Australia’s capitulation in Durham last Monday night has ensured that England has now won four out of the last five Ashes series. That’s a humbling statistic for a cricket country that once ruled the world so proudly.
One of the features of England’s cricket during that period has been its outstanding selection and management of its team. Steven Finn looked a nervous wreck in the first Test, so he was immediately replaced by the dependable Tim Bresnan. England has reaped the rewards for common sense.
Australia, on the other hand, continues to get things horribly wrong. Admittedly there have been some unsettling influences both before and during this series, but decisions like the one to prefer Ashton Agar over Nathan Lyon for the first two Tests are unforgiveable. Someone should be accountable.
The list of blunders over recent years is embarrassing. How did the homework situation arise in India? Why did we select three new bowlers in the most important Test match last summer, in Perth? Why is a rugby man making important cricket decisions when we surely have some of the best cricket brains in the world in our midst?
Things still seem unsettled in the current touring party. Mitchell Starc needs a muzzle : surely the bowling coach has explained to him why he was left out at Lord’s and Durham, and now, with Lyon bowling well, he’ll come back into the side at the Oval. Or is Starc one of those players Mickey Arthur was referring to with an inflated pay packet and ego?
When I walked into the press box at Trent Bridge on the first morning of this series and discovered the news on Agar, I, like most others, was staggered. The word out of the Australian camp during the tour match at Worcester just before the series began was that Lyon was bowling poorly and without confidence. Little wonder. For the previous two months the Fawad Ahmed bandwagon had been careering out of control.
Every skerrick of logic and respect for cricket’s traditional systems was thrown out the window as we were led to believe that the 32 year old Ahmed was about to become our Ashes messiah. What was Lyon, who took 9 wickets in his last Test, supposed to think?
The Agar story at Trent Bridge has been well documented, and maybe it was fate that he got selected and performed his near-miracle. At least it sparked some interest from a cynical public back home who’d become fed up with the direction the Australian team was heading. However, by the time England had ground Australia into the dust at Lord’s, it was apparent that the fairytale was over.
A wise friend once told me that selection is the most important thing in sport. He was right. Never mind ice baths, core vales and culture, players need the chance to play and to feel they are wanted. Chris Rogers and Ryan Harris have just proven that. Let’s hope that under Darren Lehmann’s tutelage we can at least get those things right.
For years we’ve ridiculed England for its selection of South African-born players, yet in the space of a few months we’ve changed our civil laws to accommodate Ahmed, and now our cricket laws to accommodate dual passport holder Sam Robson. We are looking desperate.
At times over the last two years Australian cricket has shown it is emerging from the chaos of the Andrew Hilditch era. Yet still we manage to shoot ourselves in the foot. Mistakes like the Agar one have proven to be very costly.