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Let's talk about the Ashes! - Chetan Narula Column
by Chetan Narula
Mar 16, 2009
The problem with English cricket is that they talk too much about the Ashes. Yet they just end up winning it once in ten attempts. The din about the 'little urn' reaches a crescendo after every series win and even in defeat, the English still keep on mumbling about their chances against the Aussies. And with just about four months to go for the next clash to begin, every one who salutes the Union Jack is already thinking only 'Ashes'.

They were thinking about it when they won in New Zealand in March 2007, for it was a good result on the road after losing to Sri Lanka in Lanka and India at home before that. They beat the same opponents three months later at home imagining a similar result against the Aussies twelve months down the line when, South Africa brought them back to reality with a crushing test series win.

Kevin Pietersen came in, brought about a change in results in ODIs and still talked Ashes. Why? Because Australia lost to India and that gave the Poms more confidence. One fails to see a connect there especially when they themselves were hammered on their Indian tour.

And then the world knows how the last two months have been spent, squabbling amongst a possibly great captain (now former captain), a do-your-job-quietly coach (now ex-coach) and the ECB (more confused than ever!). End result: the West Indies series that could have been such a formality is now lost. In the interim, the Australians who never looked like recovering from the defeat against India and the crushing loss to South Africa have come back in the most awe-inspiring way to trump the Proteas in their own den. How things change!

The failings of the England cricket team have started to show and badly. Shot for 51 in the second innings of the first test by a fast bowler who had done little else in his career till then, they did manage to come back quite well vis-à-vis their batting. Nearly all their top batsmen responded in kind, healing their wounded egos. Strauss (541), Collingwood (430), Pietersen (406), Cook (384) and Prior (310) all put their hand up with the team in dire straits. Those are good figures indeed, considering that only one West Indian topped them, Ramnaresh Sarwan with 626 runs to his name.

Why did they not win the series then, the English? Simply because the bowling figures aren't as good as the batting ones! Swann was their best bowler picking 19 wickets in 3 test matches and he was followed-in by Broad and Anderson, who bowled their hearts out on flat pitches. The question that goes begging here is why Swann wasn't picked for the whole series? Why did their best bowler sit out the first test and the ten ball farce - supposedly the second test?

It may be argued that the words above are uttered in hindsight, no sir! Swann was clearly the better spinner in India as well and in Chennai & Mohali, the pitches were almost similar to the belters laid out in the Carribean. Panesar's shortcomings have been repeated umpteen times on a lot of forums but what has escaped all is that he can't possibly sort out his head on the international stage. The ECB needs to do him a favour by dropping for the home series against the West Indies. Plus, while they are at it, they also need to find a bowler who is good enough for all surfaces. For they dearly missed Andrew Flintoff's steam and aggression especially with Stephen Harmison and Ryan Sidebottom reduced to being half the bowlers they are in English conditions.

Strauss may have proven good with the bat but every one in the British Isles knows that he is no Kevin Pietersen. When the need to push on arose, he was simply found wanting and on more than one occasions, he let the onus slip away, poor pitches being just an excuse to show for the English defeat. If they really care about the Ashes so much, they need to ask themselves an honest question: Is he the captain to lead them to an Ashes win this year?

The answer won't be as easily forthcoming if you take one look at the opponent's leader. No cricket captain is hungrier than Ricky Ponting in the cricket world today. For they are lions and that too wounded by the Proteas in their own den. The reply they gave in South Africa with two straight wins in two tests showed the mettle that they are truly made for. Ponting may have sleep walked all through his years as captain till now, but this was his team and his leadership which blossomed into the 2-0 blanking of Smith's men.

The Aussies are fixing their problems and finding solutions before the all important series in the summer in England. On the other hand, the English have been talking up their chances in the last twelve months but clearly the fact has gone unnoticed from them that they haven't won a test series in that same time. Is that how they wanted to prepare for their 'world cup'?

Talk to an Englishman about the Ashes and he will answer in the negative!

(The columnist is a Mobile ESPN cricket commentator and sports writer based in New Delhi, India.)
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