Right then, the Ashes are gone. No point crying over spilt catches. (A shame, mind, that a few more weren’t at least attempted…)
The thing now is to get better – quickly, before Australians remember that beating England in the cricket is, in fact, pretty much a birthright.
(In the home Ashes series of 2001, for example, Australia took to the field with the following XI:
I mean, really. You can’t beat that… In case you were wondering: a top seven collectively good for 56,247 test match runs at a combined average of 48.07; and four bowlers who together scooped up 1,840 test match wickets at a combined average of 25.27.)
Without any more beating around the bush, then, here’s part two of Reasons to Be Optimistic After England Lose the Ashes. (Part one here.)
4. (Counter-Intuitively) Graeme Swann
The fashionable take on the current England team is that they’re joylessly stuck on the endless treadmill of international cricket, in need of a laugh and a sit down, and picking up more aches and pains than wickets and runs.
So it goes that Graeme Swann, as the oldest England player, is the least likely to scale again the heights of a once glorious career. Well… maybe he won’t. But let’s not throw him on the scrap-heap just yet. Historically, spinners take longer to get good before then staying good for longer.
Swann is 34. Over the last 20 years, here’s what some other top spinners have managed aged 34 and up:
Shane Warne: 217 wickets at 24.75, in 38 matches.
Anil Kumble: 204 wickets at 33.09, in 46 matches.
Muttiah Muralitharan: 189 wickets at 24.07, in 30 matches.
Saeed Ajmal: 103 wickets at 23.96, in 18 matches.
Rangana Herath: 80 wickets at 22.30, in 12 matches.
…Swann might not be quite as good as these five, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready for the pipe and slippers just yet.
On the other hand, it’s also worth remembering that Swann played his first test match at the age of 29. So the next in line for his place in the team – Kerrigan (24), Borthwick (23), [young player we haven’t heard of yet] – has time on his side, even if it doesn’t always seem like it.
5. Steven Finn
When Steven Finn is good, he’s… well, authentically great. He just isn’t good at the moment. Everyone relax: he’s 24 and he’ll definitely sort it out.
Just like Mitchell Johnson did, the last time his radar got a little screwy.
6. Ben Stokes
The good thing about watching the current Ashes series in America is that games start in the early evening, rather than in the middle of the night. The not so good thing is that I only get the Australian TV coverage, which doesn’t tend to bother overmuch with being neutral. (Shane Warne’s psychological warfare, in particular, is lacking only in the sense that the England players don’t actually get to hear it – unless while waiting to bat, I suppose.)
But I can at least report that Stokes (22) is a player former Australian internationals really seem to “rate.” Mark Taylor says he has plenty of “nip” with the ball in hand. And Ian Chappell has been similarly quick to note “the young man’s ticker.” In both cases, I’m calling that high praise.
If Stokes can keep on batting six and bowling well (while getting better too), that really would be dandy. For one thing, it would ease the crazy burden of Messrs. Anderson and Broad. For another, it would finally slow down the weirdly never-ending search for a new number six.
7. Recent Precedent
Change is hardly the end of the world. Instead, it’s a big part of what makes sport so special. Great teams and great players come and go – and there’s always much fun to be had trying to figure will the new guy be half as good the old guy? Joe DiMaggio played center field for the New York Yankees between 1936 and 1951. After him? Between ’51 and ’68, Mickey Mantle, the greatest switch-hitter the game has ever known.
Maybe KP is halfway out the door. Maybe Prior, Swann, and Anderson all are, as well. It doesn’t mean England won’t be great again. Just that someone else will have a go – and, you never know, they might just do alright. (Remember who first made way for KP? One of the best England batsmen of the last 25 years, Graham Thorpe.)
After all, the eleven England players who won their second game against Australia in that glorious Ashes of 2005 – at Trent Bridge in August – never played together again. Trescothick would go on to score only another 695 test match runs at an average of 34.75. Vaughan 1262 at 34.10. Harmison would take only another 89 wickets at 37.60. Giles 6 at 97.50. For Simon Jones, there wouldn’t ever be another game.
That great team was done, more-or-less, before it even knew it. But then along came KP, Strauss, Cook, Bell, Trott, Prior, Panesar, Swann, Anderson, and Broad… many of the players we’re worried about today.
The darkest hour is just before the dawn. Well played, Australia. How about we do this all again sometime?
Ok, I’ll stop now.