Stuart Broad spearheaded a dramatic comeback in the last session of day 4 to clinch a third successive Ashes series win for England.
On September 2nd last year Jenson Button won the Belgian Grand Prix at the circuit de Spa-Francorchampsat. England prepared for a T20 series against South Africa having lost the Test series and along with it their No.1 test ranking to the visitors. Kevin Pietersen found himself pondering his future as an England Test cricketer, following yet another conflict with the ECB.
As well as following all these events, I'm sure all the aforementioned people (and many more) were united in their collective anticipation for the finale of Breaking Bad.
Eleven months on and the return of Walter White had united people Australian or Pom across the globe once more, the new episode was airing on Sunday. For the global cricket family and England fans in particular however it was their side's very own episode of "Breaking Even" that left fans in varying states of ecstasy. Why Breaking even? Well in my living memory from 1989-2003 it's been England who've played the part of "sides that compete but lose over and over again". After a role reversal in three successive Ashes series now, the tide appears to have well and truly turned.
In the fourth Ashes test at Chester le Street with a day and a half to go England had set Australia a tough 299 runs to Win. With Australia cruising to 120-1 at tea, I made the (now unforgivable) decision to switch off the tv and head to the cricket club for the weekly Monday net session. I, probably like many others had surmised that the real drama would most likely occur on Day 5. How wrong I was, how very, very wrong! In what can only be described as a freak of nature session of hurricane Katrina proportion, Australia managed somehow to record session figures of 104-9 from 35.3 overs. In doing so they accomplished the tough task of batting worse than their capitulation at Lords On day 2 when they recorded 54-6 in the mid afternoon session. Stuart Broad rightly took the Man the match award for his equally astonishing match figures of 11-121. However on closer inspection the match as well as the series has been a lot closer than the 3-0 suggests, not that it matters one bit to England fans.
How the Durham Ashes Test was won
Starc omission a mistake?
Michael Clarke resigned as selector in June meaning it's questionable how much influence he's had on the sporadic selection of Starc. In the two matches Mitchell Starc has played, (namely Trent Bridge and Old Trafford) the Australians have been competitive, in the one's he hasn't, the Tests haven't reached day 5. Coincidence? Maybe, but Starc has a menace about his bowling I imagine most batsmen probably hate. Tall, Gangly and express pace, He's like a cricketing Goran Ivanesavic, a wild card. Erratic with the ball at times, yes, but capable of bowling a magic ball at any stage of the day and very capable with the bat to boot. What he definitely is not is a Mitchell Johnson. Arguably a more consistent and talented cricketer, with him in the side the Australian tail would not have been as long in this Test. Ryan Harris bowled brilliantly in the second innings but Starc's replacement, Jackson Bird's lack of pace hardly put the fear of God into England's lower order batsmen. It's hard to imagine Bresnan and Swann repeating the same disdainful shots played to Bird's bowling against Starc. The Autralian selectors need to stop looking for a "new McGrath" and let the young Mitchell Starc fill his boots and become a player in his own right.
Bell & KP 106 run partnership - England's 2nd Innings
As mentioned, Ryan Harris was on fire in the second innings recording career best figures of 7-117. He'd already removed England's top 3 in his opening spell when KP & Bell got together. It was a tough time to bat. Not only did they come through that tough passage of play, Bell batted all day making a magnificent century, anchoring the England innings. It allowed the lower order to come out all guns blazing at a tired Harris and a startled Bird. The platform set by England's 4 & 5 burned half the gas in the Australian tank and was crucial in England pipping Clarke's men to the finishing line.
Stuart Broad has been on his best behaviour recently (He's started walking after nicking it for a start. For now at least) and It may have no correlation but his performances as a result improved immeasurably in this Test. When a bowler dominates a Test taking 11 wickets, there's rarely anything the opposition can do but take it on the chin and move on. Few wickets before close of play would've been impressive, but 5 in quick succession meant Australia had nowhere to hide. They surrendered at the Broadwalk Empire, and Broad's Tommy gun didn't take any prisoners. This was a ruthless display Nucky Thompson would've been proud of.
Why did Siddle did so little?
Everyone is probably tired of hearing the fact that Peter Siddle was the highest ICC ranked Test bowler in either side, coming into this series. It's rather perplexing then to witness him bowling less than Jackson Bird in both innings. Furthermore in this Test he continued bowling in his unusual role as a second change bowler. His best figures in the series (5 wicket haul) unsurprisingly came when he bowled first change with a newish ball, but ever since then it appears he's been harshly relegated in the pecking order. At Old Trafford he even played the role of third change bowler in the second innings. Something even the humble Vegan would've found hard to stomach. As an attacking fast bowler there's nothing more demoralising then not having the chance to bowl with the shiny red.
Not being the complaining type, he's quietly gone about his business in whatever role given, like a true professional. The same can't be said for decision maker who's idea it was to use him this way in this Test/series. it's also difficult to work out whether it was a strategic plan or simply down to the skipper. There're likely to be a plethora of reasons why Michael Clarke might have done it. Reverse swing, niggling injury or fatigue perhaps? Who knows, but the reality is it hasn't worked. What it did result in is that Australia's best seamer took 10 less wickets than Broad, England's 3rd best bowler. It had a huge impact on this game and in fact on the entire series. They may change it around of course for the final Test at the Oval, but now with the Ashes lost, it's definitely too "Siddle" too late?
images: © nic_r,