Monday, November 29, 2010
England did not save the first Ashes Test, they failed to win it
England have become quite good at escaping from Tests with a draw in the past two years but this time it was their batsmen who did the hard work. Monty Panesar was just carrying the drinks; Graham Onions isn't even in Australia.
By passing 500 for the loss of one wicket, which has only happened six times and never to England, Andrew Strauss's team (or rather the top three) showed how toothless Australia's bowling is and how flat the pitch was. Why couldn't they bat like this first time out? I watched the first two sessions on Day 1 and Australia's bowling was pretty tame. Peter Siddle found inspiration for a spell after tea but that was all.
An Australian friend, my co-author Peter McGuinness, emailed to express his disappointment. "Many Poms are acting stupidly triumphant but this is a Test they should have won," he wrote. "This match was saved not by England's batsmen but by the out-of-character good-length bowling by Siddle in your first innings."
He goes on to add that while Australia conceding 500 for the loss of one is demoralising for Aussies, so it should be for Poms that England could not capitalise on having Australia 180 for five in the first innings or do much in the brief second innings save lower Simon Katich's already poor Ashes average to 33.
"This was a genuine shitty old draw not a moral win for England like at Cardiff," he wrote, and he is right. But five shitty draws mean that England retain the Ashes. Still, I think our bowlers are rather better than they showed in Brisbane. Hopefully with their nerves gone, they will be better in the rest of the series, especially if the batsmen can continue to score easy runs.
One final point: Alastair Cook has taken an immense amount of flak from the British media over the past six months. Some, like Mike Atherton in my paper, have even argued that he should have been dropped a year ago and wasn't worth the air fare to Australia.
There was some basis for this because he had looked very ropey all summer and, until the Oval Test, was scoring as many single-figure scores as Australia's hot-or-frozen batsman Marcus North.
But consider this: in the 12 months before the Brisbane Test, England's batsmen had made 13 Test hundreds. Four of them were by Cook, three of them overseas. Now he has a fourth in 12 months, a Test double hundred no less and the highest score made by an England batsman since Cook's mentor Graham Gooch made 333. If Cook doesn't deserve his place, we must have a fabulous batting line-up....