Two weeks ago an Ashes whitewash looked wacky – not anymore | Ashes 2021-22
Five-nil now has a life of its own. Whenever England comes to Australia for an Ashes tour, it has become traditional to speculate on the prospect of a series of whitewashes. What started out as a Glenn McGrath comedy has turned into a pre-series bravado from local experts, a performative dance on the ramparts as the invaders approach the dungeon. However, on the most recent tours it is the visitors who end up living under siege. And after Australia won 2-0 by winning the second test in Adelaide, that score starts to look very plausible.
It is true that England fought hard on the fifth day and night of the game while looking for an unlikely draw, and the focus will be on the positives that the touring team can take away from it. But batting resistance was offered by a wicket keeper and four bowlers, as the specialty operators above them again combined to surrender. With the ball, meanwhile, these formidable bowlers were toothless against Australia when it mattered, and only found their prosthesis after the match was over.
5-0 predictions can be tedious, but not entirely unreasonable. Until the turn of the century, there had been only one Ashes Milk of Lime in 130 years, and even the most powerful pessimists could hardly care how Jack Gregory and Ted McDonald came through. England in 1921. Things have changed in the last 21 years of the Ashes Series in Australia. England won three tests per set in 2010-11, but it now looks like a lonely colony surrounded by 5-0 before them, 5-0 after and a 4-0 that would have been 5-0 otherwise for a Melbourne court where bowlers could only have made the ball speak through a ouija board.
A few weeks ago, today’s Australians didn’t look like candidates to add to this list of collages. There was a dismissed captain, there were question marks over four of the top seven and the top three candidates had not played for a year. The last time they did so, a handsome group of bowlers were nevertheless repelled by an India and Friends touring troupe. The home advantage said Australia should win, but not by far.
Now distance is all there is. Take Jhye Richardson, a quick little pitcher with two tests under his belt and three years of shoulder rehab since playing them. Yet on the last day in Adelaide, he took five for 42 to secure a victory that was not guaranteed. He sidelined the two English openers on the fourth night with a rebound that fed into the cord of a pristine line. He dislodged Chris Woakes with an unplayable bullet that shredded the seam to take the middle stump. His short, fast balls pushed Jos Buttler back until that fateful slip in the stumps, then he ended the final partnership with another advantage.
It was in a private team of his two top quick bowlers at Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood and missing Cummins as captain. In a team in which Mitchell Starc suffered from tightness in the back, Cameron Green had a problem with his team and Nathan Lyon had made a big turn. Australia desperately needed Richardson to deliver – and he did.
Which means England will face a new Cummins in Melbourne, with Hazlewood more likely to return to Sydney, giving Starc a chance to rest if needed. There’s only one question mark left on a batting point, and the others have so far found Marcus Harris easy to carry. He will probably still have the chance to join the procession on his home ground.
The English side, on the other hand, have a litany of issues: a top order that is fast food, spinners they don’t trust to play, fast bowlers they don’t dare to play, a No.8 chosen to bail out the stick that doesn’t wickets, plans that thwart their perpetrators, fits of panic on the pitch, and a captain who tries to carry the trailer by scoring half the points and playing the quarter overs. One of his trainers may have literally punched him in the groin, but his teammates do it metaphorically every day.
It is not Australian triumphalism or English desperation that sees the next three tests go one way. Aside from that lone series victory a decade ago, England’s win-and-lose score in Australia over the past 35 years stands at 3-29, which coincidentally is often the local format. of the score when they strike. It’s England history, but England’s present should be more than enough to worry about the current squad.
Whitewashes are rare because that perfect streak is unlikely, so it’s unreasonable to say that will happen. But it is no longer unreasonable to think so. Touring supporters may have continued to sing until the final ball in Adelaide, but throughout the home country the drums are beating.