As much as I try to block the winter of 2006/07 out of my mind, brutal memories of the England team being swept aside by a fantastic Australian team will always be there, ready to haunt me when I am vulnerable.
These last four days, though, the memories have been more prominent than ever. See, in general I remember the last Ashes series, and I just think, “five-nil, grim, epic fail,” or some other generic thoughts of doom. But as I watch my team fall to pieces, it’s all a lot more vivid.
The thing about 2006/07 was that England were not totally crushed from the first ball until the last throughout the series. That would have actually been preferable to the way we performed. The big problem England had throughout that series was that whenever a session went the right way, it wasn’t capitalised upon in the following one. If we batted well in an innings, we would invariaribly bowl poorly. If we ever looked like we were going to have Australia on the ropes, we wouldn’t go in for the kill. I remember jumping round my office as Monty took five wickets in Perth, only for England to go and post a lower first innings total. and that was that, as Adam Gilchrist destroyed the England attack in the second innings.
You can find such instances repeatedly over those five Tests, but enough of the history lesson. The point is that if you look at this Test so far, England have been dominated, yet it need not have been that way.
At the end of the first day, it was probably 2-1 to Australia in terms of sessions, but they had only just shaded the final session, when they dismissed Flintoff and Prior late on. This is key. Had England opened up with those two batsmen the next day, we might well be looking at a different contest altogether.
But in the match’s fourth session, the England lower-order posted 99 runs, which should really have had their tails up as they came out to bowl. England had won the first session and posted a good total. It was time to make it count. To go in for the kill…
I don’t need to remind you about the partnership Ponting and Katich put on, so I won’t. But I’ll fast forward to Friday’s morning session, and once again it was a great session for England. Three much needed wickets, and there was the chance to still emerge from the first innings with a lead. The momentum was with England and..and..and – what did Australia wind up posting? Something like 3000-6 I think.
Australia really have batted brilliantly here, and the ball that got Prior back in the first innings in particular was a good one. But at each point in the match where England had momentum and looked like making a contest of it, they just fizzled away, said, “here you go Australia, you take the initiative and run with it.”
All sorts of pessimism is flying around in the wake of the first four days of these Ashes. England might yet not lose this match. But if we are to see the urn back in English hands this summer, then the players need to remember that winning one session isn’t enough. When you have momentum, use it. Win days, not sessions. Starting with today, please.