Ashes Team of the Series

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ashes 2009The 2009 Ashes has been dubbed ‘the pendulum series’.  Such has been the exchanges in momentum, as fortunes have swung and chances swooped upon.  Hearts have fluttered, performances have fluctuated, one-way traffic this series has been not.

The statistics deceive the true nature of this series.  Australia took more wickets, and among them, the Australians have scored ten centuries to England’s two.  And still the 2009 Ashes came down to the series finale, ultimately decided by a devastating bowling spell, a handful of sharp run-outs and a South African, batting on debut, in a cloud of dust.

It is reaching within, and seizing the opportunity, what professional sportspeople often refer to as ‘digging deep’. To recall Michael Clarke on the fourth afternoon at Lord’s, fighting back in a test in which both fortunes and performances had eluded his team, provides an example of delving into one own psyche, to utilise one’s talent and to deliver a performance.  Even chipping away at a record fourth innings total, as they reached into themselves to find the stubbornness and toughness that one has become to expect of Australian sporting outfits.

Yet it was England who dug deeper, and at the most crucial of times.  The plaudits can be equally shared.  Anderson and Panesar at Cardiff, dogged.  Flintoff’s final spell at Lord’s, awe-inspiring.  Onion’s swing at Edgbaston and Broad’s session at The Oval, destructive.  The final Test, providing occasions for individuals to have a say in the outcome of the decider, Swann’s spin, Flintoff’s fielding to run out Ponting, and Prior’s stumping of North to compliment the efforts of Strauss, Bell and debutant Trott to accumulate runs beyond the means of any good batting line-up, regardless of conditions.

To choose a team of the series has been problematic. Varied conditions and opportunities have allowed many players to capitalise on their own strengths, whilst form and fortune has ebbed and flowed.  Few selections have been clear, and a place or two has been a dogfight. I have gone for a team based on performances solely from this series. I would be interested to see if you agree!

Katich-An accumulator of runs, including a fine century in the First Test. Katich has dealt with the loss of his initial opening partner in Hughes.  His sole failure came at Headingley, but had the luxury of contributions of others to amass a large first innings score.  A consistent achiever in the series.

Strauss-Although not the first choice captain within the select team, Strauss’ batting contributions have earned himself a place outright.  His three fifties and hundred are all the more impressive considering his exemplary leadership of an Ashes winning side.

Ponting-Despite being on the losing side, Ponting has lead valiantly, in light of a number of frustrating performances from his team and against the backdrop of home support which at times has been nothing short of bullying. Ponting has accumulated runs and scored vitally, in the crucial number three position.  The questioning has already begun regarding the future of Ponting’s captaincy, yet his performances have provided further proof of his legendary status within the game.

Clarke-‘Pup’ displays remarkable talent coupled with the desire to succeed, toughness and ability to ‘dig deep’.  Two hundreds and two fifties, and showcasing his aptitude against spin, Clarke is the future of Australian cricket, his succession of Ponting an inevitability, but when exactly is yet unknown.

North– A form player of the series finishing with a fine average of 52.42. North makes the middle order comfortably-Bell played fairly well, Pietersen was unfit, Hussey came to the party late, Bopara was unlucky but generally looked undercooked for the challenge.

Flintoff-His inclusion swayed by his spell at Lord’s and the option to contribute with both bat and ball. His inclusion in the England team lifted the supporters during this series and Merv Hughes commented that his presence ‘makes his teammates grow and arm and a leg’.  Flintoff provided inspiration, evidently missed at Headingley, and sentiment aside, deserves a place for this.

A tough choice for the wicketkeeper. Haddin started the series so well as he ‘slipstreamed’ the success of Katich, Ponting and North at Cardiff, with his 121 and a stubborn effort on the 4th days at Lords in his partnership with Clarke, before succumbing to Flintoff on the final morning during ‘that’ spell. His glove-work has been very good.

But I would go for Matt Prior. He is not a batsmen of supreme talent, but he makes up for this fact by watching the ball and ‘going after’ bowling.  He displays toughness and the fighting qualities that are desirable in a lower order batter.  Whilst his keeping has been tidy and efficient, he has offered some spectacular and athletic work.  Prior has not exploded onto this series, and has not offered a magnificent innings, but he has contributed and arguably raised his game for the challenge of an Ashes series. Prior ‘digs deep’. An admirable quality, which England fans would hope he sustains.

Swann-performed consistently and took advantage of conditions at The Oval. The numbers do not do his efforts justice, and he has batted in his own ‘cavalier’ manner.  Hauritz was impressive, and in hindsight, should have played the final test, which proved to be a glaring omission. Hauritz is a competent and effective spin bowler, but is disadvantaged in succeeding the greatest spin bowler the game has ever seen, providing unfavourable and completely unfair comparisons.

Broad– a sensational Oval performance as he found form, along with an effective line and length to destructive effect.  This display must not be confused with the dusty, result-friendly Oval pitch. He bowled and batted well, contributing all series, it was a shame he bowled so short early on.  I would not dare place the moniker of ‘the next Botham/Flintoff’ upon Broad, but he is now England’s all-rounder.

Anderson-his action and wrist position exploited the favourable swing conditions that were found early in the series. His body language and demeanour slumped in light of performance and injury at Headingley, as did the England team’s-noted within the Langer Dossier, this must be corrected in the future.

Hilfenhaus-found swing and pace, top of the wicket-takers. A reliable bowling option who performed regularly, when needed.

The bowling options caused me most concern- Johnson was considered n the basis of his final wicket tally, of 20, but his form early in the series was dire, his body language betraying his lack of confidence.  His Oval performance allowed glimpses of his capabilities, of which he showcased against South Africa on bouncy pitches. Onions, impressive as he was, did not play a number of tests, whilst Clark, a perfect choice for Headingley was a poor selection in light of the Oval conditions.

If only Pietersen was fit, if only Lee was fit, they were not. If only Hauritz was selected for the dustbowl decider, he was not. The 2009 Ashes was not a series of individual brilliance, although a few stole the show fleetingly. Test cricket lends itself to contributions, meaningful and consistent, to mental strength and physical robustness, to digging deep at the most challenging of times.  My 2009 Ashes team of the series reflects this.

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