England wrapped up The Ashes at the weekend, and will have the chance to make the victory more comprehensive in the fifth test beginning on Aug. 20 at The Oval. For now, it's a time of reflection, and a chance for us all to look at why England won, and what it can teach us for future series, whether betting or simply watching.
Home Advantage is Crucial
England benefited, as does every test team, from playing a series at home. For tourists, there are a number of challenges that come from visiting another country and playing cricket there for several months.
One of those is the challenge we all come up against in every walk of life, when away from home for a long time - we miss home comforts, spend our days in hotel rooms, and any differences with other members of the group become more pronounced. This is the reason why rock bands often split up in the middle of a world tour; people get weary of each other when in a confined space for a long time.
There were rumours of the Australian squad showing some evidence of disharmony as this Ashes tour rolled on. Supposedly this needle between players was a contributing factor in Michael Clarke announcing his retirement from international cricket after the series was lost.
In truth, when you're winning, all is rosy in the garden - but Australia didn't show a technical superiority over England, except for in that Lord's test. Why was that? Pitch conditions didn't suit a touring bowling attack that was selected for its ability to play fast, straight wickets - what they found was moist, swing-friendly wickets.
There were other factors, too. As much as the dropping of Brad Haddin was done for pragmatic reasons (his replacement, Peter Nevill, showed decent form in his first match), the jettisoning of such a popular team member was ruinous for morale among the group.
Added to that, the Australian batting was poor, particularly when the whole team was out for 60 in the first innings of the fourth test, a score it was impossible to recover from.
The Best Batting Was Reliable
Speaking of batting, England again showed it had its problems at the top of the order; Alastair Cook and Adam Lyth seemed to have problems when facing the new ball, with Lyth in particular wearing a look of constant concern when facing short-pitched bowling.
This perhaps showed the difference between facing hostility at county level, at which Lyth routinely excels for Yorkshire, and stepping up to international level, where the demands are so much higher and the opposition world-class. Lyth was fortunate that, given Gary Ballance's struggle for form, dropping two batsmen was seen as excessive.
Looking back at successful Ashes series of the past for England, the common factor has been a middle-order batsman willing to thump the ball to all corners of the ground in order to save the match. Ian Botham was the first, then Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Flintoff followed in 2005 and 2009. This time, it was more of a dull, worthy, collective effort from the host nation, but thanks to Australia's faults, it worked.
Sometimes reliable is as good as exciting, and before you have a game-changer, you need a game-maker. England didn't have any must-see batting innings, but it had batsmen willing to block, leave and prod for hours, unlike Australia.
England Bowlers Prove Strength In-Depth
In the absence of James Anderson, many observers, including BookieSmash, predicted a fall-off in form for the England collective. Anderson's seven wickets were central to the third test victory, and as the England bowler who was best able to capitalise on swing, his loss would be felt, we thought. However, we underestimated the impact of Mark Wood and Steven Finn, who came in and performed superbly in the fourth test. The lesson: England has changed, it's much stronger than it was even six months ago.
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