I wrote an article a while ago where I discussed my love for the sport of cricket as a whole, as being far stronger than my singular, nationalistic support of the England side. A clear example of this sentiment, was my utter disappointment when New Zealand were unable to press home their advantage in Wellington and snatch the series win they so deserved earlier in the year.
Now the Ashes, regardless of what many people have argued, is a special series: it makes cricket fans of the normally uninterested, and scoreboard-checkers of the usually uncaring. The Ashes probably shouldn’t mean as much to the modern professional cricketers of England and Australia: it no longer is the pinnacle of the game, a tour of India or South Africa are undoubtedly far tougher challenges for both teams; but the Ashes IS the World Cup to the general public and in Sydney or London, for most, it is the sole yardstick for how one’s side is getting on.
The thing I look most forward to, when the Ashes come around, is the fact that it is the only remaining five-Test series on the international fixture list. Due to the proliferation of T20 and One Day internationals, and the decline in demand since these shorter formats have flourished, a five-match series other than the Ashes is a non-existent entity.
I think this is a tragedy. The five-Test series can offer something that most other sporting events cannot: a narrative. The sheer majesty of a one-on-one contest that lasts six to eight weeks, allows mini-contests to emerge; six week careers can be birthed from these series’, think of Botham’s Ashes: he never needed to play another Test after 1981, as his name had become cricketing legend. Can you name a three-match series subsequently referred to as often, or with such reverence?
The weakness of the five-Test series though, has been in full display this summer. When one of the teams involved is clearly weaker than the other, or underperforms, it can all be over by the third Test; thus, rendering the last two rather pointless, resulting in a massive anti-climax.
The first Test of this series was undoubtedly an exciting one, resulting, as it did, in the Australians – due to a last wicket partnership – missing out by merely fourteen runs. But the result was only ever that tight due to two freak tenth-wicket partnerships of 163 in the first innings, and 65 in the second. Take these runs away, or at least half them, and the Test would have been far more comfortable for England. The second Test was just a complete demolition, as Australia’s batting completely collapsed.
I want to throw away the claims though, that Australia have exclusively been the cause of this lop-sided series. I think they have performed worse for sure (England are 2-0 up for a reason), but England have also been thoroughly underwhelming. In the first Test, England’s bowlers and Alastair Cook’s captaincy lived up to the criticism of many: unable to improvise or experiment when faced with the unpredictable, and thus, made to look ineffectual. Ashton Agar is not Don Bradman; he shouldn’t have been allowed to almost make a ton. If it wasn’t for Australia batting like a junior side, England might have been made to rue a below-par first innings at Lord’s in the second Test.
That England were made to sweat, and were near definitely saved by the rain in Manchester, displays that the difference between these two sides is far less than some of the awful commentators and journalists would have you believe. Though many people grew up watching a weak English side trounced over-and-over, may disagree, I see no glory in a one-sided series; I have no desire to gloat over what has been low-quality cricket.
One cannot argue with the retention of the Ashes (victory in this series isn’t confirmed yet), but it was rather appropriate that the urn was retained among the drizzle and disappointment of a squandered Test, reflecting the damp squib this series has been. What a shame.