The pride and joy I felt watching Andrew Strauss, England’s colossus captain, lifting the greatest prize in test cricket, is a feeling that will live with me for years to come. Strauss is not just a top batsman and cricket tactician, but also a man of honour and integrity, remaining humble and respectful towards his opposition following the triumphant summer, as England regained the Ashes for the second time in four years.
While Strauss doesn’t have the charisma of Kevin Pietersen, or the popularity of Andrew Flintoff, he possesses the ability to keep his wicket intact, score important runs, and build match winning performances.
What’s impressive about the Middlesex opener is that, unlike many of his predecessors as England captain, such as Michael Vaughan and Nasser Hussain, he has not let his role as captain have a negative effect on his batting average.
Strauss finished the series as the winning captain, with 474 runs, averaging 52.66. Six Aussies snapped at his heels in an attempt to top the run scoring chart, but to no avail, that award also fell to the England captain, illustrating his raw ability, and strengthening his player of the series accolade.
Contributing to the magnitude of Strauss’ achievements is that he’s only been the captain for 7 months. The current captain replaced Pietersen after he resigned earlier this year, while other English cricketers were relieved that it wasn’t them chosen to fill the void left by Pietersen.
Strauss is not one to shirk a challenge though, and demonstrated off the field his ability to remain clam and composed, which he does so competently at the crease. Strauss’ tactical awareness will have time to develop, and being only 32, he has time on his side to nurture into a top England captain.
An encouraging aspect of this Ashes series is the overall contributions from so many English players. In the first test at Cardiff, the unlikely tenth wicket stand between Jimmy Anderson and Monty Panesar, to sneak a draw, was an integral partnership, yielding 19 vital runs, from 69 balls, over 40 absorbing minutes.
Paul Collingwood’s 4 hours at the crease, scoring a vital 74 runs, demonstrated resistance, while his team mates helplessly frittered their second innings wickets away. It was essential that the Australians didn’t start the series off well, and these displays thwarted such a start for the touring party.
It was a captain’s century from Strauss scoring 161 the following week, who along with Flintoff’s 5 for 92, gained victory at St. John’s Wood, Lords, for the first time in 75 years. Graeme Onions and Anderson were swinging in the rain at Edgbaston, producing bowling of the highest order, in a game that England were in complete control of, only for the rain to save Australia.
It appeared that the entire England team suffered stage fright at Leeds, missing the indispensable presence of Flintoff. The burly no.7 failed to prove his fitness for the penultimate test, as England were soundly beaten by a rejuvenated Australian side, setting it up nicely for The Oval.
For the decisive test, Jonathan Trott scored 160 on his England debut, including a knock of 119. Stuart Broad’s man of the match performance, due to his 5 for 37 in the first innings, decimated the touring party’s batsmen in one of the finest bowling displays in history.
Graeme Swann, who scored a majestic 63 in the 2nd innings, provided strong bowling support for Broad, bowling a staggering 35.2 overs on the final day, taking the final wicket of Mr. Hussey to seal a 2-1 series victory. Special mention is deserved for Matt Prior, who was consistent throughout the series, scoring 261 runs, the second highest out of the Englishmen, while taking 11 catches, and a stumping.Despite the young players who’ve had such an impact on this series, it important to recognise the test career of Flintoff. The likeable Lancastrian has added excitement and panache to English cricket, while it’s poetic that his last telling test match contribution was a stunning direct hit to dismiss the greatest batsman of the current era, Ricky Ponting.
The manner with which the all rounder swooped, and fired the ball at the stumps was aptly timed, signalling the end of a partnership of 127, which was beginning to look increasingly dangerous to England’s chances of victory.
Flintoff has undeniably had an up and down series, taking only 8 wickets, averaging 33.33 at the crease, but it the guy’s presence on and off the pitch, which instils confidence in his team mates, and fear and worry in the opposition.
His barbaric-like batting display in his final Test innings, emerging from the pavilion while wielding his bat like a man possessed, pumped up for battle, was classic Flintoff. He attacked ever ball, scoring 22 from 18 deliveries.
With England already comfortably in the driving seat, he approached his final test innings with fun and ferocity, giving the crowd something extra to cheer, eventually, getting himself out, the tale of Flintoff’s career, caught after slogging over mid-on. No England fan would change his attitude to the sport he loves, and the country looks forward to seeing him again in the one day form of the game.
In true Freddy style he had a only positive words to say about the great adversaries, Australia, while the scenes of the two teams embracing with each other, sharing brief conversations so soon after the culmination of the series, illustrates the essence of cricket, and the respect shared between competing teams.
A further positive to take from Flintoff departure, is that there are players in the current England set-up who can pick up where Flintoff has left off, performing to his high standard, and fill the huge Test boots vacated now that he’s a one-day specialist.
When you consider that England achieved all this without their no.1 batsmen, Pietersen, for 3 matches, while the talisman Flintoff, to quote Geoffrey Boycott was “playing on one leg”, it further demonstrates the array of quality players Andy Flower has at his disposal, and the future of English cricket.
All the odds were stacked against England, with players making there debuts and a middle order in disarray, but England played with heart and determination emerging the victors in a scintillating and gripping Ashes series, where the pendulum of control swung from one team to the other, mimicking a typical Jimmy Anderson Jaffa.
The resolve displayed by England following the horrific performance at Leeds, which lead to the emphatic result at The Oval, is a factor that the whole England set-up should be deeply proud of. The manner with which England won in 2005, with the removal of the bails by umpire Rudi Koertzen, took a small part of the magic away from proceedings, a magic that was discovered again this summer, and resonated across the country at 17.48, on Sunday 23rd August.
The test for this group of players now lies in how they can build on this success. Responsibility lies with the likes of the youth of Broad and Ravi Bopara, who will return to the England set-up, while less experienced players like Trott, Robert Key and Yorkshire’s Adil Rashid are likely to be called upon more frequently, and will want to be up to the task.
In 2005, it had been 16 years since England had last held the precious urn, while they only won 1 from 5 tests following the exuberant celebrations in Trafalgar Square and Downing Street. Unlike 2005, the current side need to maintain the momentum from this summer’s successes, using it as a spring board to shoot up the cricket rankings.
One day games, and twenty20s are all well and good, but it’s Test cricket, the most important form of the game, that determines truly great cricket teams. Test cricket, as shown by this series, is gripping sporting drama, and this England team will be judged by performances in South Africa and Bangladesh, while the next Ashes in Australia is just 15 months away. So rather than remaining stationary, or going backwards after an emphatic victory, all eyes turn to South Africa, and the progression and continuation of this group of players.