How the Ashes was won

Published : Aug 29, 2009 00:00 IST

England will concentrate on the future, finding a successor to the now retired Andrew Flintoff and trying to ensure that the successes of this series get a permanent place in the side rather than being pushed into the shadows, writes Ted Corbett.

Once again England have won back the Ashes at the Oval, once again their players have celebrated — mainly — with champagne and once again sporting Australia has forecast the end of life as we have known it — mostly — for the last 20 years.

In 2005 Australia spent 16 months plotting revenge and won the next series in their own backyard 5-0 while England noisily wasted their triumph in the long-lasting round of parties and slack results.

This time it looks as if, instead of donning sackcloth and, appropriately, ashes and going into a series of camps designed to put the zest back into their game, the Australians will hold inquires that could result in some high profile heads being shuffled off into the darkness.

It looks as if England learnt a bitter lesson.

England will concentrate on the future, finding a successor to the now retired Andrew Flintoff and trying to ensure that the successes of this series get a permanent place in the side rather than being pushed into the shadows.

England won, after a long day in the field, when they beat Australia by 197 runs. The Oval authorities had given them a dry, crumbling result pitch and they had fought hard for four days to force Australia to their knees.

England’s victory at Lord’s — their first there since 1934 — and defeat at Headingley — where Australia picked the right team — had left the series drawn 1-1 before the Oval game. It is not difficult to imagine that the captain Andrew Strauss, the most gentlemanly England captain in years, sent a polite note of thanks to Surrey for their pitch preparation.

Most important, and it is difficult to see how anyone could fix this vital part of the operation, Strauss won the toss. He showed his own gratitude by making typical solid fifties in both innings but most importantly by rubber-stamping the selectors’ suggestion that Jonathon Trott be given the No. 5 batting spot in place of young Ravi Bopara.

Trott, born and raised in South Africa like Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior and too many other England players in the last 30 years, clearly has the talent to play a more conservative, back-up role to Pietersen.

If nothing else that could bring solidity to the England middle-order which was certainly not evident in this series and might result in their reasserted wish to head the ICC world rankings sometime soon.

Trott made 41 in the first innings as England reached 332 and became one of 18 England players to make a debut Test hundred as they killed Australia’s last chance — and set them to make 546 for victory.

As a result of his performances in the last two Tests, England will look for the upright and sober Stuart Broad, son of opening batsman-turned match referee Chris Broad and a 6ft 6in all rounder, to replace Flintoff.

Not completely of course. Just how horrified the old-fashioned England cricket establishment were by Flintoff’s ability to enjoy himself in a gargantuan, eat-drink-and-be-merry sort of way, had become clear as his final Test approached.

A number of writers found fault with almost every aspect of his life. He was “not professional” — presumably because he drank over-much and landed himself in hot and cold water by such incidents as his midnight trip in the only ocean-going pedalo during the last World Cup.

He was “more a public relations creature” than a cricketer because he had a full-time manager and staff looking after his money-making activities. All too 21st century.

He got injured. Not surprising, is it? A 16st. body that crashed into the ground on behalf of his side for 10 years was bound to be injured; praise his efforts rather than criticise the results. I have never seen Flintoff in the same way as his detractors. What they seem determined to forget is his spirit, the joie de vivre that carried him into battle and pulled his team-mates with him and his refusal to admit that there was a situation that over-faced him.

I will remember him in the same way as Geoff Boycott. “He never bowls a bad spell,” said the loudest voice in the England rearguard, and he is right. I remember as one of the outstanding moments of my time next to England his handful of overs against New Zealand when he brought Stephen Fleming, already a century to the good, to a standstill.

I promise you that Lillee, Gough, Wasim Akram, Richard Hadlee and Allan Donald never bowled a better one-day spell than that. England may learn how important Flintoff was to their performances when they search for someone to stop another one-day victory. There was more to this cheerful giant that met the eye. What a pity some of his old team-mates — desperate for a cheap jibe to support their ventures into print — could not find more generous descriptions.

When Australia were offered two days and 20 overs to make this Mount Everest of a winning score some of England’s oldest supporters even imagined it might be possible.

The Aussies might have picked the wrong squad — without a third opening batsman or enough spin options. They might have picked the wrong side for this vital final match — without a spinner save for the part-timers Marcus North and Simon Katich. But after all they were Australia, the great, never-say-die, battle-‘til-the-last-man drops, Australia.

It did not quite work out that way and once again it was Flintoff who turned the game on its head.

For two hours Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey quietly but effectively put together a century stand that might have been the basis for a dash to 546.

Then Hussey called Ponting for a single after pushing the ball to mid-on where Flintoff ran round the ball and with a throw like a cowboy using his lariat to bring down a prize bull knocked the stumps out 30 yards away. So Ponting goes home to answer a long list of difficult questions and Flintoff checks into a hospital for yet another attempt to correct the wear and tear to his knees.

We may have seen the last of both of them but as the Oval stood to Ponting — instead of giving him the usual chorus of boos — and saluted Flintoff again and again there ought to be a recognition that we will never see their like again.

More’s the pity.THE SCORES

Fifth Test, Oval, August 20-23, 2009. England won by 197 runs.

England — 1st innings: A. Strauss c Haddin b Hilfenhaus 55; A. Cook c Ponting b Siddle 10; I. Bell b Siddle 72; P. Collingwood c Hussey b Siddle 24; J. Trott (run out) 41; M. Prior c Watson b Johnson 18; A. Flintoff c Haddin b Johnson 7; S. Broad c Ponting b Hilfenhaus 37; G. Swann c Haddin b Siddle 18; J. Anderson lbw b Hilfenhaus 0; S. Harmison (not out) 12; Extras (b-12, lb-5, w-3, nb-18) 38. Total: 332.

Fall of wickets: 1-12, 2-114, 3-176, 4-181, 5-229, 6-247, 7-268, 8-307, 9-308.

Australia bowling: Hilfenhaus 21.5-5-71-3; Siddle 21-6-75-4; Clark 14-5-41-0; Johnson 15-0-69-2; North 14-3-33-0; Watson 5-0-26-0.

Australia — 1st innings: S. Watson lbw b Broad 34; S. Katich c Cook b Swann 50; R. Ponting b Broad 8; M. Hussey lbw b Broad 0; M. Clarke c Trott b Broad 3; M. North lbw b Swann 8; B. Haddin b Broad 1; M. Johnson c Prior b Swann 11; P. Siddle (not out) 26; S. Clark c Cook b Swann 6; B. Hilfenhaus b Flintoff 6; Extras (b-1, lb-5, nb-1) 7. Total: 160.

Fall of wickets: 1-73, 2-85, 3-89, 4-93, 5-108, 6-109, 7-111, 8-131, 9-143.

England bowling: Anderson 9-3-29-0; Flintoff 13.5-4-35-1; Swann 14-3-38-4; Harmison 4-1-15-0; Broad 12-1-37-5.

England — 2nd innings: A. Strauss c Clarke b North 75; A. Cook c Clarke b North 9; I. Bell c Katich b Johnson 4; P. Collingwood c Katich b Johnson 1; J. Trott c North b Clark 119; M. Prior (run out) 4; A. Flintoff c Siddle b North 22; S. Broad c Ponting b North 29; G. Swann c Haddin b Hilfenhaus 63; J. Anderson (not out) 15; Extras (b-1, lb-15, w-7, nb-9) 32. Total (for nine wkts., decl.) 373.

Fall of wickets: 1-27, 2-34, 3-39, 4-157, 5-168, 6-200, 7-243, 8-333, 9-373.

Australia bowling: Hilfenhaus 11-1-58-1; Siddle 17-3-69-0; North 30-4-98-4; Johnson 17-1-60-2; Katich 5-2-9-0; Clark 12-2-43-1; Clarke 3-0-20-0.

Australia — 2nd innings: S. Watson lbw b Broad 40; S. Katich lbw b Swann 43; R. Ponting (run out) 66; M. Hussey c Cook b Swann 121; M. Clarke (run out) 0; M. North st. Prior b Swann 10; B. Haddin c Strauss b Swann 34; M. Johnson c Collingwood b Harmison 0; P. Siddle c Flintoff b Harmison 10; S. Clark c Cook b Harmison 0; B. Hilfenhaus (not out) 4; Extras (b-7, lb-7, nb-6) 20. Total: 348.

Fall of wickets: 1-86, 2-90, 3-217, 4-220, 5-236, 6-327, 7-327, 8-343, 9-343.

England bowling: Anderson 12-2-46-0; Flintoff 11-1-42-0; Harmison 16-5-54-3; Swann 40.2-8-120-4; Broad 22-4-71-1; Collingwood 1-0-1-0.

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