After the unbelievable ashes series and following on from a series of good results last year, we all started to believe that once again England had a team of world beaters, capable of giving the Aussies a beating for years to come. Under a mass of press coverage the England players were hailed as sporting heroes and a sense of correctness seemed to settle on the cricketing world. England were back on top, no longer the laughing stock of world cricket. We had cured the age old problem of the traditional English batting collapse and fielded a middle order capable of scoring runs, along with the emergence of a world class four seamer attack capable of undoing the best batting line up in the world.
Not for no good reason was there cause for rejoicing as we took back the ashes after lending them to Australia for the best part of two decades. All seemed right with the world.Three months on and we are staring down the barrel of defeat in Pakistan in the third test of a three match series in which we have lost one and been lucky to draw the other. Is this the same team? ? With one notable exception, Simon Jones whose reverse swing baffled the Aussies in the summer, it is exactly the same team.
The situation though is very different.Playing the Aussies in England for the ashes is the thing for which an English cricketer lives and breathes. The packed stadiums and thrilling cricket they witnessed showed a resilience and determination to win in the England team which had been lacking in recent years. Without doubt the amount of adrenaline sloshing around the England dressing room would have been enough to raise the dead.
And having finally secured the draw, with that magnificent innings from Kevin Pieterson, to end the series in an England victory the celebrations began. And what celebrations they were . . . .
The pictures of Freddie and Kevin arriving at number 10 Downing Street somewhat the worse for wear were priceless. No doubt the boys deserved a good drink after the gargantuan effort of the summer's cricket.What followed this seems to have led to a hangover of immense proportions.
How could these same cricketers, who beat the undoubted best team in the world, be losing to Pakistan? To read to the extravagant headlines of the back pages of the tabloid press, the tour to Pakistan should have been a walk in the park. However, it was not only on the back pages of the tabloids that one could find the England players. Suddenly catapulted into the limelight, the real characters of the team were held up as stars and their lives documented (if you can use that word with tabloids) as per Hollywood stars. A dose of reality is perhaps needed here.
There is a danger of some of the players getting too much of a Hollywood complex with all the media attention and forgetting that they are cricketers, first and foremost.To look at what we have achieved from an outsiders point of view. Ok, so we beat the Aussies. A very weak Australian team, with a Glen McGrath not firing on all cylinders (although he still took 19 wickets in the 4 matches he played for an average of 23.16) and some of their senior batsmen short on runs. Notably Matthew Hayden, in the worst form of his life.
Added to which, clearly, Gillespie and Kasprowicz were badly out of form. Each of the test matches was 'a damn close run thing' fought down to the final ball, with the exception of the first one in which England seemed to have stage fright. Previous to the ashes we had beaten Bangladesh ? international whipping boys - and previous to that South Africa.So what this all amounts to, is a few good performances. To claim their crown as the best team in the world Australia had in the past four years won Test series against every nation, both at home and away.
I think now you begin to see the size of gulf we are attempting to cross. And it seems, attempting to cross it in an inflatable dinghy held together with sticky tape. The thing that has separated the Australians from the rest of the world over the past ten years or so has been the unfaltering ability when injuries occurred, or a dip in form, to replace one world class player with another one ready to make their debut.
Their strength in depth has been, and still is, phenomenal. On this tour to Pakistan England have been seriously found out in that department. The loss of Simon Jones was a big one and our bowling attack has not looked anywhere near as dangerous without him. The replacements are simply not in the same class. Likewise when Andrew Straus returned home, quite rightly, to witness the birth of his child, England were left scratching around for ideas. Fletcher attempted to insinuate that England had plenty of options in his press conferences, but I'm afraid that didn't wash.
England currently have a very good team, better than we have had for many years, and on its day it is capable of beating the best in the world, as we proved in the summer. Yet to achieve that, we had to be at our very best and hope they were not! Although as an Englishman it pains me to say this; we have a long way to go before we are on a par with the Aussies, as next winters ashes in Australia will probably prove..John Millward http://www.
By: John Millward