Considering the fact that the term ‘Ashes’ originated from a mock obituary carried by an English newspaper in 1882 after losing the single test match at the Oval to the ‘colonist’ Australians—basically a representation of the death of English cricket—the 2015 Ashes couldn’t come at a better time for the English cricket team.
That they’ve died many times over in the last three years is a matter of great public awareness.
This has happened in all forms of cricket, and none will hurt as much as their decline from the World no. 1 test spot in 2011 to the depths of losing test matches to Sri Lanka at home and West Indies away. Their sudden demise was quick and almost painless, and the 6-month period between the two back-to-back Ashes series in 2013 bore witness to their rapid decline. They were favorites to win against a messy Australian team when the ‘colonists’ visited in June 2013, with Darren Lehmann as the new coach.
They won 3-0, convincingly for most time, before traveling with inflated chests to yet another series Down Under in just six months.
In December 2013, when the same Cook-led English team took on what was supposed to be the weakest Aussie test side in a decade, a capsulation of a level never seen before took place. Yes, England has been whitewashed in 2007 after they won the Home series in 2005 (the best in history), but back then, much water had passed under their creaky bridge in those two years. How much could possibly change in six months? Cook and co. soon found out.
Clarke-led Australia rose from the Ashes and destroyed England 5-0—there by prematurely ending test careers of senior English players like Swann, KP, Prior and Trott. Australia ended a run of 3 consecutive Ashes series losses since 2007 (when they won 5-0), losing in 2009 (2-1), 2011 (1-3) and 2013 (0-3). More importantly, they won as if they had never conceded the urn. All was well again, and England were down in the dumps. Again.
One can’t say they’ve really recovered since then. Cook is still under fire, and despite a brave performance against New Zealand, it has been a while since England have won a test series against a team not named India.
While England’s ODI team has gone through a complete overhaul, their test team has a core that is difficult to change overnight. There will be no KP, but Ian Bell, Cook, Balance, Root and Buttler will take fresh guard after getting through a hard-fought series against New Zealand. It will still be Anderson, Broad and Ali that will have to bear the brunt of bowling the overs. Luckily for them, Captain Cook is back in top test form after finishing as top scorer and Man Of The Series against the Kiwis.
Moreover, Steve Smith, who started his era of world domination in the 2013 Ashes, has come a full circle and will enter the series as the World No. 1 Test batsman. Chris Rogers is expected to be back and replace Shaun Marsh at the top, while Watson will have to be careful because of Mitchell Marsh waiting in the wings. The selectors will have to choose between the returning warhorse Harris and the impressive Hazlewood. Starc has finally broken into the test team for good, and will partner Johnson—who literally demolished English cricket single handedly in 2013.
What makes things interesting is the fact that both teams aren’t the best heavyweights. Australia is in the top 3 at best, and England is more of a mid-table team struggling to find any sort of consistency and balance even at home. It could have been worse for England, who were literally picking up the Ashes of their souls after their visit down under in 2013.
For the record, out of the 68 Ashes Series played between both teams, Australia has won 32, and England 31. In between 1989 and 2003, England failed to win a single Ashes series before the classic 2005 series. Australia actually won 28 of the 43 tests played in those years, and had England’s number until KP, Vaughan and Flintoff became national heroes in ’05.
Could this be England’s comeback to a sporting civilization bursting with modern innovations, or will it still remain a gentleman’s game from the 80s for them? More importantly, will Starc be the new Johnson?