Just one week ago almost every cricket writer under the sun was predicting an Australian Ashes victory. England’s young erratic team couldn’t even beat a poor West Indies outfit, so how were they supposed to defeat a side that whitewashed them 18 months ago?
After watching the Aussies pummel the same Windies team with a combination of aggressive batting and truly fearsome fast bowling, I feared for England batsmen’s lives let alone their Ashes hopes.
By James Morgan – Lead Cricket Writer – @thefulltoss
Once again, however, cricket has made a mockery of predictions. There’s still a long way to go in the Ashes, of course, but England’s victory at Cardiff was so ruthless, and so decisive, that most objective observers now fancy England to win back the famous urn. It’s quite the turnaround.
Having said that, there was a small collection of bullish England fans and ex-pros that actually saw England’s win coming. I have to admit I wasn’t one of them – being an England cricket fan for 30 years I’m programmed to fear the worst – but these dissenting voices got it spot on.
Perhaps the most prominent proponent of Australia’s impending doom was Yorkshire’s Aussie coach Jason Gillespie, who labelled his countrymen ‘Dad’s Army’. Dizzy, as he’s affectionately known, belied his nickname and gave an astute, clear-headed projection. England certainly looked the more athletic and energetic team in Cardiff.
Although Australia will probably fight back ferociously in the second test at Lord’s, quite a few Aussies showed their age at Cardiff. In retrospect, it’s amazing more wasn’t made of the Aussies’ creaking bones. Predictions of another whitewash now look a tad silly. Who did Glenn McGrath, who always predicts a 5-0 win for Australia, think he was kidding?
Wicket-keeper Brad Haddin, who has been a thorn in England’s side so often, had an extremely poor first test. He dropped Joe Root early on the first day and made two poor scores with the bat. Haddin’s batting average since the last Ashes series is just 15, and at 37 years of age his career could be in terminal decline.
Shane Watson, who has just turned 34, is another veteran fearing for his future. He made no impact with the ball and was out lbw in predictable and somewhat comic circumstances twice. It’s never a good sign when opposition supporters are laughing at you.
Perhaps most significantly of all, Mitchell Johnson, who terrorised England’s batsmen in the previous Ashes series, also lacked his usual menace. Johnson bowled quickly in the recent IPL, and looked sharp in the West Indies, but one has to wonder whether a paceman who will turn 34 in November can sustain speeds of 90mph for five days.
I’m sure Johnson will have his moments in this series, but fast bowlers sometimes decline very quickly. Remember the aforementioned Jason Gillespie? He started the 2005 Ashes as a key member of Australia’s attack, but his international career was basically over a few weeks later. Losing half a yard of pace can mean everything at the very top level.
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Age can be particularly hard on bowlers. Indeed, the only member of Australia’s old guard to perform well at Cardiff was a batsman – the evergreen Chris Rogers. The likable Rogers, who is red green colour blind (not exactly helpful when you’re a cricketer) made a patient 95 in the first innings.
Generally speaking, Rogers’s game looked in fine fettle. However, a recent interview actually revealed a different story: Rogers has decided to retire from international cricket at the end of the season because he can’t see the ball as well as he used to. A combination of age and his colour-blindness makes it extremely difficult for him to pick up the ICC’s new pink balls.
One wonders, therefore, why the Australian selectors are so loyal to these veterans. Is it because of their affection for the great side which beat England 5-0 in 2006/07? If so, they’re making a big mistake that could cost them the Ashes.
The Australian team that pulverised England eight years ago was brimming with legendary players who had dominated world cricket for a decade. The likes of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden were all-time greats. They might not have been at their peak in 2006/07, but they were still world-class players even when they’d declined somewhat.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Australia’s current vintage. Haddin is good but he’s no Gilchrist. Johnson’s a threat but he’s no McGrath. All good players have a shelf life, but only the true greats tend to endure into their late thirties.
Perhaps the Australian selectors have forgotten this. Or perhaps the Australians simply don’t have enough good young players waiting patiently in the wings? Either way, the Aussie veterans will need to roll back the years if they’re to retain the Ashes against England’s new, vibrant and vivacious outfit.
James Morgan writes for The Full Toss – a voice of England cricket supporters.