The strange Ashes series

England and Australia have the longest running rivalry in Test cricket and they just completed one of the strangest series in living memory. England won the five-match series 3-2 and thus won back the symbolic Ashes that they lost due to a 5-0 drubbing in Australia just 18 months ago. Given that, Australia were favored to retain the Ashes so the result was undoubtedly a surprise.

But what was more of a surprise was the fact that every one of the five Tests ended in a decision. This is itself unusual for cricket and the fact that it has happened in two consecutive series may reflect the fact that attacking cricket is now the norm and teams find it hard to muster the mental attitude and skills to play defensively and run out the clock for a no-decision (known as a ‘draw’ in cricket), even when they get off to a bad start and a win is out of the question.

But more than that was that the individual games were not even remotely close and none of the games even extended to the fifth day and two of them ended on day three. In any individual game, one team just trounced the other but the team that won overwhelmingly one game would then lose overwhelmingly in the next. This was really weird, since the teams were pretty much unchanged through the series and injuries were not a major factor.

It is true that temperature, humidity, and pitch conditions are quite variable in England and favor swing bowling but I find it hard to imagine that that could have been such a major factor in producing this level of unpredictability from game to game.


  1. says

    One of my radio thingies you might vaguely like:
    The Cricket by the Heart On:2005-09-16

    Lord, if I should die today,
    Let it be at close of play.

    Well, I never ever thought I’d be saying this, but THAT was an exciting cricket match!—actually that sounds so strange that I’ve just got to say it again: “an exciting cricket match”; “an exciting cricket match??”

    (Wait a mo’ it might help if I get a mirror…

    “Are you talkin’ to me?”

    “Are you talkin’ to me?”

    “Are you an exciting cricket match?”

    No! No! It’s just too strange.)

    And to make things worse the whole of the series was pretty exciting too, a real cliffhanger—no I just can’t get my head round this, so we’d just better leave that aspect of the thing for a while, while I bring you up to speed: you see England just beat Australia for the Ashes in the latest test match series. Cricket matches that is, really important cricket matches-- and if you want to think of it in American terms it’s a bit like, say, winning the World Series, but with twice the number of countries involved. As a measure of the importance of this event in non-American terms you should note that something like seven and a half million viewers watched it and on the last day of the last test the London stock market was, according to the BBC, noticeably quiet if not actually lying, comatose, with its feet in the air.

    And, of course, these really important international Cricket matches do tend to go on a bit—much more so than Baseball (as befits out greater attention span), the players will start at 10:30 in the morning then play till they break for lunch at 12:30 and then the’ll come back out till they stop for a spot of tea at three-ish, then go back out and play till it gets too dark or the umpires get bored or something like that, anyway they play for a total of six hours. Oh yes, I nearly forgot: they then repeat this regimen for five days: all in all a considerable temporal investment. As you can no doubt imagine, there are many reasons not to play cricket, or at least opportunities to grab to stop playing once you happen to have started—one seems always to be being informed that rain stopped play or bad light stopped play or they’ve stopped because they’re doing really well.

    As I said Cricket is important, and just as baseball has infiltrated your language with things like “out from left field” or “bottom of the ninth two outs”, so cricketing terms have done with ours, people who would never dream of experiencing the thwack of willow on leather first hand may be “hit for six” (think home run from the pitcher’s point of view) or fear a “sticky wicket” (which I can’t even begin to explain) or indeed may express disdain for something unfair with “it’s not cricket” (that for reasons that are, unfortunately, becoming really obscure now-a-days as cricketers become less sportsmanlike and more like men in other sports). Luckily, of course, not all cricketing terms of art have spread, for example this from the commentary for this last match: “Warne sends down a maiden to Jones” which isn’t anywhere near as raunchy as it sounds, it just means no one got a run nor was out for a while, and isn’t that so much more boring.
    Right! Now you’re up to speed, so let’s get back to that exciting match, which was, as I said, for the Ashes. The Ashes are a sort of fictitious or non-trophy trophy that we and the Aussies have struggled over since 1882 when a mock obituary for English Cricket suggested that it had been cremated and the ashes taken to Australia, and a series WHICH WE JUST WON!!

    It was a most English victory too because we only just managed to win the series and we didn’t win last time (well actually, to tell the truth, we haven’t won for the last eighteen years), and that exciting last match was, in fact, a draw.

    We English love drawn games—why for years (admittedly in a different sport, of course, but the Great British ethos is the same) we have had football pools where the gamblers predict who will win or lose or draw and they get most points for a draw so we know what they are all wishing for. In this we are quite unlike you—it seems (at least to me) that you really, really like to stomp your opponents into the ground and then jump up and down on that spot for a while, and the bigger the win the better and you really HATE ties or drawn games and I suspect that you all spent years on research into finding ways to make sure that the underdog always gets a good kicking—even in T-Ball!

    Cheerio for now
    Richard Howland-Bolton

  2. Nick Gotts says

    But what was more of a surprise was the fact that every one of the five Tests ended in a decision. This is itself unusual for cricket

    It’s more than that -- it’s an outrage. The whole point of cricket is to underline the utter inanity and futility of everything, and in particular, of human endeavour! :-p

  3. grasshopper says

    Finally, 12 years after having undergone chemo- and radiotherapy, and the consequent evaporation(?) of all stamina, medical professionals have been labelling my condition as probably chronic fatigue syndrome. Thinking, therefore, of a new career which would not require too much physical effort I was considering applying for the position of Opening Batsman for the Australia Eleven.

    My reasons for qualifying for the position are :
    1. Not expected to bat for too long.
    2. On the offchance I hit a ball, I can use a runner.
    3. I am not really expected to carry my bat.

  4. jockmcdock says

    We may have lost the Ashes, but there’s one thing you can never take away from us. We are the first team for which Extras was top-scorer. I don’t whether to laugh or cry about that. Of course, I could do both.

  5. says

    The joke doing the rounds before the Oval test was that Clarke seemed to be smiling a lot, which is unsurprising seeing as he had only 2 days left in work.

    Well that kinda rebounded.

    losing Anderson was the issue for England at the Oval. He wasn’t missed at Trent Bridge because the ball was swinging but the Oval was a tame pitch.

    So its what , 18 months before England take a 5-0 drubbing on the Aussies hard tops then? I think the fact that cricketers are becoming experts in their home conditions is going to see a lot more series going to the home team. Which is a shame for everyone not playing Pakistan 🙂

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