Why have the Ashes become so uncompetitive?

So England won a hugely disappointing Ashes series. They say that familiarity breeds contempt and these two sides, England and Australia, look absolutely sick of the sight of one another. You can have too much of a good thing and a lot of the lustre, not to mention basic competition, has been eroded from the encounters between the two.

Again and again and again... the captains pose with "the famous little urn" on a seemingly endless loop

Again and again and again… the captains pose with “the famous little urn” on a seemingly endless loop

The last three Ashes series have been so lopsided as to almost render them irrelevant. In 2013, England brushed Australia aside, 3-0, with consummate ease. Then, a few months later, they travelled to Australia to be humiliated 5-0. Now, Australia returned to England to lose 3-2, although the jig was well and truly up after the first morning of the fourth Test and face was saved in the final act.

This series encompassed 18 active days. There wasn’t a single fifth day. There wasn’t a single scrap, a single fight nor a single element of competition. Surely competition is the cornerstone of sport; the very essence of it? As ‘sporting’ encounters go, this had all the hallmarks of a Big Five trophy hunt in southern Africa. Cecil the Lion put up more resistance than Australia did here.

There have been 15 Ashes Test matches in two years. The schedule was moved to allow England a better preparation time for the ODI World Cup this year (Ha!) so the games have been coming thick and fast. Too thick and too fast.

To put this into some sort of context, Steve Smith, Australia’s new captain with the retirement of Michael Clarke, has played 12 Test matches in Australia. At the Oval in the fifth 2015 Ashes Test, he played his 12th Test in England. Australia’s captain has played as many games in England as he has at home in Australia during his 33 Test career to date. That’s madness.

The dredge of facing the opposition repeatedly surely had some bearing on the appalling level of cricket witnessed during this series. It seems Australia don’t have the stomach for playing in England and England don’t have the stomach for playing in Australia. The two and a half years before the next series, in Australia, will be a welcome break.

The lack of quality throughout the series is evident in the fact that there were only five centuries during it: two each for Smith and Joe Root, one for Chris Rogers. Smith, derided on the back of two poor Tests at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge, top scored with 508 runs at 56.44. Not bad for a player who ‘can’t play in English conditions.’

Root, like Smith, made his big scores count. Where Smith’s contributions at Lord’s and the Oval were match winning, so were Root’s at Cardiff and Trent Bridge. Had Brad Haddin, the surely-now-finished Australian wicket keeper, caught Root on 0 at Cardiff, Australia would surely have pressed on to win that Test and the series. In many ways it was apt given how the series played out, that it was decided on the first morning of the first day through an act of incompetence.

England won’t miss Australia, nor will Australia miss England. The last three series have been wretched and a lot of the magic of encounters between the two has been lost.

By Miles Reucroft

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