Archive for the ‘Ashes’ Category

Come back and face me, you coward

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

So far, the trash-talking and shit-stirring ahead of the upcoming Ashes has been a bit disappointing.

Let’s just say the “war of words” has had a few false starts in the last couple of months, with England not really “putting their hand up” and coming to this particular party when it comes to dishing out and returning the verbals.

Back in June, Andrew Flintoff made a game attempt to kick things off. After observing the Aussies’ defeat by 3 wickets in their second Test against Pakistan, he opined that “Australia are not the force they used to be,” and that “England are now favourites” for the Ashes series which begins in November.

“Last time we lost 5-0 but this time it will be very different.”

And the response from down under? Nada. Nothing. A brave opening sally, but one that fell on stony ground.

Then Ricky Ponting woke up, remembered he was now the proud bearer of Steve Waugh’s banner of Mental Disintegration, and, deciding on no half measures, warned England that it was “entirely possible” that Australia would win 5-0… “They’ve got no one there who’s going to surprise us at all.”

While most of us laughed (a couple of us with nervous bravado while harbouring the nagging thought that shit, it is completely possible that England could indeed be on the receiving end of a 5-0 hammering), Jonathan Trott thoughtfully scratched his chin and offered the sage observation that perhaps it was a bit silly of Punter to be putting so much pressure on himself and his team.

For christ’s sake, Jonathan. Where is the bombast, the rage, the slighted pride, the “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough” appetite for a bit of the old “you and me: outside”? Even Imran Farhat seemed to be entering into the spirit of the thing with more enthusiasm, levelling his own relish-laden chirp at Australia: “Personally I think they are going DOWN!” And he’s not even playing in this bloody competition.

Then fast bowling legend Dennis Lillee decided to give it a go in stirring up English ire by criticizing England’s bowlers, saying that even without Warne and McGrath, Australia has the better bowling attack. The only person who could be arsed to rise to this bait was Allan Lamb, and he and Lillee are mates so that doesn’t even really count.

So far, so underwhelming. Not even renowned spouter of gnomic bullshit John Buchanan could light a match under England’s bollocks with his targeting of Kevin Pietersen as England’s “weak link”, referring to KP’s recent slump in form.

KP disdainfully treated the comment with the little consideration it deserved, calling Buchanan “a nobody”.

“All he’s ever done is coach the best team in the history of cricket. Anyone could have done that.”

This is hardly trash-talking so much as an eminently reasonable observation. Like I’ve said before, Warne and McGrath’s Australia was one team that pretty much coached and captained itself.

Finally last night, in desperation, Cricket Australia beamed a giant image of Ponting and Michael Clarke onto the side of Big Ben as if to say, “Ha! Ignore this, you bastards!” The image was accompanied by the reminder: “Don’t forget to pack the urn”. Despite the fact the urn is, and always will be, housed in a case at Lord’s, is not an actual trophy, etc etc.

Andrew Strauss, in his last press conference prior to flying off to Perth tomorrow, declared himself amused at these latest shenanigans and – looking every inch the elder statesman except when questioned about Graeme Swann’s mention on Twitter of being unable to locate his passport, upon which he sounded instead like your granddad struggling to switch on a computer – said:

“I think you can spend hours trying to think up witty retorts to comments or you can spend hours trying to get your game in order. We have an excellent chance of winning over there, we are a good tight unit, we know what to expect and can’t wait to get over there.”

Jesus. It’s almost like England want to let their cricket do the talking or something.

Ban boot camps

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Shane Warne has a complete hatred of them, the ECB seem to think they’re a brilliant idea, and I suspect I’m not the only one who can’t see the bloody point of them.

I’m talking about the boot camps the England team are now customarily sent on prior to the Ashes. In 2009 it was strategy and tactics meetings preceded by a trip to Flanders Field.

This year, it was rock-climbing, sleeping in tents, abseiling off cliffs, and a visit to Dachau concentration camp.

It’s like company paintball, but with added genocide.

The most immediate, and potentially most damaging consequence, as far as England’s Ashes hopes go, is that during this “bonding exercise”, Jimmy Anderson suffered a cracked rib in a boxing session with Chris Tremlett. Quite what the leader of England’s bowling attack was doing in the ring with 6ft 7 in, potential Ashes-lineup hopeful Tremlett, is anyone’s guess. I’d love to know who thought this was a good idea.

The ECB have assured us Jimmy should be fit in time for Brisbane. But let’s be honest, if he’d broken a bone while boxing in his own time, the wrath of the ECB would have fallen with considerable weight upon him and the poor bastard would never have heard the end of it. It’s for the same reason that it’s not uncommon for people who drive a Formula 1 car or ride a MotoGP bike to have a clause in their contract that forbids them from skiing off mountains and the like.

As far as the visit to Dachau goes: I can appreciate the intent behind it, to open up the eyes of cricketers to a wider world and wider issues beyond their own immediate, cocooned existence.

But there’s something about a bunch of sportsmen visiting the site where thousands of people died as a “team bonding” exercise that makes me feel a little uncomfortable. While the combat element of sport is normal, healthy, and exhilarating – it is what makes victory all the sweeter – there’s a far cry between that and facing a World War One sniper or death in an extermination camp. It is not literally a war our boys are going into, and it is extremely unlikely that anyone will die.

True, this is not the first time cricket teams have visited war sites – Gallipoli has been a popular destination for Australian teams en route to England, but the fact it is now tied in with the cod-science arse-whackery of sports psychology with all its attendant bullshit terms of “insight” “leadership” and “making difficult decisions under pressure” is what makes it a bit fucking much.

So the next time England’s security guru Reg Dickason is burning up his keyboard googling “human disaster areas” in preparation for the next Ashes “boot camp” he’d be better off following Warne’s advice of locking everyone up in the boozer and letting them get on with it.

At the very least, Jimmy Anderson’s ribs will thank him.

Australia lose, and Warne weighs in

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

There were only ever going to be two ways this Test would end.

Wickets would either fall today like corn before the scythe, or the Indian team would bowl out Australia’s tail early and then chase down the runs needed to win with relentless superiority.

Today at Bangalore it was the latter. Bowled out for 223, Australia presented India with a target of 207 to win and this they did, without undue incident, for the loss of only 3 wickets. Bit of a stark contrast to the oxygen-starved tension of Mohali, but I did say yesterday that the unknowables are what make Test cricket great.

In this case, one of those unknowables, or unknowns, more precisely, was Indian debutant Cheteshwar Pujara. The 22 year old came in at 3 after the loss of Sehwag and proceeded to bat with a combination of freedom and maturity that bodes well for the future when India find themselves in the same situation Australian cricket did three years ago when Warne, McGrath and Gilchrist retired.

He went for 72 and it was left to those two redoubtable old stagers, Tendulkar and Dravid, to bring it home. In this match Sachin has made history – again – and so it was fitting that he scored the winning runs, giving India victory at a ground they last won on in 1995, and solidifying India’s lead at the top of the Test rankings.

If your name was Nathan Hauritz, you probably found you were in a nightmare from which you couldn’t wake up. I will be surprised if the selectors keep him after this, and I too was one of many who held their head in their hands every time he came on and an Indian batsman’s eyes lit up.

It was like watching a game of buzkashi, where the batsmen were the horsemen and Hauritz was the headless goat corpse being torn apart between them in the battle for possession.

His figures were grim – 3-229 for christ’s sake, but in the cold light (or warm glow, depending on who you were supporting) of an Australian defeat, let’s look at things a tad more sensibly. Firstly, the conditions are always tough in India. Hell, even Warne’s record there is average: only 34 out of his total of 708 wickets were taken in Tests in that country, and the only time he took more than 4 wickets in an innings it cost him 125 runs.

Secondly, Ricky Ponting’s captaincy betrayed an utter lack of faith in Hauritz. Fielders were scattered in the deep, moved into positions only after that area had been targeted. It was passive and defensive captaincy with fields set for bad bowling: not the best way to give your bowler confidence.

One man especially riled by this cruelty to his spinning brethren was Shane Warne – currently between poker tournaments and no doubt on a plane somewhere – who let rip on Twitter with:

It’s tough to disagree with this sentiment. Ponting’s captaincy has received much scrutiny since the days when, due to having Warne and McGrath at his disposal, the team pretty much captained itself. At best, some of his decisions have looked random; at worst, downright fucking stupid.

One can argue till the cows come home about the merits of Nathan Hauritz as a Test spinner. His favourite line seems to be wide of off-stump while hoping the ball will turn; a lot of the time it doesn’t. He is ironically more effective when he bowls a tighter line; Ponting seems to want an Australian version of Harbhajan, but this may be a step too far.

Hauritz has, however, put in some decent Test performances when his side have needed them, and Steve Smith, the man many think he should make way for, is arguably more effective with the bat at the moment. Smith still averages about 50 as a bowler, and is very much a work in progress still. Replacing Hauritz with Smith in the Ashes may be too early. Plus, it is very unlikely Hauritz will be quite this shit on his home turf.

Nathan Hauritz must now try and pick himself up in the upcoming ODIs followed by a couple of Sheffield Shield matches for New South Wales, and put forward a convincing case for Ashes retention. No doubt everyone and his dog will have an opinion on whether he should be part of the Australian line-up at Brisbane.

The selectors certainly have a lot of thinking to do.

Johnny Come Lately at the Last Chance Saloon

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

Realistically, this 2nd Test against India which started today at Bangalore is Marcus North’s last chance to secure himself a place in the Australian team for the Ashes.

His scores prior to today make for pretty gloomy reading, if you are a Marcus North fan. I wouldn’t say I’m president of the Marcus North fan club, or even secretary, or god help me club mascot  (even on the weekends, when there’s no one else to help out), but let’s just say I don’t have as big a downer on him as a lot of folk who think he’s not Test quality. He is stodgy as fuck to watch, and will make you cry with the sheer, mind-numbing tedium of his dour, earnest scoring, but 96 at Edgbaston last year as well as three hundreds in his first six Tests suggests he is of some use when he gets himself set.

Of course, this won’t be the first time he has left it to the last minute to pull his arse from out of the fire of imminent selectorial rejection. He saved his career in the series in New Zealand earlier this year where he followed up 112* in Wellington with 90 in Hamilton, only to have the pressure pile back onto his shoulders by not exceeding 20 and only reaching double figures a total of three times in the three Tests prior to this one. By any measure, his form coming into this Test was bloody diabolical.

The Australian selectors will want him to make a big score at Bangalore, not least because his success here will save them an almighty Ashes headache. More at home on flat decks than turning ones, he made the most of a drying wicket that had early on aided the spinners to finish on 43 not out at stumps, with his country on 285-5.

There were other performances that would have been similarly encouraging for Australia: Shane Watson continues to confound us all by posting consistently big scores while miraculously remaining entirely uninjured, and Ricky Ponting managed to steady the ship with Mike Hussey after a brief flurry of wickets fell after lunch.

But all eyes will be on Marcus North when he re-takes his guard tomorrow. He will be looking to kick on towards a big score*, and Australia will be eyeing at least 400.


*note that having written this, I have likely ensured he will be out first ball. Despite the best laid plans of mice, men and Australian batsmen, shit does happen.

T minus 8

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

So Tim Paine missed out narrowly on his maiden Test ton.

It doesn’t matter.

Australia’s young backup keeper, filling in since May while Brad Haddin is injured, not only did himself proud, he did it in a way that ensured his team are in a comfortable position at the end of Day 2 against India at Mohali.

Watchful when he needed to be, content to let centurion Shane Watson do the bulk of the scoring and then to let Mitchell Johnson display his usual brand of unfettered hitting, he anchored Australia’s innings and helped them to a total of 428 after they started the day on 224 for 5.

By the end of Day 1 he had scored a single run off 14 balls. He made the most of a couple of moments of luck – dropped by Dhoni on 0; a thick edge that went between keeper and slip when he was on 86 – but by the time he went for 92, edging Zaheer Khan to VVS Laxman at second slip, he looked a different batsman from the nervous young man who took guard at Lord’s against Pakistan back in July in his first Test appearance with his family watching, so over-awed by the occasion that he himself admitted, “I couldn’t feel my feet”. Fluent and assured, he took a particular liking to the left arm spin of Pragyan Ojha, stroking him for two successive boundaries.

Brad Haddin’s rehab continues and he is set to appear for the New South Wales Second XI this coming Monday, with a view to achieving full fitness in time for the first Ashes clash at Brisbane on November 25th. Already though, there are those talking of the feasibility of a woefully out of form Marcus North being dropped; whether Australia would ever decide to play an additional keeper as specialist batsman, who knows. I have been singing the praises of Tim Paine for a while now, as I believe he is Haddin’s natural successor, with bat and gloves.

After an initial period furiously debating each man’s respective value to the Australian team, it seems we all have a collective hard-on for Tim Paine now. And this pleases me.

Less sackcloth, more Ashes

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Well, thank Christ that’s over. Watching England’s joyous, enthusiastic celebrations at the Rose Bowl at the end of the current ODI series against Pakistan last night felt like the breaking of a fever, or the lancing of a boil – the relief is bliss, but you would rather the disease didn’t come back any time soon.

Don’t get me wrong, the cricket itself was fascinating and the fact it went down to the last game made it more so, but much of the fascination was from a morbid, rubber-necking car-crash perspective, given the background of spot-fixing, scandal and Ijaz Butt. I’m not going to go into all that again because I am really just glad it is over, as I’m sure you all are, as I’m sure the England team is. The only thing left to say is that I would love to welcome back a Pakistan team, bursting as it is with talent, but not until all corruption has been cleansed from its ranks. Signs are this is not likely to happen soon, but we live in hope. I am not one of those who advocate the scorched-earth policy of banning Pakistan entirely from the world cricket arena, but something tells me this is the last England-Pakistan series we will have seen for a long time.

Anyway, enough of all that.

2:30 this afternoon at The Oval gave us the ridiculous scenario of Mike Atherton, standing in front of a big screen, ready to introduce a film clip naming this year’s England Ashes squad, a clip produced with all the slick bombast the ECB could muster and giving us a list already in the possession of news editors ready to click “update” on their websites on the stroke of 2:30 while the great ignorant unwashed were still digesting the news.

In brief: Chris Tremlett and Monty Panesar are in; no room for Adil Rashid or Ajmal Shahzad. Shahzad is in the Performance Squad; Rashid is not. Another notable absentee – from both squads – is Ravi Bopara, who will be playing first class cricket in South Africa. I am very pleased to see Tremlett given this opportunity, as I’ve been a fan of the guy since I saw him at Trent Bridge in 2007, where he took 3-12 in India’s second innings when they only needed 73 to win. He got a lot of applause from the fans in the stands that day, and seems a bowler reborn this year after moving to Surrey after criticism that he wasn’t aggressive enough: I’m hoping his prodigious height and ability to bang it in will pay dividends on the hard, bouncy Australian wickets.

Monty Panesar is also back, and will add backup to Graeme Swann should they require two spinners at Adelaide or Sydney. He acquitted himself well at the WACA in 2006, taking 5-92, in a series that turned into a relentless drubbing for England. Australia are not the team they were back then, but England will still need to pull out all the stops to beat them; this will be no cake walk.

In other good news, Leicestershire’s own wunderkind batsman, James Taylor, has been included in the Performance Squad. I would have liked to have seen Nathan Buck picked as well – perhaps it is still too early for him – but Taylor will be in Australia, during the Ashes, and well, given an injury or two, who knows?

The countdown to the Ashes starts now. Am I excited? Oh hells yes.

Chris Tremlett bowling at Trent Bridge, 2nd Test against India, 2007

Chris Tremlett bowling at Trent Bridge, 2nd Test against India, 2007

Farewell, Fred

Friday, September 17th, 2010

The match that took place at the Oval, August 20th – 23rd, 2009, was the last time Andrew Flintoff played Test cricket.

He didn’t play at Headingley and England were screwed. Kevin Pietersen didn’t play either which meant England were doubly screwed. Fred returned at the Oval and though he only took one wicket, he pulled off one of the great moments of the summer in his run-out of Ricky Ponting as England proceeded to regain the Ashes.

But regardless of what happened in that last Test, I’d already had my moment of magic that summer.

I’m talking about Day 5 at Lord’s. Some days are so damn perfect you couldn’t script them any better if you sat down and tried, and Monday July 20th 2009 was one of these.

My day didn’t start all that well: train was late, phone call from work about some irrelevancy, 40 minutes to get from St Pancras to the ground in time for start of play, urgent need to piss before taking my seat in the Mound Stand (5 minute bell rang as I was in the toilets). But I think that must have been the cricket gods’ way of taking pity on me and getting all the extraneous bullshit out of the way “early doors”, as they say, because I was settled in my seat just as the umpires were coming out.

It’s ironic now, after the fact, that I’d entered the ballot for Saturday tickets and hadn’t been successful, and even when Day 5 tickets had gone on sale I’d laughed and bought one with no real expectation that the match would even last that long. As it stood, unbelievably, Australia were still dragging their innings along by bloodied broken fingernails, with Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin the last twitching neurons in a short-circuiting batting order. The sun was out, and the wicket was still a belter.

Clarke had impressed me. There’s something about him that annoys the hell out of me, with his numerically-illiterate tattoos and his to-the-manner-born expectation of captaincy once Ponting hangs up his bat – but he had played some lovely shots the day before and showed doughty determination while wickets had fallen around him. Only Brad Haddin – a batsman I found myself warming to, not least after his hopping terror that the ball stuck in his pad was still a live one – had stayed with him.

It was perfectly possible that these two could pull off the runs needed for an improbable victory. Improbable-but-possible is usually enough to give any side a sniff of victory against England. Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Hauritz were still to come, so it could have been a long day.

But magic happened; Flintoff happened, thundering down like the wrath of god on anything human standing between him and the stumps. He got Haddin with his 4th delivery for 80 with a ball that was only a few overs old and he sent it down consistently over 90 mph. Jesus christ it was beautiful. The noise was tremendous. We were all on our feet. The floor was sticky from 4 days’ worth of spilled beer and Pimms. I didn’t care. I didn’t care about anything but the fact I was here, and I was watching something that suddenly felt fraught with impending significance.

Clarke was tempted out of his crease by Swann with the 2nd ball of his over. Canny bit of bowling – Clarke walked down the wicket to the 1st ball of Swann’s over and I knew that’s how he would get out.

Mitchell Johnson was better with bat than with ball by an order of magnitude. His 50 came and went without me noticing until I looked up at the scoreboard and thought “shit”.

Fred again, got Hauritz, poor brave Hauritz with the dislocated finger, clean bowled him for 1. When he bowled Siddle he turned towards the Mound Stand and spread his arms and did that Colossus thing and we all went bonkers. Five wickets. Name on the board. Absolute magic. By this time I’d given up taking pictures because I just wanted to cheer and roar the lining of my lungs bloody along with everyone else.

Mitch’s resistance ended when Swanny got him for 63 and the reaction of the crowd was relief, disbelief, and crazy celebration. Fred was mobbed by the team and there was no way anyone in the crowd was sitting back down again.

It was all over by 12:40. England won, first time since 1934 against Australia at Lord’s.

The mood afterwards was one long cigarette after the orgasm of England’s victory. People were milling slowly about at the back of the Pavilion waiting for the Australian team; the museum was shut because there was a press conference going on inside; the amount of people just standing around was insane and no one seemed in any hurry to leave.

Fred’s career ended after England’s Ashes victory at the Oval and he went under the knife, yet again, for another procedure on his rickety knee. Increasingly, as time and rehab dragged on, his return to any sort of cricket became an ever-receding pipe dream, and while the announcement of his retirement from all forms of cricket on Thursday 16th September was criticized for its timing, coming as it did on the climactic day of 2010’s county championship race, it really came as no surprise to any of us.

Say what you like about Flintoff – the messianic wicket celebrations, the residency in Dubai, the polarizing dressing room presence – but he was a player who was, if not one of the all-time greats, a cricketer who gave England fans moments of genuine greatness, a man who gave his all every time he stepped onto the field.

No matter how many energy drinks he might pimp in the future, no matter how many witless reality TV shows he may appear on; none of this will ever make me forget his tremendous exploits as an England cricketer, and in particular that day at Lord’s when he ripped the heart out of the Australian team and gave England belief once again.

Farewell, Fred.


Happy Birthday, Clem Hill

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

On this day, 18th March, 1877, Clem Hill, arguably Australia’s greatest left-handed batsman, was born.

He was pretty badass. A child prodigy, he scored 360 for Prince Alfred College at the age of 16, and in his career as Test cricketer set records that stood until Don Bradman and Jack Hobbs broke them. One of the “Big Six” in the 1912 dispute with the Australian Board of Control, he flattened a selector with a vicious right hook (he also bowled right-handed) and almost defenestrated him. There’s not many cricketers who’ve almost succeeded in throwing a selector out of a third storey window, but there have been doubtless many since who wished they could have followed his example.

One of his finest innings was scored in between bouts of throwing up on the Adelaide wicket in 1908 after he’d been in bed with gastric flu for three days and England were well on their way to victory. Afterwards dubbed “Clem ‘Ill” by the press, he batted for 5 hours 19 minutes for 160. He pulled Australia from the mire of 180 for 7 with a record eighth wicket partnership of 243 with Queensland’s Roger Hartigan, and England were beaten by 245 runs.

He was the original “nervous 90s” specialist, being out for 99, 98 and 97 in consecutive Test innings. He is also the only Australian batsman to be dismissed twice in Tests for the unlucky score of 87.

As a batsman, he was rated second only to the great Victor Trumper. He relished taking on the quicks, and great England fast bowler Tom Richardson once said to him: “You make me feel I took up fast bowling for your benefit.” His hook was a statement of powerful attack and no little courage in those days before helmets and grills. Always eager to get off the mark, he would often take a single or more off the first ball he received – the Golden Age’s equivalent of Kevin Pietersen’s “Red Bull run”. Known for testing the nerves of wicketkeepers, about a third of his strokes were made outside his crease, and his method of recovering his ground was to swing the bat right over his shoulder upon completion of his stroke and smack it down on the crease with an alacrity that, in pre- third umpire slow-mo replay days, would have the umpire puzzled as to whether the bat had come down before the bails had been taken off.

No slouch in the field, in 1902 he ran 25 yards to take a spectacular diving catch on the Old Trafford boundary in a Test Australia won by 3 runs.

When not being wound up by selectors, Hill was happy-go-lucky with a sunny, even temper. He was an extremely popular Australian captain, even when his side were losing.

Even away from cricket his life was eventful. In 1913 burglars broke into his house, removed his safe while he was asleep and blew it up in the garden. They stole £500 pounds worth of jewellery, but didn’t take any of the bats he had been presented with, so they couldn’t have been cricket fans. In 1909, during a car ride with a couple of South Australian team mates, his car overturned with their chauffeur pinned underneath it. Clem, with help from his team mates, lifted the car off him. Three years prior to this a wagon had driven into the back of his horse-drawn trap while out for a drive with the missus.

He died on September 5th 1945 after being thrown from a tram. He didn’t have much luck with wheeled vehicles.

He is one of my favourite batsmen of all time.

Happy birthday, Clem Hill.

Clem Hill

Clem at the crease

England: Just Good Enough

Monday, August 24th, 2009

England won the Ashes yesterday.

I can’t begin to describe how awesome, yet surreal, this is.

We were told before this series that Australia, without McGrath, Warne, Hayden, Langer and Gilchrist, were a weakened side. We were told England had a good chance of regaining the urn. But England lost in the West Indies, and Australia beat South Africa on their own turf and were the number 1 Test rated nation in the world.

What happened in this year’s Ashes series was so up and down and bizarre that the fact England won has still to sink in. In truth Australia are indeed a weakened side, and one going through transition trying to replace the greats who have departed (Hauritz for Warne) and nurturing young talent that is not yet firing consistently (Johnson, Hughes).

Collingwood and the amusingly stubborn partnership of Monty and Jimmy Anderson saved England’s bacon at Cardiff. Freddie bowled like a Viking god at Lord’s. Edgbaston was buggered into a bore-draw by both the rain and excitement-killing knocks by Pup Clarke and Marcus North (I had tickets for that day but poleaxed by swine flu I drifted in and out of consciousness on the couch all day and didn’t miss much). Headingley, oh Jesus, Headingley – the crowd chanting “We’re shit – and we’re 1 nil up” as the batting disintegrated summed up the utter direness of England’s performance. Good god, the batting was dire. Most Test teams have one god-awful collapse a year: England manage it once a series.

Australia’s collapse in their first innings sealed it for England – but even then, never say never: I’d not have bet against Australia chasing down a massive total because it wouldn’t have been the first time England bowlers have bottled it.

Ricky Ponting said during the presentation that looking back over the stats in this series (by which he means lack of hundreds by England batsmen as opposed to Australia’s and the fact the Aus bowlers have taken more wickets), he couldn’t figure out how England won. That was perhaps a tad ungracious, and got some boos from the crowd, but he has a point. If England had performed like this against the McGrath/Warne juggernaut of 2006/07, they’d have been shafted ten ways till Sunday – again.

As it was Hughes, the much vaunted wunderkind, failed to deal with the short ball and was promptly discarded, Nathan Hauritz bowled well at Cardiff but Australia still didn’t really give a fuck about him to the extent of leaving him out of the squad for the Oval, to their cost; Mitchell Johnson’s radar went AWOL and suggestions of “Midge! Phone your mum!” from the Edgbaston crowd may not have been entirely helpful; Bing didn’t play and Stuey Clarke was mystifyingly damned with faint praise by chief selector Andrew Hilditch after taking 3-18 at Headingley and really should have played in every Test.

Still, Shane Watson, called in to replace Hughes, more than coped at the top of the order. He scored three half centuries in five innings and more importantly managed to roll out of bed each morning without breaking something. Michael Clarke was Australia’s best batsman, and Marcus North put his hand up in with innings of dogged defiance at No 6 while chipping in with the ball. Midge got his mojo back and Hauritz’s performance at Cardiff made me think that Australia should shut the hell up about looking for a new Warne and look to go forward with this guy because he’s sure as shit better than Beau Casson. Hauritz must feel like the young second wife whose hubby can’t stop going on about his stunning first wife who was his one great love and who he still carries a torch for. It sucks and I felt sorry for the guy when I read he’d been avoiding reading the newspapers with their endless “is this the best Australia can find?” coverage.

England had their own travails to deal with. Fred’s knee packed up and KP’s achilles decided it had had enough. England were without both players at Headingley, and this was really one in the face for those who said England perform better without Flintoff, and that Pietersen should be dropped as punishment for giving his wicket away in the 90s, because without them England sucked. They were without Flintoff’s heart, and without the sheer bloody-minded determination Pietersen brings to the middle. I’m of the opinion Pietersen made a pretty good captain, and in time could have been a great one. Strauss decided to pursue a career in cricket rather than in the City, and somewhat appropriately, he captains like an accountant. Don’t expect any daring declarations from this guy. But his batting was solid, which was more than could be said for a few of them. Bell was infuriating – again, he didn’t step up when England needed him to, and the explosive potential of Ravi Bopara seen earlier in the year against the West Indies fizzled meekly into nothingness. Cook for some reason seems to have escaped scrutiny, despite posting one big score of 95 in this series and then nothing of note thereafter.

Bopara’s replacement, Jonathan Trott, was awesome. A century on debut in the deciding Test of an Ashes series takes some beating. He doesn’t have the insouciant brilliance of Pietersen or the outrageous, showboating talent, but boy he can bat. KP reckons he and Trott will get some flack from the South African crowds when they tour there this winter. The SA crowds can go fuck themselves. With KP’s strutting aggression and Trott’s steady robustness I can’t wait to see these two together out in the middle come December.

Of course, England will be without Fred. All the bowlers stepped up at various points, be it with ball or bat, but most of the attention was on Flintoff. I was at Lord’s on the day he won that Test for England and it was magical, amazing, something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. This wasn’t quite Flintoff’s Ashes, but the big man gave us all something to remember him by.

The highlights of Day 4 at the Oval are playing on the TV behind me as I’m writing this. Earlier this morning Flintoff held a press conference. He told how he had a quiet meal with wife Rachael last night and that the celebrations this time around were more poignant than the full-on alcoholic debauchery of 2005. He goes into surgery tomorrow morning to get his knee sorted and will be out for 9-12 months. Get well soon, Fred.

Andrew Strauss summed up the series best when he said during the presentation: “When we’re bad, we’re very bad; when we’re good, we’re good enough.”

Yep. “Good enough” may not be full-on awesome, but compared to the hiding England took in 06/07, it’ll do for me. It’ll do for me, and for every other England fan, for now. But if England want to keep hold of that urn come 2010, “good enough” won’t be enough when it comes time to jump on a plane Down Under and face a team who are at their most dangerous when they’re wounded.

Enjoy it, lads, because the hard work, that’s just beginning.