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Poms deserve more praise

While it's inevitable that many of us are focussing on the problems facing the Australian cricket team, it's England's incredible achievements on the field that are the real story of the current Ashes series, says Ben Waterworth.

‘Ponting’s past it. Johnson’s too inconsistent. Hughes has no technique. Hilfenhaus can’t swing the ball anymore. We have no spinner.’

It seems us Australian cricket fans are polished performers when it comes to finding reasons why our team lost the 2010/11 Ashes series.

But before everyone turns on our own team – a skill English cricket media and fans seem to have perfected in past years – we need to take a deep breath and praise the Poms.

As hard as it is to admit, England won the Ashes, rather than Australia lost the Ashes.

England conquered. They were too good.

Yes the majority of Australian players did perform well below par and to some extent they deserve the criticism they have received since losing the series in Melbourne.

But surely the biggest story to eventuate from this Ashes series is England’s remarkable achievements. This team has reached feats we haven’t seen here in Australia since Mike Gatting led his English team to an Ashes victory in 1986/87.

This England team’s success story began well before the first test in Brisbane.

Its preparation was faultless. The players and staff arrived in Australia well over a month before the first test in Brisbane. It gave them ample time to settle down and adapt to the diverse Australian conditions.

The Poms then found form on the field. They played three-first class games and in the process proved to the Australian public they are not just another pathetic England touring side waiting to be spanked.

Andrew Strauss’ two centuries, Alastair Cook’s unbeaten 111, Ian Bell’s 192 and Graeme Swann’s two lots of four-wicket hauls were just a number of encouraging signs during the tour matches that emphasised the team was here to prove many people wrong.

When the players hit the Gabba turf, the mental strength of its batsmen really shone through and in turn set the tone for the rest of the series.

After Peter Siddle ripped through the Poms with a six-wicket haul on a green Gabba wicket in the first innings and Michael Hussey and Brad Haddin put on a 347-run partnership in reply, the pressure was right on England’s batsmen.

But Cook, Strauss and the ever impressive Jonathon Trott thought otherwise. They changed the mood of the series.

The three of them batted with wisdom as they squeezed every ounce of motivation and will out of the Australian bowlers. They scored 517 runs between them to force a draw from what seemed like a hopeless situation.

Most importantly, it gave the team confidence going into the next test in Adelaide. There Cook and Kevin Pietersen literally batted Australia out of the test.

In the end out of the Ashes.

In fact England’s batting line-up looked – at times – impossible to break. They played with maturity, astuteness and confidence – something past England batting line-ups haven’t brought with them to Australia.

But England’s bowlers were just as notable as its batsmen.

James Anderson had a torrid tour of Australia back in 2006/07. The right-armed paceman played in three out of the five test matches and claimed just five wickets at a terrible average of 82. 

However it was a different story this time round. Anderson was a threat from the outset, swinging the new ball with great affect and constantly finding the outside edge of Australia’s finest batsmen.  He has taken 17 wickets for the series so far and the scary fact is there’s still one test remaining to make his numbers seem even more attractive.

It also helps when you come to Australia with an attacking spinner. Ashley Giles, Richard Dawson and Peter Such are just a few of the spin bowlers who have come to Australia and failed in their quest to conquer the unfavourable conditions.

Now Graeme Swann has set a new standard for touring spinners. The off-spin bowler literally bowled England to victory in Adelaide with an outstanding spell of 5-91 in the final innings of the match. He’s bowled the most amount of overs for the series at a fantastic economy rate of 2.76. No one should ever doubt Swann’s ability to win a match from any situation.

But fielding is often the most underrated and overlooked skill in the game. For so many years the Australians set the standard for fielding. Whether it was catching, hitting the stumps or saving certain boundaries, every team looked up to the Aussies.

Not any more.

Not only has Australia’s fielding declined, but England’s have improved dramatically. Never has a touring team been more impressive in the field. England’s fielding throughout the whole series was of the highest standard. Every player wanted the ball to come their way and stay in the game. When a team hungers for the ball like that, you’re bound to do well. 

Yes there are massive question marks hanging over the head of the Australian cricket team. But the English deserve so much more credit than what they have been receiving.

They out-batted, out-bowled, out-fielded and out-thought the Aussies and it’s something a lot of us Australian cricket supporters can’t seem to get our head around.

England was better. Admit it.

Ben Waterworth is a Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe University.  You can read even more of his work at his blog, A Short Sport Thought. Ben will be joining the upstart team as sport editor for the first half of 2011.

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