Not as thrilling as the 2005 edition, not as monotonous as the 2007-08 version, but the Ashes of 2009 would have a niche carved out of their own, by the time the dust settles down. In the end, it would be fair to say that the teams were evenly matched, with the Australian line-up out-batting their English counterparts, but the hosts bowling what could be termed as the spells of the series when it really came to the crunch.
In Ricky Ponting’s own words, the Australian side had their moments – unlike the Aussie teams of the past which had all the moments – but failed to capitalise on them. They were the most mortal of the Aussie teams that would have toured, and in the end, that was the reason for their mortality in the series. England, on the other hand, played the series like Mohammad Ali’s Rumble in the Jungle bout; absorbing the body blows for most portion of the five games – almost borrowing his Rope-A-Dope trick – and stinging like a bee when it really mattered and where it really hurt, the most!
So which were these very moments that allowed the hosts to wrap their fingers around the urn?
Panesar checks in...with the bat:
The first game of the series, at Cardiff. The pitch is expected to turn square from the first day and turn into a Wankhede cauldron by the fifth, if it reaches the fifth. And the Aussies are expected to be humbled and left to dry. Stuff that fairy tales are made of, probably, at least for the hosts. But, very much like a fairy tale, it was too good to be true. Instead, come the final day, the Aussies had had only one bat in which 674 has been piled on, and Paul Collingwood has patted down more than 40 overs on his own to – almost – steer his side away to safety. Getting out with more than 12 overs to bat and having only Monty Panesar and James Anderson to see through the overs was an instant recipe to go down 0-1.
Instead, the broad bat and the even broader heart of Panesar played out six of those 12 overs to seal a draw and an even chance of winning the series. Panesar was given a hero's welcome back, akin to him having won the Ashes with his own bat, while the Aussies were left ruing their chances.
London Roulette – I:
Come the venue where the Englishmen hadn’t won a game against their arch-rivals since the times of their ancestors, the Lord’s. Despite a first innings total of 425, the hosts could have never felt safe till, the Aussie batsmen decided to plummet from the highs of the first game Mt. Everest, to the depths of the Dead Sea; and collapse to 215 all out. With the track playing as fine as the ones used during the Timeless Tests of the early 20th century, the hosts out-batted their counterparts and then Andrew Flintoff reminded everyone of his presence in the series with a five-wicket haul that flattened any hopes of an Aussie revival.
First blood to England.
The costly selection gaffes...
...and the two biggies at that.
Mitchell Johnson went through the first three games like an already dead man being made to clutch at straws, a bowler so low on morale and confidence – and probably luck – that the probability of getting two successive straight flushes in poker looked higher than him getting a couple of overs in without a boundary ball. By the time he had regained the form that had seen the fans expect him to lead the bowling attack for the Aussies, the bowling had begun to look depressing and without enough teeth to capture the 20 wickets. That they won the fourth game was clearly attributable to the rectification in the error in judgement by the selectors to not rope in Stuart Clark earlier and that proved very costly in the end.
For some reason, the selection committee did not cease to make the tactical errors here. It continued into the final game of the series, where a frontline spinner was the barest necessity of them all and the side went in with five medium pace bowlers! One may put forth a million arguments tilting to the tools of the hindsight, Nathan Hauritz’s inabilities as a spinner, not changing a winning combination, amongst the other blah, but the fact of the matter is that unless the track really demanded it – the original WACA or a lush-green pitch where it was difficult to distinguish between it and the outfield – not playing a spinner isn’t the most brilliant of ideas. Especially not on a track which puffs up enough dust on the first day, to cause air pollution in the neighbour county.
Bad mistake, worse results.
Another South African to the party!
The Aussies must have been sick of playing the South Africans over the four months beginning last year. And it was a sense of déjà-vu for them to have another of them taking the game away with a becalming couple of innings of 41 and 119 that safely deposited the match into a Swiss bank as far as the Aussies were concerned!
Jonathon Trott had been promised a stiff Ashes debut, but what the likes of Ponting and Michael Hussey hadn’t found on those videos was that he was made of stuff that was far sterner than most debutants one would find. It took the Aussie bowlers more than 45 overs to get him out, and by then, the series was well and truly sealed.
The Gary Pratt moments of the final day:
Fighting hard to save the Ashes, needing to stave off a defeat to clinch them, the last thing one is looking at is a run-out. Not the least, two of them. But what was worse was that Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke departed within five balls of each other, both run-out to brilliant fielding efforts, but due to a clear sense of unbelievable cricket from the Aussies.
Unfortunately for Ponting, he had no Gary Pratt or Bilal Shafayat to blame for the run-outs or the defeat.
London Roulette – II:
Another game in London, the Brit Oval this time. A badly bruised, battered and most importantly beaten English side. An amused (over the Mark Ramprakash affair), ambitious and an almost arrogant Aussie side (pardon the alliteration). Pitch curator sells everybody a dummy by predicting a run-fest, but more so Ricky Ponting, who goes into the game with five medium-pace bowlers, and has a sixth, part-time off-spinner bowl the maximum number of overs instead! Strauss wisely wins the toss, even more wisely decides to bat first as the pitch shows signs of being a land-mine on the very first day.
It turns progressively worse, affords much more business to the short-legs and the silly points than there had been throughout the series and hands the Aussies a 200 plus runs thumping.
Time to burn those bails again; only this time they need to be the ones from Australia.