increasingly under question.
Alastair Cook scored a sensational 766 runs in the five match series to become the second most successful English batsmen in an Ashes series, behind only Wally Hammond with 905 runs in the 1928/9 series. The English batsmen racked up 500 or more on four occasions on this tour, with two of those totals being over 600; the 644 hit in Sydney was England’s highest ever total in Australia. The sheer pressure of having to bat when encountered by such a deficit caused batsmen to alter their natural game, allowing Strauss to set more attacking fields to Australia’s batsmen.
For years Australian sides have set the standards in fielding. No more. An athletic and agile England side made the Antipodeans appear feeble and half-hearted by comparison. England effected four run outs (notably Trott’s direct hit to dismiss Simon Katich without facing in Adelaide), very few chances were dropped, Matt Prior was near impeccable with 24 catches in the series and the ground-fielding was exceptional. Richard Halsall, the England fielding coach deserves special praise for transforming England into the best fielding unit in world cricket.
On some fairly flat wickets the English seamers performed admirably, limiting the run rate and taking wickets at regular intervals. Notably, an unerring accuracy saw only a few bad balls bowled, maintaining pressure on the opposition batsmen. Australia’s first innings at the SCG was their slowest Test innings since 1999, highlighting the extent to which the English bowlers suffocated the batsmen. Not one of the Australian top four scored a century, the first time that has happened since the 1956/7 series. James Anderson collected 24 wickets in the series, the largest haul by an English quick in Australia since John Snow’s 31 wickets forty years ago.
Although Graeme Swann did not take the wickets that had been predicted of him before the series began, barring the Adelaide Test match, he was not able to bowl on helpful surfaces as the hosts tried to negate his threat. Even when not taking wickets, Swann kept things tight as evidenced by his economy rate of 2.72 throughout the series. By contrast, the indecisive Australians selectors appeared incompetent as they chopped and changed their team with different spin options, calling up Xavier Doherty for the first two Tests, before turning to Steve Smith and finally Michael Beer. English fans may have been surprised by the omission of Nathan Hauritz who enjoyed a successful tour in the 2009 series.
Australian fans immediately jumped on the back of their underperforming side following the drawn Test match in Brisbane and defeat in Adelaide, and this appeared to have been rewarded following a comfortable win and return to form in Perth. After the first Australian innings at Melbourne, which totalled 98 runs, the media were thoroughly disparaging of those wearing the baggy green, to the extent that the side was completely demoralised. By the fifth Test they were being labelled the worst eleven to represent Australia. One might argue that having been so successful in recent years, especially at home, that Australians have forgotten what it is to lose. In stark contrast the Barmy Army provided magnificent support, conjuring up hilarious chants to disparage their opponents as the home support flooded out of grounds whilst England dominated proceedings.
Much has been made of the supposed inadequacy of the Australian side. It is certainly true that the Australians have been weakened following the departures of key players over the past few years and the current side is undergoing a process of transition. But take nothing away from England as they performed superbly. The bowlers adapted to overseas conditions quickly, the batsmen dominated the flagging hosts, and the catching and ground-fielding from England was excellent – who can forget the one-handed Collingwood catch to dismiss Ponting at Perth? Strauss and Flower have openly admitted their desire to oversee England in becoming the best-ranked Test nation, and following this recent performance one would be foolish to bet against them.