Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Putting the Ashes to rest

This was a series which drew interest because of a long history and the fact that neither side was dominant. The cricket itself was a succession of bat-fests, interspersed with some short spells of impressive bowling and/or poor batting which made up the few severe first innings collapses which almost completely decided the fate of the urn. This is the pattern of a lot of international cricket recently, simply adding evidence for the idea that the last ten years has not seen a glut of strong batsmen, but a lack of quality bowlers and/or good conditions for bowling.

Hilfenhaus and Strauss had a good series. Swann did his job. Batsmen such as Clarke and North did well, but mostly when matches were virtually decided. Watson coped well with opening, but doesn't seem a realistic part of future plans in that position, and given that he was in the squad as fix-all, his time with the ball counts against him. Flintoff did enough to have a positive farewell, even if he is still as annoying as ever.

There are calls for Ricky's head. Some have quite rightly pointed out that he isn't really to blame for the result. I don't see why the calls increase after this second Ashes defeat. A captain aims to win, but can only be judged on how well they get the best out of their team and the opportunities afforded. There were enough reasons to question whether Ponting was the best man for this job well before Australia started the recent string of losses. I'm not talking about the trouble in January 08 - the claim that this years' Aussies are 'nicer' doesn't let him off on the basic cricketing aspects of captaincy. Neither does the suggestion that he has done better when given players more suited to his leadership, as in South Africa. Either choose the captain who is best able to lead any of the whole teams he is likely to be part of, or choose a captain indepedently for each series. Picking a skipper and then basing a team round him has, rightly in my opinion, not been the Australian way, whatever occurs in other parts.

The only thing going for Ponting is that it is not the Australian way to play ex-captains, either. This can afford to change. He is not to blame for this loss, but he still isn't the best captain the team could have. The umpires are also not to blame - they were far from perfect, but neither were they particularly one-sided. Brett Lee's injury probably had more impact, and that is not blamable, but simply points to a lack of depth. The selection decisions, on the other hand, have both been questionable almost as long as Ponting's and have played a big part in the last couple of months.

One group of people, for me, did stand out. They weren't on the field, but I very much enjoyed MMM on SBS. Stuey, Mo and Damo were refreshing insightful without being too serious. I came to this conclusion even before they managed to include all my favourite main points when discussing the state of umpiring, and it was probably helped by the fact that I didn't hear the expected self-selection suggestions from Mo until the final day!

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