Six reasons England won the Ashes
With the Ashes urn back in the hands of an England captain, let's have a look at why the host have done so well this time around, and what the plan must be going forward.
1) Alastair Cook 2.0
Something’s happened to Alastair Cook. He looks a different man and his captaincy has been excellent throughout the series with the possible exception of the Lord’s Test where the general body language was a bit more deflated – understandable in the circumstances.
Cook is a changed man. Who knows what caused it? Perhaps it’s fatherhood, perhaps a change of backroom staff – notably Farbrace – freed him up, perhaps having Joe Root as vice-captain has been a bigger influence than we noticed.
Perhaps it’s being freed from the one-day captaincy and not being involved in the World Cup debacle. Maybe it’s just being surrounded by a bunch of players who have little baggage, enjoy their cricket and are immensely talented has made Cook more relaxed – it has to have had some impact.
Cook deserves immense credit for how he’s captained throughout this series. He’s moved away from his previous formulaic approach, he’s been attacking at crucial times but not recklessly so. That declaration at Trent Bridge was one that had everyone applauding.
He’s used his bowlers very smartly. Where previously he seemed to rotate them purely based on the number of overs, he’s deployed his resources in a way that puts him up there with the best captains in the World. In fact at the moment, he may well have edged it over McCullum. Who thought we'd ever be saying those words.
But let’s not re-write history, those who were critical of the decision to stick with him as captain were basing that on the available evidence. Even Cook’s most ardent supporters agreed that his captaincy prior to this summer had been found wanting. Cook himself admitted that he’s changed to be less stubborn and has adopted a new approach.
He’s to be applauded for that but let’s not be disingenuous, it was a gamble backing him as captain. No one could have known he'd change in this way and if they claim they did they're fibbing you.
2) England are OK without Jimmy
In previous times, the thought of playing a Test match, particularly one on a swingers paradise ground, without Anderson would have knocked England’s belief they could win. Of course, you'd always want to have a man who has 400 Test wickets to his name in your team but winning so comprehensively without him and other bowlers stepping up was an important marker for this new England team.
Anderson can't go on for loads longer and with Broad, Finn and Wood now established and with some exciting young bowlers in county cricket, the future without him doesn't look so terrifying.
3) Everyone's pitched in
England have only used 13 players in the series. Compare that to the 13/14 Whitewash when they used 20 players. There have been twelve half-centuries scored by England players and they've been shared about between seven players.
The bowlers have all had their day too. There have been five wicket hauls by four bowlers and those who haven't been taking the wickets have been playing their role in the much talked about 'bowling in partnerships'.
4) England's superb catching
And it’s been excellent throughout as has the ground fielding on the whole. The slip cordon is settled, they know their areas, they aren't trying to take each other’s catches and when someone takes a catch like the one Stokes did, you can see that confidence oozing out all over the rest of the team. Moments like that are what define Ashes. Just like Haddin dropping Root at Cardiff.
5) Everyone overestimated Australia
There’s a lesson here – don't listen to the bookies, or indeed us in the media. All of us overestimated Australia. And once they'd lost Ryan Harris and they'd dropped Shane Watson and Brad Haddin, they suddenly looked quite a different prospect.
Perhaps being such massive underdogs also helped England, they tend to do much better when they've been written off and this bunch of players are likeable gladiators, they relish the fight.
6) Paul Farbrace
He won't want credit. He’s not that type of guy. He'll say it’s all about the players but it’s no coincidence that England and Cook began to look like a totally different side when he took over as interim coach.
Farbrace is genuinely one of the least complicated, most amiable guys in cricket, so there’s no way his approach and demeanour couldn't have rubbed off on the players. We'll never know but I suspect England would still have won the Ashes even if Bayliss hadn't been brought in and Farbrace had stayed in charge.
Andrew Strauss has said he hopes one day Farbrace does take the number one job on a permanent basis and you can understand why he thinks that.
For Australia, there'll be the standard post-Ashes defeat postmortem. There'll be soul searching, retirements, a clear out and a new captain.
For England, they were (in private) prepared to lose this Ashes but with the knowledge that this is a new era and there’s a longer term strategy in place but what will be interesting is to see where they go from here.
There are some issues to sort out – who’s going to be Cook’s opening partner, who are the frontline spinners that they'll need in the UAE going to be and most importantly, how can they go from being a very good team that is dominant in home conditions to a great team that can win even overseas.
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