The MCG at lunch, day three, with the kids on the field.
Well, yesterday was a painful day. After the 'series of a lifetime' England win in 2005, where both teams delivered the most exciting sport you can imagine, followed by a five-nil whitewash of the tourists when England came to Australia in 2007, and an average series, rightfully won by England in 2009, the improvement in England's cricket and the remarkable collapse of Australia's team was made stark, with Australia's one win of the series (with one to play) being liked by a commentator to a 'dead cat bounce'. As that win was essentially down to a remarkable one-off bowling performance by Mitchell Johnson, ironically backed up by a high score with the bat as well, it rather obscured the rest of the team's poor performance.
Excepting house-hero Hussey, Australia's batsmen have consistently failed, and again it was ironic that Victorian Siddle managed a test-high score with the bat in a sinking cause this morning, scoring 40 with Brad Haddin to stave off certain defeat for an hour more.
The post-mortems have started, and there will be a major reconstruction of the Australian team in the near future. One simple fact stands out to me (and not widely remarked elsewhere) is that Australia needs more than one bowler to be able to take a swag of wickets a game, and when that same man is significant among your high scorers, then the others need to do more than just turn up.
Australia's captain Ponting has not been a favourite here, and his disgraceful argument with the umpires and England batsman on day two is symptomatic of his buckling under pressure, again. Another point not widely made is that he is now neither in batting form nor fit to act as a behavioural example for the current Australia team, or that which must be under rebuild very soon. Inheriting Waugh's world beating team and tough attitude, after the retirement of a suite of greats, Ricky has shown he can neither perform with the bat nor develop a new team from a cauldron of opponent's pressure in the way that Alan Border did, and set that 70s Australia team on the road to greatness.
England's performance was almost flawless - but more importantly showed batting in depth, and not only did their first 'set' of bowlers deliver, the three brought in after changes were as effective as their predecessors. Fielding and morale stayed high, and England looked a strong team, rarely being knocked, even at the WACA loss.
Sadly supporters on both sides resorted to boos at disfavoured players at times, and on the third day the booing of Ricky Ponting as he walked out was thankfully surpassed by a more appropriate clapping and cheers. Generally the crowds were well behaved, and England's Barmy Army provide entertainment to everyone except the most one-eyed Aussie supporter. Billy Cooper's trumpet is now an enjoyable game fixture. Both of us were frankly surprised by the number of England supporters, which, given the distance and cost (some questions over monopolistic practices for the tickets they were able to buy didn't sound very hospitable when we heard about them) shows a dedication to their team that's laudable. As one England supporter in front of us responded to a boorish Aussie behind us, they've had to put up with Australia for twenty years, and I agree the England fans and team have every right to make hay and celebrate - they earned it.
It's called 'test' cricket as it is a pressure game, testing as it gets, and class, and performance will overcome temporary form and however much luck you can get. After the 25 possible days play is up, the best team stands clear. Both statistically and in evident attitude, the gulf between the teams is huge - no great comfort to an Australia supporter that it looks like a reversal of the team's roles around the 2000 period.
We took our two English guests to the G yesterday, and for their first day of real test cricket they couldn't have had a much better one - painful though it was for us! That was a pleasure - as well as the fact that some of the young lads playing at lunch (top) will perhaps be in a future Australian slide the equal of the Invincibles and Waugh's men. Oh, and that Australia still has the greater number of Ashes wins, series wins, retentions, period of ownership, and, of course, the first series win which started it all.
But we must finish with due credit to a perfect team performance by Strauss' England squad. The best team won.