A Vintage Ashes Series?

Well, the cricketing world and his wife will be analysing the remarkable Ashes series that has just finished, as they always do. With this one it’s a tough ask. How can you explain that away? Has there ever been a series which has swung one way or the other with such dramatic effect? No. Is it up there with the best? No.

Eighteen days out of a possible twenty-five equals the fewest played in a series of five tests or more. England became only the fifth side to win and lose by an innings in consecutive test matches. That statistic perfectly sums up the topsy-turvy nature of the 69th version of the oldest battle in the game. This Ashes series, trumpeted and hyped to within an inch of its life has failed to deliver for the cricket purist. Yes, it has been high on short-term drama, witness Stuart Broad’s devastating 8 for 15 at Trent Bridge, but low on long-term tension. The result has been a spectacle which has been a tad unreal. A vintage series grips the imagination with its intensity. It’s an arm-wrestle, as rugby league like to describe games. I have followed Ashes cricket since the mid-1960s and have been invariably gripped by the encounter. It has dominated the summer. This time, we have fallen short as first one side, then the other has taken the match by the throat and the opposition have failed to respond. It has been ‘wham, bam, thank you mam’ cricket, devoid of shape and lacking the throbbing heartbeat building up session by session over the full five days.

The statistics will be trotted out but fall short of reaching the heights. Sure, all the England bowlers had their moments. Joe Root was an inspiration with the bat. Steven Smith went big on the flatter tracks but no Australian bowler took 20 wickets, the first time that has happened in an Ashes series in England since 1926. All the key elements were present but great series are created by a sense of continued purpose, the slowly-evolving dramatic intensity. Back-to-back test matches merely exacerbate the feeling of moving forward too fast. There is simply no time to take stock these days. Is there too much pressure on the cricketing calendar? Dare it be said that the most competitive encounter in the game is beginning to lose its mystique, a victim of the commercial needs of the game’s administrators? This is the third time that the sides have met in two years. It used to be every four years in England, same in Australia.

Looking back over the last few weeks, I can remember many a moment when I wanted to get back to see the action or get an update but, on reflection, the whole series has not scaled the heights for me.