Ashes to Ashes, and Dust to Dust

Steve Smith of Australia with the Ashes Urn after day five of the Fifth Test match in the 2017/18 Ashes Series between Australia and England at Sydney Cricket Ground on January 8, 2018 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse / Getty Images)

Whilst one might not immediately go to him for a cure for heartache, say, or profound philosophical insight, Mike Tyson has occasionally offered some lean, accurate and no-frills sporting observations.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth,” for example.

It’s not quite clear what the English cricket team’s plan was back in November but it’s safe to assume that winning the Ashes was part of it. Having just shown the Australians the door at Twickenham, there was a general if unspoken sense that it was merely a matter of getting the whole squad onto an aeroplane, having a few drinks when we arrived, bowling the oppo a few quick ones and then, when the opportunity arose, stroking a few long-hops towards the boundary till we had enough runs to win the urn and return home conquering heroes. So what if the Aussies had won seven of the last eight home series?

Looking back on England’s 4-0 series defeat, it seems obvious that the plan could never work. First of all, getting the whole squad on the ‘plane seemed a bit of a tall order. Ben Stokes, having fallen foul of the peelers, was given out before facing a ball. Then Bairstow was accused of head-butting Cameron Bancroft, and then we had a bit of blue-on-blue when Ben Duckett poured his drink over Jimmy Anderson. Kicking off the tour with a series of PR disasters, morale cripplers and compulsory substitutions was never going to make the job any easier.

Then came the clincher. Then came the proverbial punch in the mouth.

Then came the cricket.

Bowling a few fast ones as the Aussies can be a match-winning idea, but not if they’re bowling them back faster.

But even that need not prove an insurmountable obstacle to victory so long as one or two of the tourists can wave the old willow to great effect. Scoring a few runs here and there is, after all, all very well; scoring more than the people one is trying to beat borders on necessity.

As a result, it was England’s turn to be shown the door - and then booted through it onto the pavement. Though England bowled more balls than in any series of the past twenty-odd years, they didn’t manage to get their opponents out in both innings in any of the five matches.

Although he may not be playing by the time England next get a chance to win the Ashes, Jimmy Anderson offered a simple, understated and characteristically English summary of what’s needed when the time comes. ‘We need to put on a better show.’