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Notes by the Editor
This is only fair. It would also add yet another layer of magnificence to this already sumptuous rivalry by bringing in the potent concept of “the empty plinth” for the losing country. The case for this was first argued here a dozen years ago. It’s an idea whose time will come.
The baggy greenwash In the days when the great Bishan Bedi was twirling happily, he used to applaud every time he was hit for four, in a manner that suggested the boundary was all part of his strategy – and that by hitting it, the batsman was just becoming ever more entrapped in his web.
I thought of Bedi in February, after England had won something called the Commonwealth Bank Trophy: David Graveney, the chairman of selectors, self-righteously demanded that the media should apologise for their criticisms, and coach Duncan Fletcher started reminiscing about the motivational power of a polar explorer who quoted Mother Teresa at him. Losing the Ashes? Hah! You don’t understand: just part of our cunning plan.
It was indeed an astonishing finale. Once a tour has failed, and the players have started pining for home, the condition can normally be cured only by the flight out. Perhaps this team finally confronted the thought of returning to Heathrow with blankets over their heads. No touring team had ever been insulted as rudely as this one; and none so richly deserved it. We always knew they could play, and yet this tour did fail. There was no Bedi-style masterplan to fool the Aussies by handing them some early successes. England’s job was to win the Ashes. And the defiant little PS should not deflect anyone from the main facts.
We can see it clearly now: Australia would have regained the Ashes even if England had played up to their 2005 standards. Anyone who has ever seen a western knows that when a group of old compadres get together for one last, vital mission, it cannot end in failure. And these compadres were way too good, way too committed. Even the most embittered England supporter should take pleasure in the fact that they have seen Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist bat and, above all, seen Shane Warne bowl.
England’s one chance was essentially negative: that the intensity of the schedule would favour the younger team. But though England were younger, they weren’t fitter. The fact of losing was no disgrace: it is 36 years now since England last won an away series against a full-strength Australian side. The manner of it was disgraceful.
England were at once worn out but under-prepared; complacent yet overapprehensive; inward-looking yet dysfunctional as a unit; closeted yet distracted.
There were many reasons, the most pertinent, I hope, all raised in our Ashes section. The captaincy was not especially significant. Doubtless Michael Vaughan would have done the job better than Andrew Flintoff. So might Andrew Strauss. Indeed, any one of us who sensed that England should have batted on into the third morning at Adelaide would have averted the whitewash.
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