LET’S start with the ball tampering claims during the Melbourne Test. That seemed very average. The tweets from Cricket Australia were out of line. Was this the low point?
AC: Trevor Bayliss put it best: an old-fashioned beat up. I felt for my colleagues from organisations that
fired their shots first (through Twitter, primarily) before asking questions. Take the national broadsheet, for instance, leading their sports page with a crass headline suggesting Jimmy was a cheat on top of a story that had the officials clearly saying the very opposite. There’s not a lot you can do other than call it what it is and hope that the click-bait merchants won’t be so quick to embarrass themselves next time. But don’t hold your breath.
Away from the newspapers and onto the field. In the beginning, Nathan Lyon said he wanted to end careers giving the impression this was going to be an awful series when it came to chat. But it wasn’t that bad in the end, was it?
AC: Well, that’s how James Anderson assessed it, and he’s probably not a bad judge given the amount that comes his way when he’s batting (in response to what he dishes out when bowling). There’s no doubt it had the very real potential to bubble over badly in Adelaide. It’s hardly a secret that the sledging was of a particularly hard edge in Brisbane, later tied up in how the Cameron Bancroft/Jonny Bairstow incident found its way into the public domain. England, at the time, were furious. But both sides probably realised by the midway point of the contest the words weren’t making much difference.
How come Australia’s supposed fringe players – the Marsh brothers, for instance – dominated? Have selectors ever been so vindicated?
AC: No-one (in Australia anyway) should forget the brutal response to Shaun Marsh’s selection. Of course, it was a big punt given his volatile record. But the fact that he delivered his most successful series by any measure demands that we give generous credit to the panel that backed him. Ends justify means in this caper. How did he do it? Yes, Marsh was helped by flat pitches. But by far the most noticeable difference was how long he took to play himself in. Marsh is one of the most aesthetically pleasing drivers of the ball in the world, but he denied himself that release until well into his innings, time and again.
The second most controversial pick before the summer was Tim Paine – from the backblocks of Australian cricket to behind the stumps in the Test side despite not even keeping for his state when the call-up came. There was never any doubt about his ability to do the job with the gloves, but he was especially tidy under the Ashes pressure. Then with the bat, he was almost instantly more dependable than Matthew Wade. Sometimes it just works.
Even from an England perspective, what a great story Pat Cummins was. A handful of Tests in seven years and now this. And a good fella, right?
AC: What a glorious summer. There couldn’t be a sports fan anywhere in the world not wishing Pat Cummins every success. It’s rare you can say that about a fast bowler, especially one with the ability to target the body and helmet with such relentless accuracy. But there’s just something about him.
With the bat to begin, his hand in Brisbane was crucial, coming in when Australia still carried a 90-run deficit in the middle of what turned out to be the most competitive session of the series. If the pressure of that situation in his first Test Match in Australia (some six years after making his bow), Australia would have banked a big deficit into the second innings. Then what of the first Test? Instead, they won by ten wickets. His partnership with Marsh in Adelaide served an almost identical purpose.
Later in the series, there was something so neat about Cummins being the man at the bowling crease when Australia regained the Ashes in Perth, just as there was when he was able to claim four wickets in each innings on his home ground in Sydney to top the wicket-takers list. It doesn’t always happen this way, but in the case of Cummins, this really is a nice guy finishing first.
Going back to the Women’s Ashes, how much did it sting the Australians drawing the series? And who are more likely to regain the Ashes next year, our men or women?
Now that feels like a million years ago, doesn’t it? Since going home, Heather Knight’s side has been on the presentation circuit, including winning the team of the year gong at the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards. Even so, it still cut them deep knowing how close they came to securing the Ashes on foreign soil. One more win would have capped a perfect year following the World Cup triumph.
The big challenge for them at home will be just as it was away for the men this time around: supporting their champion seamers. Katherine Brunt and Anya Shrubsole are mighty servants, but they need a third quality seamer to step up. The flipside for the men: if Australia brings out their big three quicks to England next year – remember, two of them have experienced an Ashes tour in 2015 – we’ll have a cracking return bout. After the last two months, we’ve earned one.