English cricket is in an unusual position—they are actually leading in an Ashes series! This has only happened once before since I started following cricket (and even then they lost the series)! The good thing is, for so-called neutral (!) viewers such as myself, it sets the series up for grabs in the fifth and final Test at the Oval: if Australia win to level the series at 2-all, they keep the Ashes; if England win or it’s a draw, they take the Ashes.
To be honest, though, I have never seen such an aimless Australian team. Not even the most rabid England supporter will believe in their heart of hearts that the English side is actually better; it’s just that the visitors have never really got their act together. Ever since they landed in England this year, something has seemed amiss. Did Australia think they only had to turn up to retain the Ashes? (Not that one would blame them, given recent Ashes history!)
Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn, Ricky Ponting (save his match-saving century at Old Trafford), Simon Katich and, most notably, Adam Gilchrist and Jason Gillespie—all decided to lose form right now. In fact, Shane Warne and Brett Lee seem to have done more than their more illustrious batting teammates. (Technically, the batting averages are being topped by none other than Test cricket’s most successful number 11, Glenn McGrath, the only batsman England haven’t been able to dismiss yet!)
Dropped catches, silly runouts, rash shots and some inexplicable captaincy have been the cause of Aussie downfall this summer. Yes, they have shown sparks of that indomitable spirit when the chips have been very badly down, but the intensity—and, dare I mention, professionalism?—has been woefully missing. Thrice England have stuttered after having Australia by the short and curlies. All they had to do was pull; instead they brought out the shampoo!
Perhaps it’s time to find out if the cliche about the tough getting going when the going is tough is true.