Despite the very best efforts of the hype machine, this is not 2005. Retaining the Ashes, and don’t forget this is the first time in my cricket watching life that England have clung onto the prize in three successive series, was an oddly muted affair. Of course the Manchester rain ensured that the Australians were denied the opportunity to complete the deserved victory they needed to keep matters alive, but even that would have just delayed the inevitable. The problem is that the home side is simply better but is crumpling under the weight of its own negativity and siege mentality, while the visitors are winning the propaganda war, and the tactical manoeuvres, yet lack the resources on the frontline. Beating this lot is probably no big deal, but doing it in this manner is even less satisfying.
England’s struggles in New Zealand are mildly concerning, but with back to back Ashes contests just around the corner I bet they wouldn’t swap places with Australia right now. The Kiwis may have exposed some critical limitations which may be no bad thing. Fundamentally though, while the road might have the occasional pothole, no one will be pushing the panic button anytime soon. In the land of the baggy green however, such piffling setbacks must seem gloriously inconsequential at the moment. The humiliating series whitewash in India, where, remember, their old rivals triumphed so memorably late last year, leaves just an empty three months to properly survey the wreckage and find answers to the myriad questions this mighty humbling has left so alarmingly unresolved. From this distance it looks a shambles of disturbing proportions.
One thing Andy Flower could never be accused of is complacency. Indeed, since he became England’s Director of Cricket in 2009, the Zimbabwean has left no stone unturned in guiding his adopted nation to the pinnacle of the Test game. Under captain Andrew Strauss, England have gained a well-deserved reputation for thorough preparation and meticulous planning. Focus is very firmly on maintaining the top ranking in what promises to be an epic series against their closest challengers South Africa later in the summer. With a tough engagement in India also on the horizon, Australia are not uppermost in the mind. Having dismissed the old enemy so contemptuously in their own backyard to retain the Ashes just eighteen months ago, theirs is no longer perceived to be the greatest threat. But never underestimate a wounded beast. A new era is dawning under the Southern Cross, and the man at the helm is confident of his destiny. Michael Clarke has silenced the detractors, and he’s ready to stamp his impression.