Opinion: The Ashes show must, alas, go on


Australia need to get real, accept their shortcomings, and make a game of it. Otherwise, we will all start looking at the football scores by mid-August.

In a previous life, when all things Ashes were mere predictions and hype, my honest opinion was that it would take two matches actually played on a cricket pitch to evaluate where this series was going.

The two matches could not have been more contrasting in terms of excitement, but the result was the same. If only Australia had snatched that first Test, we could have had a competitive series on our hands. Go on. Kid yourself. It is tempting, though.

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Fears of these Ashes being claimed in less than two weeks work – so often an Australian speciality – is definitely on the cards as the two teams reconvene at Manchester. Complacency is England's biggest enemy now.

Australia may as well be sent home after another thumping. We don't want tourists who are not adding anything to the economy. What a shame that even the cricketing English landscape has now become all puritanical. Jonathan Agnew is even telling us how disappointed fans are about how nice Glenn McGrath is in person.

It seems that the revered Aussie backbone – or mongrel – went missing at the Home of Cricket. What best summed up the situation was something that occurred off the pitch. Next man in, Usman Khawaja, was pictured on the balcony, getting a massage from one of the support staff.

His face bore the look of a man who had seen a ghost. Shane Watson thought he saw a ghost at Durham in 2005, the venue of the next Test match. Watson said at the time: "I have bad memories there. I didn't sleep for four nights." The problems are mounting up when your opener needs the light on at bed time.

It was that 128 all out on the Friday which really deflated the whole series as a spectacle. It is not as if England's big guns – Trott, Pietersen and Cook – have fired at the enemy. Mostly, they have fired into their own stumps.

Ian Bell has played two absolutely model innings full of restraint, showing an almost maniacal determination to stay in. Suddenly, Bell looks like a grown up, waving his bat and strutting like he owns the place. That's not right. It is weird. Joe Root is like a big kid, classified as an adult, who likes jumping up a lot, a bit like a saner version of Michael Slater.

Neutrals will watch on and hope for a change of events that might deter that inevitable sense of decline in the away dressing room. This is, after all, England versus Australia. The series is still alive. If the visitors could actually bat first and set the game up properly, then their bowlers might actually remember their primary job is to bowl.

The perennial issue is trying to get a batting order that is not constantly being shunted around. When Darren Lehmann says Warner 'could bat anywhere from one to six' this encapsulates the problem of moving natural openers up and down the order.

Phillip Hughes has already expressed his frustration at the policy. Ed Cowan, a man who can usually hang around at the top, is suffering from vertigo after one miserable attempt as a number three at Trent Bridge.

Ultimately, the vision for Australia is so blurred they need to rely on the wheel of fortune, the roll of a die or most likely the toss of a coin. The honeymoon period for Lehmann lasted until England were 11-2 at Trent Bridge in the second innings.

That was their window of opportunity. It came and went and now the cruel truth is dawning. They need to get real, accept their shortcomings, and make a game of it. Otherwise, we will all start looking at the football scores by mid-August.

<b>Tim Ellis</b>