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Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Outstanding England retain Ashes

We have just witnessed something truly special and something that will live in the memory of every English cricket fan for a very long time. Just a few hours ago England retained the Ashes for the first time in 24 years. Its a quite phenomenal achievement from Andrew Strauss' men and they will never ever forget what they achieved on 29th December 2010.

A sight that all England fans will never forget

Before this years Ashes begun, many people predicted that England had the edge over their Australian rivals and would go onto win the famous Urn but few thought that the gap between the sides would be quite this big.

England have been outstanding for all but three days of the tour down under. Each player has contributed and they have played as a team compared with the shambles of the Australians.

Their dominance has seen them deservedly retain the Ashes with a thrashing at the MCG, a game that showed England's dominance and class throughout the series. Right from the first ball England took control of the crucial fourth test with a tremendous bowling performance and an unbelievably dominant opening day that all but won the test.

Three more commanding days followed to seal a crushing victory and make sure the Urn would be staying in England.

England celebrating in style following victory at the MCG with the famous 'sprinkler'

The victory in 2005 was one of the best Ashes series of all time as England secured their first win over Australia in nearly 20 years. It was another fine achievement in 2009 but this win beats the lot. To go to Australia and actually retain the Ashes is a special moment and the pinnacle fulfilment of any England cricketer.

And the way that it has been done this year has been so impressive. The gulf in class between the sides is evident but England have exploited the shaky Australian batting with consummate ease.

Only in Perth did they struggle as they bowled much to short much to often. But at the MCG it was clear that they had learnt their lesson. Tim Bresnan, playing in his first Ashes test, was a prime example of how to bowl in Australia. Bowling short is a good angle of attack but if you get carried away then you will pay the price.

Bresnan pitched it up and kept his patience. He got his reward as a result with a superb spell of reverse swing bowling that ripped through the Australian middle order with three wickets for five runs and take England to the verge of victory.

Chris Tremlett again showed what he can do with four first innings wickets while James Anderson also bowled with precision and persistence. That has been the main difference between the teams; England's quality bowling proving too much for Australians's weak batting order.

It's worrying times for a nation that was not long ago the most dominant team in the World by a distance. Not only is there current squad lacking in quality but there are not many alternatives. 

Compare that to England and it's easy to see why the two teams are going in opposite directions. England have so many options, especially in the bowling department following the success of Tremlett and Bresnan.

Stuart Broad will of course comeback in when he's fit while Graham Onions is a certain candidate for a place once he recovers from a back injury. Ajmal Shahzad looks a promising young player as does fellow Yorkshire colleague Adil Rashid.

But it's hard to see how the selectors will be making any changes to the team in the short term. The balance of the team is so good and they all get along with each extremely well, which is key to being a successful team. 

It's very unlikely that all eleven players will be in-form over an entire series and that's why it's so important to have a side that plays for each other.

England keep their spirits up despite being thrashed in Perth, a primary reason why they have had so much success over the past 18 months.

Perhaps an example of England's strength in depth would be the fact that Monty Panesar, who has not even had a look in this series, would walk into the Australian side as is the weakness of their spin department.

The chances are that England won't make changes for Sydney because the team is playing so well together at the moment but also they will be keen to wrap up the series with a win. One possibility would be to play Morgan for the out-of-form Collingwood but that's unlikely.

To win a series and become a great team you need balance and, with Collingwood in the side, this is what you get. Added to that is his ability in the field, which has become an increasingly important area of discipline in modern cricket.

Andy Flower has to take so much of the credit for his side's recent success. There can be no doubt that he is one of the best coaches in world sport not just the Ashes. His down-to-earth approach has been a great benefit to England and that's what is needed now, the players and fans must not get carried away because this is a average Australian side.

Andy Flower has been an integral part of England's success down under

Andrew Strauss has led the team with authority without upsetting anyone. He has become an astute captain, although at time his negativity can become infuriating.

While England marvel in their success, there are plenty of questions surrounding the Australians and captain Ponting. Personally, I feel he has been harshly treated by his nation. Unquestionably one of the greatest players of all time and a proven captain but there's nothing he can do if his side aren't up to scratch.

Sydney may be the biggest test of his career, though. Having had a atrocious series with the bat, he needs runs and lots of them to reassure the selectors that the quality is still there.

Two captains going in very opposite directions. Andrew Strauss leading a young, talented side to unlimited possibilities while Ricky Ponting comes to the end of a wonderful career in disappointing styl

But England's achievements shouldn't be overshadowed by the sloppiness of their opponents. After Perth they could have easily had crumbled and fell away but they responded the way of true champions. It is a mark of how far this team have come over the past 18 months and how far they can go in the future.

They must now win or, at the very least, draw in Perth because anything other then a England series win would be seen as a failure and a bit of a travesty. Australia will be deflated and downbeat but they cannot be underestimated so England will need to be fully focused to get a result.

The options of how much this England team can achieve are limitless. With Andy Flower and Andrew Strauss at the helm, English cricket is being led into a golden age and the triumph of winning the Ashes down under is just a sign of things to come. This is undeniably a magical and special time for England cricket.

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