Australia vs England | Friday 03 January - Tuesday 07 January | SCG, Sydney | 01:30
On a torrid tour of Australia, for once England had the upper hand in Test match. With a lead of 51 after batting first (the leg bye off of the second ball being the first time England had held any lead all series), the English conspired to lose it all with two truly horrible days of cricket. First they slumped to 179 all out on a decent track, some very poor strokeplay contributing to their demise. Then the attack was punished all over the ground in Australia’s chase of 231, which the hosts reached only two wickets down. Missed chances in the field and slumped shoulders all point to the general state of misery that surrounds England, Alastair Cook’s dire look the perfect representation of the tour that the side has had.
The Aussies really could not have asked for a better Ashes series. Losing 3-0 in England during a time when they had just sacked their coach, few would’ve thought they could bounce back this emphatically. It took guts and determination, but also hard lessons. They tinkered with the side while in England, but have not made one change so far this series. They used England to find the correct combination, and as such have pushed the advantage home ruthlessly. Whether this will be an Australian side that aims for the same consistency in selection that has brought the Proteas success remains to be seen. By all indications from bowling coach Craig McDermott, that is exactly the goal. He wants bowlers such as Ryan Harris to make it through a five-match Test series comfortably, all-rounders such as Shane Watson to not necessitate replacement. Although these two are still in doubt for Sydney due to the quick turnaround between matches, it is clear that Australia want to close off this Ashes series with the same side with which they began. Team unity has led to this overwhelming Ashes success and the Aussies still have some time before the side goes stale.
Staring down the barrel of a 5-0 whitewash, heads are being called for in the England camp. No-one is immune, from the players to the coaches, selectors, backroom staff and county administrators. Captain Alastair Cook and coach Andy Flower have both reiterated their commitment to their jobs, making resignations unlikely. There’s no point in playing the blame game. Often cricket is much the same as life; there are good patches, there are bad patches and things usually work in a cyclical nature. Change can be a good thing, igniting forgotten passion into what has become drudgery. There will be changes rung in this England side, for Sydney and beyond, that is sure. But they must be for the betterment of what England already possess; record-breaking players with plenty more opportunities for true greatness.
However, those players are tired, worn out from a gruelling schedule coupled with extreme Australian aggression. Trott bowed out from the mental strain of the game early on in the tour, his brain likely fit to burst from the pressure, manifest in a bizarre reluctance to face up to bowling he had tamed in times past. Graeme Swann jumped the sinking ship into early retirement. Those that remain are all in frightful form and have been thoroughly embarrassed by a consummate Australian team effort, one that was built on the back of experimentation and change in the Ashes series prior. It is time for England to undergo that very same process.
Sydney was once thought to be quite the rank turner, but since the days of Shane Warne the pitch has tended to assist the seamers and get better for batting as the day wears on. While there is still turn to be had on the closing days, it is unlikely that it will force sides to consider two frontline spinners. In the last twenty Tests at the SCG, spanning from 1996 until now, Australia have won sixteen of them, losing three and drawing once. Two of those losses came to England, most recently in 2011. The Test is expected to stay dry.
BEST: Man of the Match, Mitchell Johnson 6/1
He’s already collected three MoM awards this series and on an SCG wicket that is likely to assist him, mean Mitch Johnson could be devastating once again. England have still not worked out how to properly play him and he’ll be fired up following his exchange with Kevin Pietersen in the last match. Definitely worth a punt.
VERDICT: Australia 6/10
The Aussies have something special going on at the moment, and England look one of the least likely teams to stop it. How long this Australian streak lasts remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, the tour to South Africa in February will be the real test for this new group of Australians. How they handle that will be their real measure.
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