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Comment lead their attack (their four main bowlers in Cardiff were all playing their first Test in this country). Mitchell Johnson was always capable of a magical delivery – whether his bouncer, which all of England’s right-hand batsmen found very difficult to play, or the odd ball which swung – but he did not have the confident persona of a strike-bowler.
Strauss was lucky again in that the Australians were knocked out of the ICC World Twenty20 by West Indies and Sri Lanka. Two warm-up games in a month did not give their bowlers sufficient opportunity to adjust fully to the Dukes balls, now used in Tests only in England. Even so, Strauss and his team deserve great acclaim, especially as he had been in the job for no more than six months, his counterpart Ricky Ponting for five and a half years.
The natural order over the last century is pretty clear: in Australia, Australia win almost twice as many Tests as England; in England, the sides are well matched; and normally England need a great fast bowler to tip the balance, wherever the series is staged. Strauss had the benefit of two superlative spells of fast bowling, by Andrew Flintoff at Lord’s and by Stuart Broad at The Oval. But the most succinct explanation of this conundrum – how on earth did England win when they averaged 34.15 runs per wicket against Australia’s 40.64, the biggest disparity that has ever been overturned in any Test series – has to be this: Strauss’s batting and captaincy, and the team spirit which he and the new coach Andy Flower created. (If it is thought that I have been swayed by ghosting Strauss’s book on the Ashes, I would point out that our reviewer of the series, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, reaches the same conclusion; and Strauss won the Compton–Miller medal as player of the series.)
One particular judgment stands out. Strauss was widely criticised in the media for not making Australia follow on at Lord’s, as would have happened in the old days (when there were rest days and no back-to-back Tests). But had Australia batted at anything like their normal rate on that sunny third day at Lord’s, against tired bowling, England could easily have been set 200 in the fourth innings, or more. Overall, Strauss was criticised as too defensive, yet his team took six Australian wickets in one session, seven in another, and eight in another. It is worth noting that Hutton, and Peter May in 1956 when he retained the Ashes, were even more criticised by the English media, for being even more defensive.
Same result, much less impact The 2009 series was the best – the most deliciously fluctuating – Ashes series since 1981, with one exception. But it did not excite the public imagination to anything like the same extent as the one of 2005. Four causes were widely identified. One was that fewer great cricketers were involved in 2009: only one, Ponting, unequivocally deserved this title, although he was not treated as such by the sections of crowds that booed him. Secondly, the suspense was not so intense because England had been waiting only two and a half years to regain the Ashes, not half a generation as in 2005. Thirdly, although there was
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