At some point in the early hours of Tuesday morning, England’s cricketers will surrender their final wicket of the 3rd Test Match and relinquish the Ashes to Australia. The optimism in the camp that precipitated from Stuart Broad’s five wicket haul on day one of the series is a distant memory. England seized the initiative in those first two sessions at Brisbane and for a moment looked as though they might pick up where they left off following the recent 3-0 series victory on home soil. Australia, however, defied England in the final session of that first day’s play, firstly wresting control of the game through Brad Haddin’s battling 1st innings contribution, before Mitchell Johnson set the tone for the rest of the series by obliterating England’s batting line-up both in Brisbane and again in Adelaide. That was that. England were at the races for four hours of this contest and have been absent ever since.
Australia have been superior to England in every facet of the game. Their catching has been outstanding and their ground fielding has epitomised their obvious rejuvenation since Darren Lehman’s influence began to take hold midway through the English summer. England’s bowling has also lacked the usual penetration and control, the former due to Broad and Anderson being unable to coax a benign Kookaburra ball to move in the air or off the pitch, the latter in part due to Australia’s deliberate and successful ploy to target the normally economical Graeme Swann. By comparison the four Australian quicks employed have bowled with venom for the most part and with patience during the brief periods where England’s batsmen have looked to apply themselves.
In truth, Australia have rarely had to resort to the patient approach as England’s top order have repeatedly gifted their wickets with the generosity appropriate for the impending festive season and this is where the major discrepancy between the two sides has lain. Any one of a number of statistics points to the culpability of England’s batters. Australia have racked up 1250 first innings runs compared to England’s 559. England have yet to register an individual score of more than 87, let alone bring up three figures as the Australian batsmen have done on seven occasions. And perhaps most fittingly, Mitchell Johnson, Australia’s leading wicket taker in the series can also boast a series batting average superior to that of any England player.
Kevin Pietersen’s mistakes with the bat will be singled out above anyone else’s; he’s just that kind of player. Australian skipper Michael Clarke has played on KP’s desire to take the attack to the Australian bowling and in doing so turned one of Pietersen’s greatest assets – his ego- into a palpable weakness. At times Clarke has packed the mid-wicket region blocking off Pietersen’s most profitable scoring area, or employed men in the deep challenging KP to clear them. Each time Pietersen has obliged seemingly unable to help himself and perished trying to defy the Australian captain’s obvious ploy to shackle him. Five out of six dismissals in the series to date could be attributed to Pietersen trying to impose himself on the game rather than being got out by the opposition.
Superficially it smacks of recklessness and there are England supporters and media pundits alike who have been only too happy to put the boot in, judging this seeming display of selfishness to be one indiscretion too many in a career already littered with them. Others have been quick to leap to KP’s defence with the oft-touted line of “that’s the way he plays”. And it is the way he plays. This time he has been found wanting and it looks bad but recall the times when it has gone the other way. Recall the Oval Test Match in 2005 when Pietersen took on Brett Lee’s bumper barrage and came out on top. Recall the knock KP played in Leeds last year flaying the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel to all parts. Recall the recent match winning centuries in the sub-continental climes of Mumbai and Colombo; innings which few batsmen in the history of cricket could replicate. For every meekly hit catch to mid-wicket or mid-on there have been plenty more occasions where the ball has been audaciously flicked to the boundary or flat batted past the bowler’s head. You can’t ride the crest of the wave at the Oval or Headingly or Mumbai or Colombo without plumbing the depths at the Gabba or the WACA. When Pietersen has attempted to add some circumspection to his game, the end result has not been as productive nor as compelling to watch.
One former player has now suggested that KP may not be a great player, merely a good player who has played great innings. This may be a fair comment but then the same might easily be said about the most prolific run scorers in English cricket that Pietersen has already surpassed and one or two more at the top of the list that Pietersen will surpass given time. Very few of the greats were great all of the time, perhaps only the Don himself can claim that level of consistency.
For now the Ashes are gone, the most disappointing aspect being that there was no contest, save for a scant few hours in the opening exchanges on the first day. England will now look to save face at the traditionally happier hunting grounds of Sydney and Melbourne. With the series gone and the pressure off, there’s every chance that England can salvage something from this series and avoid an unmitigated disaster.