Ashes Poetry - cricket

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David Fine, Ashes poet in residence in Australia 2006-7

England vs Australia.
Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Melbourne, Sydney 2006-2007

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Analysis of Failure

This is for cricket lovers, especially English cricket supporters, who wonder why the Ashes were lost so readily after taking so long to regain.

Previous Performances

We did better than the last time down under. The 2002-3 team lasted eleven days in their attempt to wrest the Ashes. At least this time it was fifteen. Whether this understated fact is considered significant probably depends upon individual reader's expectations.

Selection - overall tour party

The tour party selection was good. No one has said no one who went shouldn't have and no one who didn't go should've. Maybe Robert Key can consider himself unlucky not to replace Marcus Trescothick instead of Ed Joyce, and some would argue that Neil Broad should've been called up once the pace attack seemed so toothless, but I can't remember the basic selection being so right, and agreed to be right. Odd that the media hasn't pointed this out, or may be it isn't...

Effort and The Media

The team did try their hardest. The Daily Mail and other papers to bang on about too many parties etc is, to use a very technical phrase most readily understood by those in the media, bollocks. Not only is it bollocks, it's hypocritical bollocks. This is the same paper that praised this team to the hilt and beyond, doubtless enthusing about Flintoff's drunken state the morning after the night before regaining the Ashes.

Not only is it hypocritical bollocks, it is also lamentable bollocks. A common problem all England teams in all sports face is media intrusion and expectation. This in turn creates stories which don't exist. My missus tells me that there is a dressing room fall-out because Flintoff doesn't like Panesar. This story doubtless arose because Fletcher said he wanted Panesar in at Adelaide, whereas apparently Flintoff didn't, thus breaking the cardinal rule that individual selector’s opinions are never ever discussed in public (it is a corporate decision) In turn journalists turn this into a "Freddie hates Monty" story, and regardless of substance it is difficult to deny ("Duncan denies Freddie hates Monty") Can you imagine the Australian press running such a story, regardless of how well or badly the team was doing? No. And if any paper tried, they'd be tried and found guilty of that most heinous sin, not backing the team.

There's no story in the first place, since there is no reason any two players should like or dislike each other. They are professional cricketers working together to do a job of work, and all professionals work with others they may or may not choose to otherwise be with.

Talking of being professional, sports journalists should stick to sport, rather than invade personal space. The hypocritical (does journos' personal lives ever come under press scrutiny?) and lamentable (does invasion of privacy help England teams?) bollockry that fills far too many column inches does nothing to support England teams. Worse it leaves less space for true sports journalism. The ability of the Australian media to support their team in times of difficulty is diametrically opposed by the ability of their English counterparts to do the exact opposite. Stick to the facts of the matter at hand, and write about them well.

Efficiency of Effort

England did try hard, very hard, if at times they were exceptionally trying.

We are now getting to the facts of the matter at hand. As detailed in 'Post Mortem' after the Adelaide Test, England teams handicap themselves by using a mental model of Anticipated Outcomes - 'We have won the Ashes, therefore we shall keep them' which is particular weak opposed to the Australian model of realising desires 'Let's get the Ashes back.'

Both the England team and media used this model, as have the England soccer teams and press with the World Cup since 1966.

In this instance, it meant a complete reversal of the strategy that won them the Ashes. Instead of going hard, realistically attacking at all times, outdoing the Aussies at their own game, England were excessively defensive, keen only to protect what they held, not to grind the opposition into the dust. Doubtless this strategy was discussed and agreed by England team management and was the primordinal error, since it made it almost impossible for them to retain the Ashes.

Australian Conditions

Insufficiently taken into account. "We beat them last series, therefore we should this series." Something which is quite hard to see on the box, the increased size of the grounds - which makes finding gaps different, and hitting boundaries and going arial harder - and the different nature of the wickets - more bounce, less lateral movement - means you need to adapt your game, never mind the sun and playing away. No amount of net practice will provide compared to time in the middle. In other words all the team were still experimenting during the First Test at the Gabba, and some still are at the Waca. (Not sure if Geraint Jones will ever have the game to bat successfully in Australia.)


This comes down to schedule. England are playing not enough yet too much cricket. Before The Gabba they needed two hard four day State games in order to 'hit their straps.' Presumably this could have been arranged. It seems tour management believed this was unnecessary and also undesirable. In other words they underestimated the task at hand because they were already anticipating the outcome of retaining the Ashes.

Selection - match by match

Injuries and absences did make a difference, but not to the extent of a 2-1 winning side already 3-0 down. Put it another way, even with Siinon Jones, Trescothick and Vaughan avaiable, the negative strategy still would have played into Australian hands. The selection of Geraint Jones and Giles ahead of Read and Panesar was part and parcel of this negative ethos. As curiously was Flintoff as Captain - a great player in 2005, therefore best choice of captain in 2006-7. You’re only as good as the next ball.

Overall Rod Marsh is right. England have gone backwards since 2005. The question is how to go forwards again.

Where Next

Here I wish the solutions were as readily identifiable as the problems. I 'd go for achieving quality and potential. This would mean selecting players on the basis of the prime part of their game (ie Panesar and Read rather than Giles and Jones) It would also mean hard warm-up games so that the team was match rather than net-hardened. Taken together this should mean England are as well prepared as Australia. Together with an aggressive attacking attitude, playing to win, it should mean that England has a fighting chance. Without it there is no hope except relying on outrageous amounts of luck.

It'll be interesting to see whether England play with a different ethos in the last two tests.