Ashes 2009 – Shades of 2005?

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2005 again? Surely not!

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The coverage of live televised sport, has always had critics. Astutely recognised by Blaise Murphet on this very website was the general ‘lack of balance’ placed upon play by BSKYB and Foxtel commentators in the first Ashes Test of 2009. Indeed BSkyB, who boast a number of former England captains, were urged to be ‘more ruthless’ in selecting commentators by the English braodsheet, The Telegraph by Jasper Gerrard.

It is BSkyB who have been, in the weeks leading up to the eagerly awaited series using clips from the last Ashes series to remind the public that the event is growing closer, evoking memories and building a buzz for the summer sport.  Excerpts show a catch by Ashley Giles, Lee and Flintoff’s famous show of sportsmanship and of course, Michael Vaughn lifting the four and a half inch urn for the first time in eighteen years.  The Ashes series in 2005 was actions, drama, twists, turns and thrills.  It captured the public’s imagination in a way cricket has failed to do, arguably, ever.
No error has been made. From BSkyB’s advertising of the series and coverage of the first test, you could be forgiven to think that the last Ashes series was in 2005. One BSkyB commentator, during the first test made the critical error of mentioning the 2006-7 series, largely wiped from the memory of English supporters, albeit with reference to Paul Collingwood’s valiant 206, only the third Englishman to score a double century on Australian soil.

2005 was, for the English atleast, unforgettable. The sun shone (largely!), the beer flowed, and the crowd bit nails, cheered, gasped and at Old Trafford, got locked outside the ground, as demand outstripped supply. This was ‘Ashes fever’.
Surely the latest series of the Ashes will not live up to 2005, which was both exhilarating and historic, perhaps the ultimate test series ever played.

Despite BSkyB’s attempts to lure in viewers on the chance of tense, hard fought gladiatorial cricket throughout the summer, the cricketing fraternity was convinced of the fact that the current series will be very different. After all, the Australian team is very different, the reliable veterans, and their all-conquering aura, in Langer, Hayden, Martyn, McGrath, Gilchrist and Warne replaced by relative newcomers, but with an aura none the less, of hard work, discipline and determination. Within the England squad remain a number of familiar faces, yet the team has failed to restore the shared character and courage of combat from 2005.
The current series has lacked the one-day series and Twenty20 fixture that gave England the impetus in 2005. Damien Martyn recently alluded to the fact Australia were not prepared sufficiently for the last series, and Duncan Fletcher’s somewhat successful attempts to get under the skin of the Aussie opposition are well known.

In ‘Behind The Shades’, Fletcher’s autobiography, he admits riling the Australians by strategic positioning of flag waving mascots, and enjoying witnessing the fuming Ponting march back into the pavilion, following a suicidal call by Damien Martyn, resulting in the Australian captain being run out-by England’s 12th man at the time, Gary Pratt.  Yet the use of a 12th man, and also very attentive physios has got under the skin of Ponting four years later.

As the First test drew to a close, rabbits Panesar and Anderson were well catered for drinks, fresh gloves and any medical attention! Accusing the England team of gamesmanship, Ponting insists Australia will play the rest of the series ‘in the spirit of the game’ and not taking the matter further.

The unknown nature of the Cardiff wicket dominated the English media leading up to the series opener, the decision to play two spinners fiercely debated.  Considering England’s poor record against Australia at Lord’s, the decision to move the opening game away from the home of cricket.  Choosing to play not just in a new test match ground but also a different country pushed the opposition into the unknown, yet both Cardiff and the touring side fared well.  Nathan Hauritz took advantage of the conditions which many predicted would favour England, returning six wickets for 158 runs, giving greater flight than England’s two tweakers.

The 2005 Lord’s  First Test wicket suited pace and swing as England skittled out Australia for 190 on day one. Harmison, Hoggard and Jones relished conditions, as did Glen McGrath who tore through England, dismissed for 155 and 180.
On the subject of bowlers, and specifically injured bowlers, McGrath was sorely missed following his freak accident stepping on a stray ball and later with a sore elbow.  Arguably Brett Lee’s quick inswinging yorkers could have influenced the Cardiff Test, prising the last crucial wicket from England, a torn side muscle preventing his inclusion.   On Lee’s injury, played down by the Austrlian management on one hand and trumpeted by the English media on the other, one cannot help but feel his fitness and participation will be hugely advanageous to a moderate Aussie attack.
After the late drama of the first Test, there are numerous comparisons with the 2005 series.  Lighting does not strike twice, but there is an eerie sense of déjà vu, Lee and McGrath hanging on to save the game at Old Trafford resonated with scenes late on Sunday at Cardiff. This will be a long summer of fantastic cricket, if even half as spectacular and gripping as 2005, regardless of allegiance in the stands, the sofa or the commentary box.


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