Ashes comment: Bottle is as important as brilliance when it comes to England's success (From The Northern Echo)
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Ashes comment: Bottle is as important as brilliance when it comes to England's success
IF England win the final Test at The Oval next week, they will secure a 4-0 Ashes series victory for the first time on home soil. It will be a remarkable achievement, not least because they are not much better than the side they will have trounced.
On paper, this Ashes series looks like a non-contest. On the pitch, it has been anything but. Aside from the second Test at Lord’s, when Australia capitulated completely and England won by a whopping 347 runs, there has been precious little to choose between the two teams.
This week’s game at Chester-le-Street provided a neat summation of that, with Australia arguably winning more individual sessions, but England eventually running out victors by a reasonably comfortable margin.
Why? Because when the stakes were at their highest, one or two of England’s biggest players stepped up to the plate. And while Australia’s players never really seemed to believe they were going to triumph, their opponents refused to even countenance the notion of getting beat.
This an England side that contains a large number of match winners, and while quite a few of them have been out-of-form at various points in the series, there is always the likelihood of one of more clicking into gear at some stage during a game.
Joe Root, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell have all scored centuries this summer – Bell on three different occasions in the space of four games – and each hundred has been a major factor in England either winning or saving a match.
From the bowlers, Graeme Swann, James Anderson and Stuart Broad have all ripped through the Australians at some juncture, and while there has not really been a game where the entire bowling unit has clicked into gear, England know they possess players who can instantly produce a devastating spell.
Australia don’t really have that type of top-class talent at their disposal. David Warner, Michael Clarke and Ryan Harris have displayed match-winning abilities, but the rest of the side look incapable of rising much above their base level.
That base level looked like being good enough in three of the four Tests, but while the weather almost certainly saved England at Old Trafford, Australia’s failure to close out victory at either Trent Bridge or Emirates Durham ICG hinted at a major mental weakness that will have to be addressed if this winter’s Ashes series is not to go the same way as the previous three.
Far too often this series, Australia’s batting line-up has collapsed like a pack of cards, and while a lack of experience is a mitigating factor, it is impossible not to conclude that a lack of bottle has also been apparent.
Even when the odds were stacked against them, England’s players somehow found a way to win, and as countless champions down the years would attest, that is a talent that is every bit as valuable as innate skill.
“As a side, we’ve come through tough situations well,” said Alastair Cook, in the wake of this week’s success. “We’ve learned how to not get beaten when we’re up against it, and then when we’ve got a chance or it’s even, we’ve got people who stick up their hand and take the game by the scruff of its neck. We know how to dig ourselves out of trouble.”
Plenty of sides can be brilliant, but only the best can be winners whether they’re brilliant or not. Increasingly, England find themselves in the latter camp.
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