The Ashes are back in grand style

Modified 15 Jul 2013

The celebrations started after the third-umpire overturned the on-field decision

After so much drama, after so much controversy, after so much wonderful cricket, it just felt natural that the winning moment of a wonderful Test match had to come from an overturned decision on review.

It wasn’t quite Edgbaston where England somehow dismissed Michael Kasprowicz with the Aussies needing just three runs to win, but in terms of the unbearable tension and the captivating sporting spectacle of what was happening on the pitch, it might as well have been. What made it so captivating was that it was so unexpected and so normal at the same time.

This was an Australian side that had been largely written off beforehand. Sir Ian Botham is always a ridiculous optimist when it comes to his prediction, but his 10-0 boast was actually taken as a credible forecast this time around. Even his Australian counterpart Glenn McGrath couldn’t bring himself to say the Aussies were definitely going to win. And sure enough, when the Australians delivered another classic surprise ‘punt’ selections with 19-year-old Ashton Agar instead of Nathan Lyon, there was a sense of ‘hear we go again’.

But the number one rule in this sport is never to underestimate an Aussie, which was proved true once again. Under pressure, Peter Siddle, Agar, Brad Haddin and James Pattinson all put in remarkable performances to almost spring a huge surprise to win the first Test. Twice England thought they were close to wrapping up the innings reasonably comfortably with one wicket remaining, but 11th man heroics are common place in this Aussie lineup.

Then again, why are we surprised? This is the Ashes. The soap opera of cricket. The bombastic Oscar winning drama. The Ashes doesn’t create drama, it resides there just waiting to peep its head out of the window and cause mayhem. I can think of at least three moments in this Test alone that would have been the main talking point from most other series.

James Anderson’s ‘ball of the decade’ contender to Michael Clarke, the ‘Walkgate’ after Aleem Dar’s incomprehensible decision and Marius Erasmus’s various DRS verdicts. The one thing you should not be surprised at in an Ashes series is that you’re surprised.

Already the Man of the Series looks to be England’s new bowling superstar, James Anderson. I sometimes think England put too much emphasis on Graeme Swann. His abilities with the old ball are of course much better than most spinners of the world but there is no doubt England’s best bowler right now is Anderson.

James Anderson is already looking a contender for Man of the Series award

There is an argument that the sometimes dour Lancastrian is the best bowler in the world right now. Aside from his magic ball to dismiss Clarke, Anderson was his normal peerless self in making both the new and old ball talk. His artistry of swing accounted for half of the Australian wickets , and almost all of them were through bowling brilliance rather than batsmen’s error. It was his second 10-wicket haul of his Test career and certainly his most important.

Ironically, after so many jokes from the English about Ponting just having to ‘throw the ball to McGrath’ to be a successful captain, the same jokes are now being directed towards Cook. Anderson was by far the most feared bowler in this match, but that might be a curse as well as charm for England.

What happens if Anderson gets injured, like McGrath in ’05. His injury gave England an added boost after being destroyed by him at Lord’s and they went on to win both the Tests ‘Pigeon’ missed. Anderson has to stay healthy if England are to remain the favourites in this series. Especially with the increasing fragility of Stuart Broad and the lack of form of Steven Finn.

Critics are split as to whether Finn will remain in the side in three days’ time. Bowling on his home-ground might give the 24-year-old an added sense of control but the way the Australians dominated him throughout his spells, the temptation to bring in the added security of Tim Bresnan might be too big to avoid for a side that built their success on strangling the opposition for runs, forcing them into a mistake.

On the batting front – as expected – Australia must look at their options regarding Ed Cowan. Cowan is an honest and intelligent cricketer based on his book but in terms of usefulness to a cricket team, I’m not so sure. In simple terms, Cowan is a blocker. Someone who occupies the crease while stroke-makers like David Warner and Shane Watson pile on the runs.

But now he is at number three, his style is too one dimensional for him to change the game. Say what you like about Jonathan Trott, but he has proved he can score big when it matters and up his strike rate. I’m not sure Cowan can do that.

For England, all the questions surrounding Ian Bell before the series have been answered after one of – if not the – best innings he has ever produced. Bell was lucky that a lot of the spotlight didn’t fall on him as most of the media were focusing on the England opening-batsman question.

But after 18 months of struggle, Bell performed when his side needed it most with a display of deft touches down to third man and endless patience which were perfectly suited to a lifeless pitch. It may not have been his prettiest or his highest, but it was certainly his most mature and vital.

Michael Clarke’s men may have been defeated but they will not be perceived as walkovers now

The Ashes circus now moves to its spiritual home at Lord’s where conditions are likely to be similar to Trent Bridge. It’ll be a wicket which won’t offer much to the bowlers, but will still make scoring runs a tricky business. Although Clarke said that this defeat was harder to take than Edgbaston eight years ago, I still think both sides will go into Thursday feeling good.

England are 1-0 up in the series, and Australia have proved they are a credible force this summer. Let’s hope the high drama remains as well.

Published 15 Jul 2013
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