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Ashes Game 5: Captain Clarke’s Bittersweet Farewell

Keeping with the thrashing theme of the series, Australia see out the ‘dead rubber’ finale.


It’s a horrible word to sum up an entire Ashes series, but unfortunately it’s also the most accurate one.

In five tests, we saw five thrashings – both teams at the blunt end of dismal, brutal spells at the crease, like they were taking turns at punching each other until the other one flinched. And unfortunately for Australia, England got to swing first. It’s a sad day in a professional sport when you have to admit that the major deciding factor was as much the coin toss as it was the elite athletes taking the field.

Because neither Australia nor England showed true fight once throughout the entire series. Having spent over a century earning reputations for forging some of the greatest battles in the game, they vandalised the history books with a chapter full of cartoon scribbles. After all, when either side had their backs early against the wall, they had no resilience to counter the tide. A strong first session seemed to be all the necessary ingredients to dominate a game. No one played test cricket how it’s supposed to be played – with patience and strategy. No one dove in and swam against the wave of momentum. No one gave an Ashton Agar. Instead we saw batting collapse after batting collapse, as top order players swung their bats brazenly and impatiently, like toddlers attacking a birthday piñata. Bowlers failed to commit to team strategies, or maintain an ideal line and length or even land it on the pitch half the time. They routinely scored better sundries totals than half the batsmen did putting willow to leather.

There were flashes of individual brilliance throughout the series admittedly and the fifth test was no exception. On the Australian side Chris Rogers proved himself to be a player that should have been given a Baggy Green call up years earlier. He will be sorely missed.

Steve Smith, despite failing at the crease four times in a row, still finished the series’ leading run scorer after his 143 returned him to the top of the heap and the World #1 ranking.

Peter Siddle proved the critics wrong, that England were susceptible to line and length and that bananas can still fuel a bit of nip in his swinging arm (I for one have always said his veganism isn’t his issue, it’s that he removed his good luck talisman – the pukka shell necklace).

For England, however, with the series wrapped up admittedly, their display at The Oval was dire. Alistair Cook batted valiantly and with control in his final innings of the series, and despite falling short of a ton, proved that he could bunker down and deliver against Australia – something he desperately needed. But his team offered few other highlights, however, giving new meaning to the ‘dead’ part of the dead rubber.

Congratulations will still go their way though. And England will leave smugly with the tiny crystal urn in their possession. But this time it won’t come with the bragging rights traditionally tied to its petite handles. No matter what their media or their smiles for the cameras say, they’ll walk away from this contest with a sense of relief, not a sense of accomplishment.

For their part they also have a lot of soul searching to do. Joe Root was really their only batsmen that showed any consistency. Adam Lyth is likely another England opener set for the scrap heap. Ian Bell, seemingly invincible on British soil a few years ago, will be spending a lot of time with the drawing board. And Cook will need to take stock as a batsmen, despite his gloriously aggressive efforts as a captain, with only one decent score to his name. But they also have a lot to gain from the rise of Mark Wood and Steven Finn, who both took turns to stand up in their young careers – roles they will be required to perform more and more as Jimmy Anderson edges closer to retirement.

The Australian team that next heads to Bangladesh will be the shadow of its current self. Just who will survive the cull remains to be seen, but many are expecting a blood bath. And if the media and Shane Warne have their way, the administration won’t be safe from the knives either.

It was a solemn note to send off Michael Clarke. Australia’s first rockstar captain will hopefully go on to a successful career in the media, where he has previously proven to be an insightful and eloquent commentator in a room full of bozos that have tarnished their career reputations with incessant banter while reading ad copy for Stan.

Steve Smith will now take the reins with the enthusiasm and eagerness of a trainee P.E. teacher, and will look to cement his status as the world’s number one batsman as well as a worthy captain of his country.

He’ll have to manage that load with the assistance of the volatile David Warner at his side. Warner has matured a great deal in his last 18 months as a player and a man, but whether the position of Vice Captaincy will be something he lives up to proudly like Brad Haddin and Adam Gilchrist before him, remains to be seen. But the selectors have put their faith in the man and he will hopefully bring some of his trademark aggression to how the team is managed.

And while this was an entertaining battle for bragging rights, and somewhat of a cleansing ritual for the Australians after five years of moderate success, this series will probably go down as one of the most forgettable in a generation. At least for fans anyway. But you can be assured, the rest of the cricketing world was taking note and getting excited for the future.