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From the Ashes
by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
Sep 17, 2005
For all the sweat that was poured into the game, for all the blood that was shed on the field, for all the toil that the team had to put into the series, a little wooden urn measuring a few inches, with the ash of a wooden bail in it, doesn't seem to be a commensurate reward fitting enough for the struggles, at the end of it all.

With the exception to Ind-Aus series in 2001, in which the Turbanator decimated the Australian side, with ample support from Laxman, the an with the magic wand and a silken touch, and Dravid, the wall, never before, in the recent history, have the fortunes swung so wildly with each passing day, when both the sides within grasping distances of making history.

Fate, in this particular case, seemed an equal opportunity lurer. With each test testing the nerve and the mettle of every player, batsman, bowler and fielder alike, down to the last minute of the play, the teams would have heaved a huge sigh of relief, now that the series was concluded, regardless of the end result. It is certainly great to be on the winning side, but it is no less commendable ending up on the other side of the adulation. As the cliché goes, it is finally the game that emerged the winner here.

Ashes, the morbidity in the name notwithstanding, has always been just that for England during the past couple of decades, and much worse, after the Aussies have risen from those same ashes, pulling a phoenix act, post the Reliance cup in 1987. In these couple of decades, England ended up biting the dust always in the Ashes encounters, courtesy the stream of the pacemen who seemed to be coming off an assembly line from Australia - Terry Alderman, Craig McDermott, Merv Hughes, Bruce Reid (a New Zealander), and now Glen McGrath and Brett Lee. The list of the captains that the English Cricket Board went through, to stem the bleeding of the fan base, popularity and importantly, the national prestige, from the oldest Chris Cowdrey to the youngest Graeme Hick, was unlike any that has ever seen before in the history of cricket.

Quick fixes, fast solutions and instant gratifications were on the top of the agenda in the board meetings, and the rising mania of soccer didn't help either. It wasn't until the anointing of Nasir Hussain that the English team acquired the one essential trait that is a requisite for any winning team - character.

What Nasir bought to the team, wasn't merely the aggression, the nonchalant attitude at the face of defeats, and the in-the-face gloating even after inconsequential wins. He brushed aside the gentleman's aspect of the game, and ushered in brashness and cockiness, the two traits that the current world champions proud themselves to have mastered.

It is quite a treat to watch the current English team which has enough firepower to back up the brashness, to justify the cockiness with loud actions. Bouncers are replied with beamers, boundaries are greeted with sixers, one to the helmet is answered with one to the head. It is quite amazing to see how bringing in that one extra player makes everything fall in place, completing the puzzle. Flintoff was one such. Who can forget his topless act at the end of the series in India, winning one for England. It was worth emulating (which Ganguly did in the Natwest final at Lord's) - not just the act, but the spirit behind it.

After years of spineless submissions to one team after another, the current Ashes series is a culmination of the resurgence of the new England team, having won comprehensively in the subcontinent and around, and finally earning their place in the upper echelons of the cricketing world, fastly closing in on the current champions.

And Flintoff played a vital role in that, disregarding his humble statements to the contrary. Like the saying that fast bowlers hunt in pairs, with Harmision proving to be a fitting foil to Flintoff, England stands a pretty good chance of wresting the title of world champions, both the in the elaborated and limited versions of the game, in the coming days leading up to the World Cup in '07.

Why should we care about an Ashes series that doesn't even concern us?

Aside from the fact that the series became synonymous with the never-die spirit by both the sides (the fitting century by Ponting and the subsequent rescue act with the bat by Brett Lee and McGrath with in the third test, Giles and Petersen returning the favor holding on their never in the final test etc), a lot could be learned from the events that unfolded over the period of 25 days in England.

While everybody, from the computers to the critics, predicted a methodical massacre, that has become the defacto modus operandi, at the hands of the Aussies, a fact that was furthered fortified by the crushing loss of the first test by such a huge margin, it is the defiance to the past, defiance to the statistics and defiance to the one-on-one matchups, that England built its victories around.

The fact that the Aussies could be beaten, and consistently, convincingly and comprehensively at that, is a welcome sight to the rest of teams around the globe, who could now take a cue/lesson in ways of challenging the champions.

It is often reported that coaches, nowadays, use inspirational movies and inspirational speeches to motivate the players sufficiently before sending them out into the field. And the day is not far, when the tapes of this Ashes series would join the rest of the inspirational paraphernalia, to show how a test is not won in one day, how a series is not won in one test and how the past has no bearing on the future.

 
More Views by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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  India can win from anywhere
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