There have been some decent performances in the first two Tests, mainly from Australians. But as the series moves to Perth and a fast, bouncy wicket, on which England have traditionally struggled, I can’t help but think that there’s something missing.
England got hammered 5-0 the last time they toured Australia, but at least, that time the series went off with a bang, rather than the quiet whimper that is threatened in the current one. Back then, a rejuvenated Mitchell Johnson grew a Merv Hughes moustache, bowled like a left handed Jeff Thomson, and gave England such a shock that a team, which contained most of the players who had won the previous three Ashes series, capitulated. Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann went home before the end, Kevin Pietersen fell out with the coach and the captain and was sacked when he got home. But even though, that series was woefully one sided, there was no shortage of drama.
This time, the only drama, worth reporting on, seems to be happening off the field. But who really cares about bar room head-butts and beer showers. Today’s players might have just as much character as their predecessors when it comes to performing their skills, but it’s the characters, that this series is seriously lacking. Players like Johnson and Pietersen, who liven up the contest, not just by the number of wickets they take or runs they score, but also by the way they play, in their own unique style, a style which reflects their personality as much as their skill set.
As with all the game’s great characters, there was a story behind Johnson’s 2013-14 revival. In his earlier years, he was sometimes fast, but sometimes wayward. Eventually, the bowler lost his place in the Australian team, but went away, got fitter, stronger – physically and mentally – and came back to help his country win the Ashes. Pietersen, of course, has more tales than the Brothers Grimm. Most of them relating to his own brand of cricket and how that either does, or doesn’t fit, whatever team he’s playing in.
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Of today’s England and Australia teams, only Pat Cummins comes with the sort of story that Ashes legends, make. Man of the match in his Test debut against South Africa, aged 18, the fast bowler then suffered from a spate of injuries, which kept him out of the Australian Test side for the next six years. But whilst pundits around the world doubted whether Cummins’ body was strong enough to bowl at the highest level, the player himself worked hard at his fitness, remodelled his action, and is now an integral part of Australia’s bowling line up.
All he has to do now, is last a whole series, take a bag full of wickets and we can start talking about a cricketer who doesn’t need to mess around in bars or get into punch ups to get people to remember his name.
Crispin Andrews is a freelance writer. He writes for the Cricketer, Cricinfo, Inside Cricket and the Nightwatchman.