On Sept. 12, a nation rejoiced. Fans, so used to repeated humiliation, were finally rewarded for their faith in their team. England erupted after its historic win over its perennial archrival Australia in the bi-annual Ashes series. England had to wait 18 years to finally get their hands on the prestigious urn-shaped trophy – to many English supporters, it was well worth the wait.
The Ashes, a five test match ordeal between England and Australia, has a very special place in cricket history. Australia’s first series victory over hosts and then-cricket champions England in 1882 sparked a London journalist to proclaim English cricket dead.
“In affectionate remembrance of English cricket, which died at The Oval [Cricket Ground], 29th August, 1882,” Reginald Shirley Brooks announced. “The body will be cremated and the Ashes taken to Australia.”
Thus, started one of the oldest sporting traditions.
England’s recent 2-1 win is by all means an accomplishment to be proud of. Australia’s dominance in cricket has been well known for the past decade. The last time Australia lost a test series was in India in 2001 and before that, they were on a 16-match winning streak. The supremacy of Australian cricket is unquestionable – or is it?
England has done what many teams have not done in the past 10 years. Moreover, with Andrew Flintoff, Kevin Pieterson and Stephen Harmison shaping up to be top-class cricketers under the leadership of Michael Vaughn, there is a good chance that England will be world champions in the near future. However, just by defeating Australia once, they cannot be declared champions yet.
This series was as much won by England as it was lost by Australia. Not to discredit England for its achievements, but the Australians definitely helped them out.
The usual run-scoring machines, Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist, looked lost with the bat and Glenn McGrath had to nurse recurrent injuries. These setbacks prevented Australia to play their natural aggressive game. With the exception of magician Shane Warne – he produced yet another ball of the century to dislodge Andrew Strauss’s middle stump – Australia was always on the defensive.
Despite losing control of the Ashes, Australia is still the best cricket team in the world. Over the years, Australia had created an aura of invincibility, that in itself could have won matches.
Through the shrewd and ruthless leadership of Steve Waugh, Australia played unrelenting cricket consistently for multiple series. The shift to Ricky Ponting’s captainship may have reduced the brutality, but the intensity was still there. This is exactly what England will have to do to be considered the best.
Pakistan coach, Bob Woolmer, sums it up best. “England has beaten Australia but there is not an aura of invincibility about England yet,” Woolmer noted. “They still need to create that aura of invincibility of the West Indies of 1970s and ’80s and of recent Australia.” England has made huge strides in the past few years, but they need to do even better to be the best.
Having said that though, Australia’s reign at the top is near its end. With a majority of the team nearing retirement, including captain Ponting, Australia will need to incorporate many new players if they intend to retain their ranking.
While Michael Clarke and Simon Katich provide hope for Australian fans, they cannot carry the team. Australian selectors will have to not only pick talented individuals, but also form the best team. As it stands right now, Australia’s dominance will probably only last for a few more years.
A record fourth World Cup triumph in 2007 will provide the fairytale ending for Warne and company. However, a last hurrah might prove turbulent with this English team in the running.
Madhur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.