Ashes Review – Australia

For the first time since 1987, and the first time in the playing careers of any member of the Australian team, Australia must now consider a cricketing world in which England are the holders of the Ashes. It was by no means a thrashing, Australia remained competitive in every test, won one of them, and could have won a couple more, but for a team which has not lost a series anywhere outside of the subcontinent for 13 years, a series loss to England is a hard thing to take. The media criticism at home has already begun, the calls for heads to roll will be strong and clear, so how did each individual member of the squad perform in Australia’s most disappointing test series in more than a decade?

Shane Warne – 10
5 tests, 249 runs @ 27.67, 40 wickets @ 19.95

In the history of cricket before this series, only six men had managed the awesome feat of taking 40 wickets in a test series. Terry Alderman was the last man to manage it, and he did it twice. It had happened only four times in Ashes series, and only five times in the last 50 years. Shane Warne is now the seventh man to do it, and the first in 24 years to do it in a losing cause. Warne was at his brilliant best from the start of the series to the end with the ball. He bowled brilliantly on first day flat pitches and on fourth and fifth day turners, an amazing six times in the series he took the first wicket of the innings as the seamers failed to dismiss the England openers, and he ripped through the tail with consummate ease when it was needed as well. Twice in the series, the 9th and 10th times of his career, he took 10 wickets in a test. Three times in the series, he took five wickets in an innings. Along the way, he became the first man ever to take 600 wickets in a test, and passed Dennis Lillee’s record for the most wickets in Ashes series AND the most wickets against any single opposition in tests. As if his exploits with the ball were not enough, Warne also had the best series of his career with the bat. At Edgbaston he threw his wicket away in hideous fashion in the first innings, but in the second made a vital 42 and assisted Australia in almost stealing the match. At Old Trafford he got within 10 runs of a much deserved century and helped Australia avoid the follow on, and then helped save the game with the bat in the second innings, and at Trent Bridge his aggressive innings of 45 helped Australia set up a target… for Warne himself to bowl at. Only once did Warne fail at any task when Australia needed him in the series, and that was when he dropped a simple catch off the bowling of Brett Lee when Kevin Pietersen was on 15 on the final day of the series. Pietersen would go on to save the test for England and win the series, depriving Warne of the right to say that he truly had retained the Ashes for Australia single-handedly.

Justin Langer – 7.5
5 tests, 394 runs @ 43.78

It was, all in all, a good series for Justin Langer. He made a decent contribution with the bat in every test, and was the leading run scorer in the Australian team and the only man in it to pass 50 more than twice. Langer had the honour of being Flintoff’s first contribution to the test series when he fell to him at Lords, and kept Australia in the second test with a valuable 82 against the reverse swing of Flintoff and Jones. When it came to the final test at The Oval and Australia needed a strong batting performance to have a shot at leveling the series, Langer struck a glorious century. His decision to leave for bad light at the end of day 2 of the final test and the dubious honour of being the only Australian batsman to genuinely struggle against Ashley Giles taint his series somewhat, but overall it was an effort worthy of a champion batsman and Langer continues to be one of the world’s best openers.

Glenn McGrath – 7
3 tests, 36 runs @ 36.00, 19 wickets @ 23.16

Glenn McGrath’s series began perfectly. He was given the ball after tea on the first day of the series with Australia in trouble, and proceeded to take five wickets in an incredible spell and in the process set up victory for Australia in the opening test. On a high coming from Lords and part of a winning team, McGrath was then involved in what was perhaps the turning point of the whole series, when he trod on a stray cricket ball whilst warming up at Edgbaston and was ruled out of the test. He returned at Old Trafford with a useful but lacklustre performance, where he was unlucky not to get wickets in his opening spell but then struggled with clear lack of fitness for the remainder of the test. He missed the fourth test as well, and despite a useful performance including two wickets in consecutive balls on the final day of the last test, he was still at less than his brilliant best and Australia suffered for it. Nevertheless, his devotion and value to the team was shown in his desperate attempts to get fit and his devastating spell at Lords, and he cannot be faulted for his injury.

Ricky Ponting – 6.5
5 tests, 359 runs @ 39.89, 1 wicket @ 9.00

The captain was another Australian that mixed some amazing performances with some poor ones in an up-and-down Ashes series. Ponting’s series began when a Harmison bouncer struck him and drew blood, offering one of the most memorable photo opportunities of the series, and despite a half century at Edgbaston and a century in the second last match in the NatWest Challenge, a relatively quiet tour was beginning to weigh upon Ponting and there was significant media pressure on him to perform with the bat. He did exactly that, playing the best innings of the series by any player and possibly the best of his entire career as he almost single-handedly saved the Old Trafford test with a magnificent 156. He achieved a start in every test without often going on with it, passing 35 on five occasions but managing only two half centuries, a very unusual failing for a player renowned for punishing teams that allow him to get settled. Still, he was one of Australia’s better batsmen, and seemed less troubled than most by the reverse swing found by Simon Jones and Andrew Flintoff. Ponting even chipped in with the ball, dismissing his opposite number Michael Vaughan in a surprisingly good spell of medium-pace swing bowling at Trent Bridge.

Michael Clarke – 6.5
5 tests, 335 runs @ 37.22, 0 wickets for 6 runs

Clarke was the third of the Australian batsmen who managed a reasonably successful Ashes series. Prior to the Lords test the youngest of the Australian batsmen was under a significant amount of pressure after some poor showings in recent test outings. He answered the critics at Lords with the highest score in the test, as he struck a blistering 91, with Ashley Giles in particular suffering at the hands of Clarke’s attacking strokeplay and brilliant footwork. Clarke also showed a surprisingly solid technique against the pace, bounce and swing of the express English seamers and managed many starts, falling in single figures just once in the series, and failing to reach 30 just three times. The main remaining question-mark over Clarke’s batting is his shot selection, which may go some way to explain his poor conversion of starts into high scores. Even in his most subdued innings of the series where he scored 56 off 170 balls at Trent Bridge, after doing the hard work he swung at a wide ball in the final minutes before a lunch break and was caught behind. Unfortunately, a back injury hampered Clarke’s role in the third test, and prevented him from any significant role with his much-fancied finger spinners throughout the series. Still, the signs were good for Clarke, and he no doubt left a lasting impression on the English crowds and players alike.

Brett Lee – 5.5
5 tests, 158 runs @ 26.33, 20 wickets @ 41.10

It was not, on paper, a very successful series for Brett Lee. Returning to the test side after 18 months on the outer, he started well but his series average rose after each test, as he finished disappointingly with his worst bowling effort of the series at The Oval. The figures alone do not tell the full story for Lee, as he impressed many with his determination and skill with both bat and ball, and fought as hard as any Australian to try and avoid a series loss. The slightly uneven Lords pitch suited his short and aggressive bowling perfectly, and five wickets for the test announced his return to test cricket and assisted Australia in recording an impressive victory. The first innings at Edgbaston was a return to the unsuccessful days of two years ago for Lee, as he conceded over 100 runs in just 17 overs, but the Australian speedster bounced back with an impressive second innings spell. He did the same at Trent Bridge after a poor first innings, and in the process almost saw Australia to an amazing win by taking three wickets in quick succession to have England wobbling chasing a small total. The other impressive part of Lee’s efforts throughout the series came with the bat, where he was instrumental for Australia on several occasions. At Edgbaston he survived repeated blows on the hands and body and some quick and lethal reverse swing bowling to score an unbeaten 43 and take Australia agonizingly close to a victory. At Trent Bridge he made an impact with the bat again as he smashed an exhilarating 47 in a hopeless attempt to see Australia past the follow-on mark. It was not a great series for Lee by any means, but his impact on proceedings cannot be underestimated, and there is still hope for the beleaguered Australian faithful that he will be able to convert the odd good spell and heroic determination that he showed throughout the series into consistent success at the top level.

Simon Katich – 4.5
5 tests, 248 runs @ 27.56, 1 wicket @ 50.00

Simon Katich showed some class in several impressive innings, but overall it was a disappointing and worrying series for Australia’s on-again, off-again number six. An excellent 67 in the second innings of the opening test whilst batting with the tail began Katich’s series, and after disappointing performances in the 2nd and 3rd tests and struggles with reverse swing and shot selection he settled in for some vital runs at Trent Bridge as well, managing a 45 and then a determined half-century before being denied a chance at a large score by a terrible LBW decision. In between though, Andrew Flintoff caused him significant problems coming around the wicket and dismissed him multiple times, and Katich also threw his wicket away chasing wide deliveries when struggling to score more than once. He was used on several occasions with the ball by Ponting with little success, but took the wicket of Michael Vaughan at one point, and took some excellent catches as a specialist close fielder when Shane Warne was bowling. Still, as the dust settles on the series, Katich may be the most unsure of all the batsmen about his place in the side when the first test side of the Australian summer is announced.

Shaun Tait – 4.5
2 tests, 8 runs @ 8.00, 5 wickets @ 42.00

Shaun Tait was never meant to play a test in this Ashes series. Just 22 years of age and with just one full Pura Cup season under his belt, the South Australian express bowler was brought along on the tour primarily for experience and perhaps to play the odd tour match, but was called up at Trent Bridge with the series in the balance due to the poor form of Jason Gillespie and the injury to Glenn McGrath. His 65 wickets in the last domestic season are the second most ever in an Australian summer, and he came on tour with a great deal of praise from all quarters but struggled somewhat to live up to it. In the two tests that he played, he bowled some spells that were simply all over the place, containing a mixture of wide bouncers, full tosses, deliveries well down the leg side and half volleys. Occasionally though, he showed some of the talent he used to dominate for South Australia. His second spell in test cricket included the wicket of Marcus Trescothick with a brutal inswinging yorker, and straight afterwards he dismissed Ian Bell with an outswinger and seemed born for test cricket. By his third spell though he was back to his wayward self and didn’t get close to a wicket. This was the pattern he followed in the final test as well, leading Ricky Ponting to avoid handing him the ball at key points in the game, but Tait still stood up and dismissed Paul Collingwood with a reverse-swinging yorker and then bowled Geraint Jones in the second innings to keep the game alive. In the end, he did enough that he should play more test cricket in the near future, and could not be wholly disappointed with his brief efforts.

Matthew Hayden – 4
5 tests, 318 runs @ 35.33

Things didn’t finish up too badly for Matthew Hayden. By the end of the series, he averaged an acceptable 35, had a century under his belt, had achieved the rare feat of 10 catches in a series for a non-wicket keeper, and seemed to have conquered a few of his problems against the swing bowling that was once his forte but had become his biggest weakness. The first four tests of the series were some of the worst moments of Hayden’s career however, as he struggled mightily with the bat, seemingly doing everything he possibly could to succeed, and nevertheless being undone by the English bowlers in the end. The first test for Hayden epitomised his series. In the first innings he looked totally out of his depth against Hoggard’s inswingers, and as soon as one was pitched in the right spot it roared through the gate and bowled him. In the second innings he fought hard for an innings of 30+, seemed to be away and heading for a good score, and then dragged one on and was gone. In all he passed 30 four times in his first six innings without a 50, and added another 25 at Trent Bridge. With the media back in Australia howling for his replacement by Mike Hussey, Phil Jaques or even Simon Katich at the top of the order, he came out at The Oval and played a tough, dour innings, fighting his way to a century that took him more than a day of rain-interrupted batting, and eventually facing over 300 balls before falling for 138. It was a wonderful innings against the odds, and probably saved his career for a time. However, the problems seen earlier in the series for Hayden will linger in his mind, and it is a huge test of his character and skills as a player for him to bounce back and make his once indisputable place in the squad a no-brainer once more.

Damien Martyn – 3.5
5 tests, 178 runs @ 19.78

It is hard to say if Martyn’s was the most disappointing performance of all by an Australian in the series, because there is plenty of competition, but it certainly came as a shock to most. Martyn’s 2004 was stellar and career defining. Two tours in the subcontinent yielded four centuries, a man of the series award, a career average in excess of 50 and some red faces for those who claimed he was a poor player of spin. Once he was back at home his form continued, and Martyn soared alongside Langer, Ponting and Gilchrist as the most feared batsmen in the Australian lineup. This Ashes series was a shocker from the end of the first test to the finish, and he has gone from the toast of the selectors to one of the names being pushed in the media to make way for an injection of youth in the side. Martyn suffered his share of confidence-shattering bad luck in the series, but some terrible shots and indifferent play was evident as well. At Lords, Martyn helped Australia set an imposing target with a valuable half-century and a big partnership with Michael Clarke, but for the rest of the series he never got close to another 50. Sawn-off at both Old Trafford and Trent Bridge as the umpires missed big inside-edges on to his pad, he nevertheless never looked like making runs. Martyn’s series was summed up when he played an astonishing half-pull against Flintoff at The Oval on the fourth morning and lobbed the ball up to Collingwood for an easy catch, out for 10 and ending the series with an average under 20 for the first time in his career.

Adam Gilchrist – 3
5 tests, 181 runs @ 22.63, 17 catches, 1 stumping

Gilchrist arrived in England with three centuries and a fifty under his belt in four tests so far in the calendar year, ready to do as he had in 2001 and 2002 and put England to the sword. Andrew Flintoff had other ideas however, and the “Gilchrist vs Flintoff” battle was a constant source of discussion and entertainment for the fans throughout the series. Only a couple of times did Gilchrist get away from Flintoff, and when he did he could never quite manage a good score. Only his unbeaten 49 batting with the tail at Edgbaston could be termed a success, and it was not a typical Gilchrist innings, but much more reserved and full of careful concentration. Flintoff’s excellent bowling around the wicket forced Gilchrist to go into his shell or risk dismissal, and simply by nullifying Gilchrist’s play Flintoff struck a huge blow against a team that has relied so heavily on him over the years. In the end, Flintoff dismissed Gilchrist four times out of six to start the series, before he then fell LBW to Matthew Hoggard twice, completing his worst series since India toured Australia in 2003/04. With the gloves he was good as usual at the beginning and end of the series, but at times his struggles with the bat seemed to impact on his glovework as well, culminating in several missed chances at Trent Bridge. He redeemed himself behind the stumps at The Oval with a brilliant catch off the bowling of McGrath on the final day, but overall his series could be termed nothing but a failure, and a significant factor in Australia’s series loss.

Michael Kasprowicz – 3
2 tests, 44 runs @ 11.00, 4 wickets @ 62.50

There was one highlight in the series for Michael Kasprowicz, which came with the bat as he added 59 with Brett Lee to almost win the game at Edgbaston. With the ball, aside from one useful spell in that same test where he took two wickets in quick succession and three for the innings, he was extremely disappointing. It was especially evident at Trent Bridge that the Queensland seamer was terribly out of form, lacking control and variation as the England batsmen easily adjusted to his gentle-paced leg cutters and sent him to all corners of the ground. He was dropped for the final test and is, along with Gillespie, in severe danger of permanently losing his claim on a spot in the minds of the Australian selectors.

Jason Gillespie – 1
3 tests, 47 runs @ 7.83, 3 wickets @ 100.00

Gillespie’s series was the worst of his career, about that there can be no question. It began with an average effort against a decimated England order on a helpful pitch at Lords, and ended with embarrassment, with Ricky Ponting afraid to bowl him at Old Trafford as Gillespie could neither take wickets nor keep the runs down. His best performance was a disappointing 2 for 91 at Edgbaston when he was forced to lead the attack with Kasprowicz, and it earned him the right for one final test despite massive media pressure for his dismissal from the team. His 114 runs off 19 overs in the first innings at Old Trafford and just 4 overs for 23 in the second spelled definitively the end of his series and, quite possibly, his career. With the bat he was as usual extremely useful and played an important role with Shane Warne in avoiding the follow on in the third test. However, even in the field he was a shadow of his former self and left Australian fans wondering where the man who ripped India apart in 2004 and dominated Marcus Trescothick in 2002 had gone.

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