The war has concluded then. A bloody war. One where skill, courage, pride and nobility all came to the fore. To show the reason why soccer, for all it's popularity, isn't a patch on this Great Game. First things first. A word of praise for the English team, which after a tortuous journey through the dark 1990s now stares greatness in the face. England are now, without doubt, the best side in the world. Far from the whingeing, boring Poms I had grown up watching and hating. Almost Australian in their methods, agressive and confident. A little work needs to be done still, however. Australia in their prime would never have allowed their opponents a whiff. Clearly, seeing as we did that all the matches went down to the wire, England still need to become as ruthless as Waugh's men were. As a footnote to the story, it is now obvious that the Aus v/s the ROW, which was meant to be a battle between the best side in the world and the best from the Rest of the World will now have an almost empty ring to it. Fate has its funny ways sometimes.
Now on to Australia. I wouldn't like to be in Punter's shoes today, I really wouldn't. The first Australian captain to lose to the Poms in 16 years. That is not a label one would wear proudly. For all the excellent cricket played by England, one cannot help but feel that Punter clearly lacked the tactical nous to counter Vaughan. And I am not even speaking of the colossal blunder in putting England in on a nice pitch at Edgbaston. It was that decision, more than anything else, that altered the momentum of the series, and Australia went from dominating the first test to playing catch-up for the rest of the series.
I am highly tempted, in this post, to do a quick review of the performance of each of the Australian players.
1) Hayden: Fought very hard at the Oval to bring up a classic test match hundred. IMHO, should be persisted with, if for no reason other than the availability of a viable replacement
2) Langer: Played quite well I thought, and exceptionally well at the Oval
3)Ponting: Disappointing series overall bar the magnificent hand at Manchester. Indifferent captaincy.
4) Martyn: Started off looking in good touch, but was hard done by some indifferent umpiring, and then just seemed to lose his confidence. Is another player whose place in the side is being questioned, but too premature and stupid in my opinion. Classy player and must be in the side.
5) Clarke: The Pup got a few good starts but seemed to fritter them away far too often. To be fair to him, he is only in his second year of international test cricket and will definitely improve. Tall, Languid and graceful, to me, he is the new Mark Waugh.
6)Katich: Have never been a great fan of his, and I thought he let up too many technical deficiencies come through. Again a couple of bad decisions went against him. He's only 29 though and I'd keep him.
7) Voldemort, or as He is commonly known, Gilchrist: His failure in the series is the single most important reason for Australia's collective failure. Often, the cracks in the top order batting have been papered over by the brilliance of this one man, but unfortunately for the Aussies not this time. Anyone who knows his cricket will not fail to see the similarities between this and the circumstances of the fall of the West Indian Empire. For the uninformed, Dujon's batting went first, and we are talking about someone, who, although not as destructive as Gilchrist, had been good enough to average over 50 for a fair length of time. Is this history repeating itself? Only time will tell.
8) The GOD, Shane Warne: 5 matches, 40 wickets, 4 heartbreaks. It is a testimony to how well th English have played that 40 wickets from their old nemesis has not mattered to the final result of the series. I have gone on and on about Shane in my earlier posts, and I shall try not to get carried away here, but seriously, such mastery! The way I see it, Shane is a great leg spinner in terms of skill and talent, but no cricketer I have seen in my entire life has his brains and his self belief. Unfortunately his dream of going through an entire career remaining undefeated in the Ashes has collapsed, and ironically, for all the sweat and tears he has given this series, with bat and ball, the simple chance he missed off KP might well have been the most serious influence he has ever had on the result of a test series, in all his 14 years of international cricket.
9)Brett Lee: Has come of age. Will need to carry a Mcgrath less attack on his broad shoulders and big heart, in the not so distant future. If I were Ponting I would see an essential role for Lee as a bowling all rounder. He has the batting talent, he just needs the desire to succeed as a genuine allrounder and I believe he can make the grade. He will need to, considering the dearth of talent that supposedly exists in Australian domestic cricket at the moment. Will be remembered for arguably the two most poignant moments of the series: disconsolate, on his haunches, with Freddie having a consoling word or two to say and then at Trent Bridge, knocking Freddie over with a jaffa.
10) Mcgrath: Did brilliantly well in the first match, but after his freak accident, seemed to lack any penetration in the remaining matches he played. He did well enough though, and like Warne, it should be left completely up to him to decide on his future. I would hope earnestly though, that he does not decide to give up on the game until a worthy succesor has been identified and mentored.
11) Kasper and Dizzy: I don't know which one of them was more disappointing, but I'd probably plump for Dizzy, simply because expectations from him were much higher. His failure to find 'it' meant the Australian attack lacked the ability to maintain pressure for sustained periods, once Mcgrath and Warne were done. Beautifully though Lee bowled, he does tend to bleed a bit, as against dizzy in full flow, who can almost match Lee for agression and Mcgrath for accuracy. There have been calls for Dizzy's head, and this is projected to be the end of the road for him. He's only 30 though, and I would definitely take my time and give him a series or two before making that judgement. Anyone can have a bad series. And if the 'form is temporary, class is permanent' adage applies to batters, then why not to bowlers? Kasper is too old though, and anyway, he was never more than a utility cricketer, he must go.
12) Finally, Tait: Did alright. I can't forget his stupidity(although he might be excused and forgiven, considering it was his first match) in walking across the stumps in the second innings at Trent Bridge and getting knocked over. All he had to try and do was to stick around and they might have just been able to get the extra 20-30 runs that might have made all the difference.
So where do the two teams go from here? England will continue her quest for greatness, and with tours to the subcontinent not so far away, they will have the opportunity to play exciting cricket and show that they are a team for all conditions. In India, I would definitely mark Freddie and Jones as major factors. As for Australia, the decline has begun. It is upto the powers that be to make sure that this decline is slow enough to allow new talent to take over and take the team back to the top. Hopefully Australian cricket won't go the West Indian way. Bloody shame it would be, if it did.