It’s been a surreal week. The snow in Edinburgh has been deeper than anyone can remember. The Forth Road Bridge was closed, and avalanche warnings were issued for the Pentland Hills and Arthur’s Seat, of all places. It feels like the only difference between Edinburgh and an Alpine ski resort right now is the lack of big mountains nearby. And perhaps the fact that ski resorts don’t always have this much snow.
Even more surreal has been England’s dominance in the Ashes down under. Bob Willis, possibly the grumpiest man in cricket, tonight described England’s performance in the Second Test as “absolutely first-rate”.
I don’t know whether it was the bat-dominated last two days of the First Test, and the promise of more to follow at Adelaide, but I didn’t bother to stay up to watch any of the first day’s play live. And so it was only natural that it would be “the most exciting start to an Ashes Test in history (D Gower)” with three wickets falling in the first three overs.
Perhaps my lack of Ashes-watching stamina was just down to the Tests being back-to-back, and not having recovered fully from the late nights watching the First Test. This staying up into the early hours lark is proving tricky. The BBC very helpfully posted an article on how to stay up through the night, including such advisory gems as “One way to stay awake is to drink coffee intermittently.” Thanks for that one, Auntie. And for the important safety message. “Anybody going without sleep and then trying to go to work should not do anything like driving or other tasks where an accident could be dangerous.” Presumably falling asleep in front of a client won’t lose me my job, then. Excellent news.
So accustomed to touring England teams being in disarray, it’s frankly confusing to witness Australia in trouble during a home series. It appears to be a commonly-held view that this Ashes series is pitting two mediocre teams against each other, lest we should get carried away. I’m not about to get carried away, but I think England are better than that. Anderson has always been rated as a high-class bowler, but has been dogged by the damning caveat “when he fires”, or “when the ball swings”. He now bowls brilliantly, regularly, on all manner of pitches. Strauss is a class player at the top of the order, although he’s done his best to hide this in two out of his three innings so far. Trott is a solid number 3, KP now has runs under his belt (and a wicket!) and the strut has accordingly returned, and Bell, critically, now no longer needs to put on a show of confident body language, as the confidence is already there from some high-quality knocks in pressure situations. Swann is world-class and can bat, Broad is ever-improving, although now sadly lost to this series through injury, and Finn is the real deal. What cannot be coincidental to all of this individual success is that the core of the team has been together for a decent time, they are clearly well-managed, and they play as a unit.
Australia, by contrast, have some very good players, but are desperately short of confidence, unity and direction. And no wonder, with their trigger-happy selectors. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for players like Marcus North – trudging off after another low score knowing that their international career might well be over. Granted, North has had his chance, but Xavier Doherty? It’s been hard not to feel sympathy for him, preferred as Australia’s spinner to Hauritz by the selectors, apparently only to buy Pietersen’s wicket. Which he did in the Second Test, but not until KP had racked up a double-ton. Doherty will now surely be dropped for Perth. He has experienced the kind of morale-shattering selectorial caprice that so undermined England in the nineties.
England now go to Perth knowing they can effectively wrap up the series with a win there. Just like Australia did in 2006…