Revenge is sweet

Where did it go so badly wrong for England that they lost the 2006-07 Ashes series five-nil, making Ponting’s men only the second team in Ashes history to win a series so emphatically?

Was it lack of preparation? Was it complacency in thinking that the aging Aussies were past it? Was it poor team selection? Was it letting bowling coach Troy Cooley out of their clutches? Was it the captain you had to have because the real captain was injured? Was it not being able to clinch critical windows of opportunity in the first three Test matches?

Was the collective England team’s headspace still riding round Trafalgar Square on a double decker bus?

It was all of these, and none of these. It wasn’t really a question of England losing this series, it was more about the Australians winning it.

It was the depth of feeling for the Baggy Green cap which pushed the Aussies into producing the best team effort I have ever seen in an Ashes series.

You have to be an Australian to realise the depth of feeling our cricketers have for their beloved Baggy Green cap, that most essential article in an Australian cricketer’s kit. It draws together that fighting Australian quality into something tangible

Perhaps it was the sting of losing the Ashes in 2005 that galvanised the Australian team into action. While there were calls for Ponting to be removed as Australian captain, this did not happen. Instead, a wide-ranging review occurred. This was not a witch-hunt but rather a review which heard from current and past players as well as the coach. A number of recommendations were implemented by Cricket Australia.

One of the most important things to arise from the 2005 Ashes defeat was a change in mindset by the Australians. They no longer took for granted their top team status. They used the Champions Trophy to fine-tune their game, believing that top level ODI cricket was good for getting your top players match fit, and also to get into the winning mindset

There were a number of personal milestones that everyone in the team wanted to achieve. Shane Warne was moving towards 700 wickets, and Glenn McGrath and Adam Gilchrist were sick of hearing of how this team was ‘past their best’. Justin Langer, who nearly retired after being felled by a Makhaya Ntini bouncer in his 100th Test earlier in the year, decided it was his duty to don the Baggy Green for one more series to regain the Ashes.

From the First Test Australia started the way they meant to continue, creating a gulf so wide between the execution of their plans and that of the English team that it was embarrassing. England appeared nowhere near the intensity needed, and the Aussies pounced. They did not take their collective boots off England’s throats for the next Test either, and by then the psychological damage was done.

There were times when things did not go to plan for the Aussies, such as Shane Watson’s injury and consequent lack of availability. Michael Clarke came in and dug deep and played several brilliant and timely innings. Symonds came in to replace the vanishing Damien Martyn and played Test cricket better than he has ever done before. His joy at being given another chance to wear the Baggy Green cap was evident. Then there was Gilchrist. His century in 57 balls in the Third Test was nothing short of cricket’s version of a work of art. When he got his century his pride was palpable.

Every team member played their part. Michael Hussey provided the middle order stability which had been missing from the previous Ashes campaign. He finished the series with a batting average over 90. Then there was Stuart Clark, the man who wasn’t a certainty to start the series, and who finished it with the certainty that he will be one of the spearheads of the Australian attack for many years to come.

It was Justin Langer, the most emotional and verbal of the retiring Aussie trio when asked to give his thoughts on what it had meant to him to play for Australia who summed it up so well With a wavering voice he commented what an honour it had been to wear his Baggy Green and how much he would miss playing for Australia.

It was evident in the joy and sadness at the conclusion of the Fifth Test when Justin Langer and Matthew Hayden ran down the pitch and clutched each other in tears, embracing each other for a job well done for the very last time. Their partnership was the most successful opening partnership for Australia ever. It was also evident in the respectful hugs and handshakes between each of the team members that day.

It was a privilege to share the last day of three of the best cricketers Australia has produced in the last 20 years with 40,000 of my closest friends at the beautiful SCG. A perfect Sydney sky, a win, and that feeling that you have been part of something really special.

For an Aussie cricket fan it doesn’t get much better than this.

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