An eventual score line of 3-2 in a five test series often points to a closely fought series. And when associated with The Ashes, the scoreline would romanticize any cricket enthusiast’s vision with memories of Bradman led Australia’s miraculous coming from behind victory in 1936.
However, marking a decade of arguably the best Ashes ever, The Investec Ashes 2015 was anything but hardly fought. This Ashes, which saw only 18 days of cricketing action, was a case of one of the teams simply not turning up in each of the five test matches. The Aussies failed to turn up one time less than the English and hence had to give up the ownership of the urn until the next Ashes.
Both the teams had contrasting build up to The Ashes. While England’s only success in the four series since the 2013 Ashes drubbing came against the visiting Indians last summer, Australia’s juggernaut was halted only by Pakistan in UAE, after which it rolled on to even bag the ODI World Cup. Clarke looked fresh and confident after retiring from limited overs. Cook’s captaincy hovered over the axe.
Besides, the tragic demise of Phil Hughes had ensured that there won’t be repeats of ‘Get ready for a broken arm’ by any of the two sides. But fortunes for both the men in charge swung wildly like the Duke did at Trent Bridge and within a span of 45 days, Clarke’s plan of extending his test career had been cut short and Cook laid his hands on the Ashes for the second time.
If losing Ryan Harris even before the first ball was bowled was a big blow to the Aussie campaign, they hadn’t anticipated the bigger blow that was waiting for them under the garb of the baby face of Joe Root. They ran first into him after reducing England to 43/3 on the first morning and kept running into him ever since. And by the time they could find any success against Root, England had taken the lead in the five match series. Australia’s resurgence in Lords’ was led by some superlative performances by Smith and Rogers.
However, three innings later Australia’s Lords performance would appear light years away as Smith and Co. would keep succumbing to some inspired bowling performances by Anderson, Finn and Broad. The Ashes was, thus, surrendered. But in a fortnight, the champions would put up such a lackadaisical show that would leave the spectators wondering what if it was a 6-match Ashes. Such was the Investec Ashes of 2015.
The comprehensive innings defeat, although in a dead rubber, laid bare the fact that England’s 2015 Ashes success was built around Anderson’s 6/47 at Edgbaston and Broad’s 8/15 at Trent Bridge. The two phenomenal spells not only single handedly sealed the deal for England in the two test matches but even papered over their batting woes. Adam Lyth miserably failed to give a steady start in all of the five tests and could well fall out of favor despite being part of a triumphant campaign.
Captain Cook too wasn’t at his run machine best and an Ashes century in England continues to elude him. Buttler, flawless with the gloves, didn’t make any impression with the bat. Bell, too, was nowhere close to the Ian Bell of 2013 Ashes, although his twin fifties at Edgbaston were crucial to set up an English victory.
Australia’s bubble burst with the Ashes defeat, revealing their ascent in the past few years to be merely a false dawn. If Australian batting line up went AWOL after Lord’s, their bowling attack, barring Starc, too blew hot and cold like its spearhead Johnson. But one can’t overlook the fact that, more often than not, they had to bowl with their backs against the wall.
The batting lineup is expected to see a major overhaul in coming times with Rogers and Clarke retiring, and Watson, Haddin and Voges not expected to return to the fold after the Ashes debacle. Steve Smith will get some time to experiment with combinations as they visit Bangladesh next before returning to serious business by hosting the Kiwis in November.
England, however, will have their task cut out as they head to UAE after a month’s break. Pakistan will prove to be a tricky host in their fortress but the Ashes victory might just be the shot in the arm Cook’s men needed. Despite it not being a convincing triumph, England had their share of positives from the series. The advent of Root 2.0, whose strike rate has constantly fiddled with the 70 mark in recent times, has silenced all calls for the return of Pietersen.
Cook has found in Ben Stokes the all-rounder England had been waiting for to fill in Freddie Flintoff’s big shoes. Moeen Ali, with 12 scalps in the series, once again proved his value as an all rounder, though he is still miles away to be England’s number one spinner in five day cricket and it will be interesting to see his role on the turning tracks of UAE. The biggest positive, though, would be Cook’s captaincy getting another lease of life, which would also relieve Cook, the batsman.
In all, Ashes 2015 will be remembered for some brilliant individual performances from the likes of Root, Smith, Finn, Broad and Anderson but hardly for any scintillating cricket. Clarke, at 34, could have chosen to prolong his career by giving up captaincy but he since his debut in 2004 he had shown that he was never of that ilk.
Smith, the successor, will have his hands full, both as batsman and skipper, as leading a team going through transition can test the best. Lastly, England’s winning back the Ashes was in line with the current scenario of teams being lions at home and lambs away and not a lot should be read into it unless they can prevail over Pakistan in UAE.
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