Are Australia a better side now than 12-18 months ago?
People have put Australia's Ashes defeat down to many things. personally, I put it down to the fact that the best team won, and that the Aussies were lucky it wasn't 3 or 4-1. Nonetheless, i am renowned for stupidity and another oft heard excuse is that Australia were simply below par - which I don't really consider an excuse to be honest, and I'm sure most Aussies will agree with me. If you're below par, you're not good enough, and it's no use using being rubbish as an excuse. Otherwise, by some twisted logic we could have claimed to be the best team in the world in 1999. Anyway, enough of me chatting nonsense. (No, I'm not hanging up my keyboard)
A couple of weeks back, I had 3 or 4 very quiet days in work, and had exhausted the internet. I ended up coming across last year's Official Ashes thread. I actually got quite a long way into it before workloads picked up again, but nonetheless, everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY thought Australia would win. Most felt they would walk it. There was one guy, who I don't think has been seen since, who kept trumpeting on about how we would win 2-1, and was dismissed as stupid. (Spot the contradiction btw)
To me, it seems that the same is happening this year. Our own are pessimistic, and the Aussies are already planning an open bus parade. Is this lessons not being learnt, or have things changed THAT much in the last 12 months?
I know one thing that's changed is that we have been inconsistent. Bottled it at Multan, woeful in Lahore, good at Nagpur, heroic in Mumbai, boring and dreary twice at Lord's, dominant at Old Trafford and pathetic at Trent Bridge. That obviously contrasts with the build-up to the previous Ashes series where we swept all before us. This time, a win and a defeat to Pakistan counter one another, as to the results against India and Sri Lanka. It's fair to say that is difficult to see where we really stand at this point in time.
On the other side, the Aussies have swept all before them since the Ashes, but let's be honest, the only time they were likely to have any difficulties was in South Africa, but they didn't. Instead, Bangladesh scared them, and no #1 side should ever need their #7 batsman to rescue them against Bangladesh. Nonetheless, the scheduling was stupid. and it's fair to say the Aussies were taken aback by what they were presented with against Bangladesh ; who can blame them, we were all surprised.
My point? It's basically this. The last 12 months have taught us little about either side. Various new players have been blooded into each team, but for better or worse? Jason Gillespie and Mike Kasprowicz were both woeful last summer, yet both have played since, despite the initial hardline stance by the Aussie selectors, post-Ashes. Mike Hussey has come in, and no doubt seems to improve the batting. Is it an overall better package from the Aussies though? I have my doubts, and I think if anything befalls Warne or McGrath then their could be humble pie dished out dramatically.
As for us, well the skipper has played just twice, Flintoff has been sidelined, Simon Jones has not played for England since Trent Bridge (except in a couple of warm-ups in India), Ashley Giles is a long-term casaulty etc etc. Yet are we really in a worse position than we were? Allastair Cook is far from the finished article, but has been full of runs - what else do you want from your batsmen in Test cricket? Strauss has returned to form. Collingwood has imrpoved his Test average by about 30+. Ian Bell looks far more confident, and can't stop making Test centuries. Chris Read has replaced Geraint and is scoring runs. We have a spin bowler who has taken wickets regularly throughout the summer.
Sure, the injuries are a worry - but then again, Glenn McGrath doesn't have much Cricket in his legs, and hasn't put in a world-class performance since Lord's. Sure, we have issues with who will be the fourth seamer - if we pick one, as Anderson may not be fit, and Saj and Plunks don't cut the mustard in many eyes - but then again names like Stuart Clark don't exactly strike fear into the oppositions heart. And some might say that Brett Lee is vastly overrated in Test matches. And NOTHING will delight our batsmen more than seeing Jason Gillespie's name on the teamsheet.
Don't get me wrong, Australia are favourites rightfully. But all this talk of England being embarassed and vastly inferior, it's crazy, crazy, crazy. We've not learnt very much about either side since last year. All the learning will be done this winter. We are 7-2. Worth a tenner if you ask me.