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Ashes joy -- but not quite 2005

THE odds against Andrew Flintoff receiving a knighthood in the new year's Honours List have been noted at only 10/1 by Ladbrokes, a witty extension of the 2005 'gong' confetti that rained on the winning Ashes squad.

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Flintoff might well become a knight in the future for good works but not for simply being a good egg in this Ashes series. In any case the cricket this time did not reach high standards of 2005, a series boasting the two best bowlers in the history of cricket -- Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath -- and several players at their peak, including Flintoff.

Nationwide rejoicing broke out at the Ashes success, and an open-top bus journey might well be on the cards, but let us hope there will not be a spray of honours to emulate the MBE-for-all-the-lads in 2005. OBEs for Strauss and Flintoff should suffice.... please. There must be debate whether a drawn series would have been a more equitable outcome, especially as England proved inferior in the individual statistics. For example, at least three batsmen were badly out of form -- Alastair Cook, Ravi Bopara and Paul Collingwood -- and there was heavy reliance on the captain Andrew Strauss for consistent runs.

Strauss and newcomer Jonathan Trott were England's only century-makers, whereas no fewer than six Australians did this -- Katich, Ponting, North, Haddin, Clarke and Hussey. What killed the Aussies were two disastrous sessions in London when too many first-innings wickets fell too quickly at Lord's and the Brit Oval, on the second day in each case. That cost them two Tests, and their landslide success in Leeds was not enough.

After Leeds, England could be backed at 7/2 to win the final Test at the Oval, and to their credit they did the business, fully deserving their 197-run victory. The selectors picked the right team, at last giving Trott his chance and handing all the spin resonsibility to Graeme Swann, probably the best off-spinner since Jim Laker in my view, knowing that Fred Titmus and John Emburey were very good indeed.

Trott looked so capable one wondered why on earth Bopara and Ian Bell had been preferred in the first place at No 3. Generally the England selectors had a poor series, and they do not really know yet who the best back-up batsmen and bowlers could be.

It was a series played in good spirit in front of energised crowds, one of the keys to England's success. The din urging England onwards was particularly noticeable at Cardiff and the Oval. Perhaps at Edgbaston attempts to get under the Australians' skins diverted their focus from supporting the home players. To boo or not to boo Ponting -- who cares?

James Sutherland, Cricket Australia's chief executive, responding to media wrath against Ponting back home commented that sacking him as leader would be completely unfair. "Ricky's had a very, very good series," he said. "He's been under incredible pressure. I thought the dignity and poise that he showed in defeat was something that all Australians should be very proud of."

The Australian management conceded they should have selected off-spinner Nathan Hauritz, but this admission obscured the fact that it was the batting that let the side down at the crucial time.

England were listed at 6/4 to retain the Ashes in Australia in 2010/11, and for this home series the bookmakers took a pounding. Ladbrokes spokesman Nick Weinberg said: "England have rewarded patriotic punters across the land. They attracted criticism in the aftermath of Headingley, but fans kept the faith and have been duly rewarded."

Posted by Charlie Randall
24/08/2009 12:49:01
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