So it’s over. Australia won the Urn back after three glorious series of English dominance. In the end it took just 14 days and there was only ever one side in it.
Australia have played attacking, ruthless and hungry cricket and have utterly humiliated a listless and bedraggled group of Englishmen who have looked almost completely unrecognisable from the group of players that won in India just a year ago.
In the aftermath of Australia’s series-clinching 150-run win in Perth, I’ve found myself, either when chatting to Aussies or writing articles, heaping praise on the old enemy (fear not, my pearly whites have been firmly gritted).
Despite having watched all the action unfold either on television for the Perth Test or in the stadium for the other two, I still can’t quite believe how good they’ve been.
Before the series, I was well aware that this wasn’t going to be like 2010-11. I was predicting a 2-1 England win (with a solitary loss in Perth) or at worst an Ashes retaining 2-2 draw. How wide of the mark I was! The Aussies, when taking brief breaks from well-earned stints of gloating, also can’t quite believe their luck. Even the most optimistic antipodean’s wildest dreams didn’t have it all done and dusted by Boxing Day.
In every facet of their game, they’ve been outstanding. Rightly, Mitchell Johnson’s re-born bowling will probably live longest in the memory, but it’s been a genuine team effort.
In Perth, Davey Warner and Shane Watson’s second dig batting were outstanding, but I was delighted that Steve Smith was named man-of-the-match.
Without his first innings 111, there would have been no platform for his bowlers to skittle England for another paltry total. By the time they’d done that, Warner and Watson were simply doing the easy bit.
Every single Australian can claim to have made a game-changing contribution at some stage during the series, even the less heralded ones. Chris Rogers made tough runs on day one in Adelaide and has been the perfect foil for Warner, Nathan Lyon has picked up big wickets in every Test and, as much has it pains me to say it, has thoroughly out-bowled the now retired Graeme Swann.
George Bailey will go down in the record books for smashing Jimmy Anderson for 28 in an over and has been outstanding wherever he’s fielded.
The stars of the show, for me, have been Michael Clarke, Brad Haddin and Darren Lehmann. On the field, Clarke and Haddin have marshalled the troops brilliantly, using inventive and attacking fields, and, alongside Lehmann, have evidently created an atmosphere off the field that has built hunger and got the players going on it.
To boot, Clarke is enjoying another great series with the bat and Haddin’s revival, while not as eye-catching as Johnson’s has been every bit as impressive. With both bat and gloves, he’s been immense.
Since Anderson was c Bailey b Johnson the whole nation has rejoiced. I hadn’t quite appreciated how much Australia had been hurting about their barren Ashes run until it came to an end.
Now, obviously, the boot is on the other foot and I am going to have to cop some stick over the coming weeks! But seriously, congratulations Australia.
The looks on the players faces as they celebrated and the sight of Johnson and Harris on the verge of tears as they gave their post-match interviews told the whole story.
For England, it’s an entirely different, not to mention far bleaker, tale. For every moment of Australian brilliance, there’s been a piece of English abjectness to rival it and we’ve been outplayed in every department.
Five of our key players – Cook, KP, Prior, Swann and Anderson – have really struggled and look completely knackered.
I genuinely don’t believe Swanny and Jimmy have been as bad as their woeful figures suggest and they have a right to be pretty peeved with their batsman, who’ve managed a miserable first innings average of just 188.
You ain’t going to win many matches with scores like that, lads. Prior has had a stinker with bat and gloves and, one would think, is testing the patience of the selectors.
The manner of KP’s dismissals have been gut-wrenching but he has made 8,000 Test runs playing that way and should be backed. Cookie looks exhausted in the field and short of ideas and leaden-footed with the bat. The man needs a break.
As you can probably tell, I’m not one of those advocating wholesale reactionary changes ahead of the Melbourne Test.
There was, of course, one major silver lining on the darkest of clouds for England: Ben Stokes. He’d bowled admirably in Adelaide, and with good pace, too, but his batting had looked a little circumspect against the pace of Johnson and Harris.
The first half of the Perth Test did little to alter my view but his second innings hundred was simply outstanding. He was superb down the ground and when pulling, but the most impressive aspect of his innings was the ability to put the last ball out of his mind.
On a track with a series of San Andreas-esque faults running down it and against an attack of this quality, a rookie like Stokes was always going to play and miss a bit.
Each time he did, though, he just marked his guard again and got on with it, playing the next ball on its merits. It was great to see such maturity from a bloke who just 12 months ago was on a plane home from this very country for a spate of late-night incidents.
The moment he brought up his century was the highpoint of England’s tour and I can’t wait to see him bat again in Melbourne now.
It’s little surprise to me that it’s Stokes, Joe Root and Michael Carberry who’ve looked most likely to make a hundred on tour so far.
They may not have the experience or pedigree of their more esteemed colleagues but they look hungry and less worn out. Perhaps England’s gruelling schedule is yet to take its toll on them.
I believe that there’s still plenty for the lads to play for in the Boxing Day Test. The Ashes may be gone but we’ve been so poor that futures are on the line, reputations are at stake and there’s pride to play for.
It goes without saying that the players need to do better by their brilliant fans (the Barmy Army sung to the last moment in Perth), some of whom are spending their life’s savings to travel to the other side of the world to watch the play. Come on boys.
Merry Christmas everybody, I can’t imagine it’s 35 degrees where you are!