AUSTRALIA gave retiring captain Michael Clarke a strong sendoff on Sunday, wrapping up the fifth Ashes Test on day four to win by an innings and 46 runs.
That result made it 3-2 to England for Ashes 2015 – a somewhat flattering scoreline for both sides, in truth, as it fails to illustrate how one-sided each of the five matches were.
But that will matter little to those canny punters who backed the hosts early on to take the series, in a futures market that was paying $5 odds at WilliamHill.com prior to the first Test.
Also smiling will be those who picked Joe Root to take out the Man of the Series award.
The Yorkshire strokemaker finished behind Steven Smith (508 runs) and Chris Rogers (480 runs) on the overall batting charts, but his two centuries and two fifties came at key moments throughout a campaign in which England’s top order often struggled.
Root offered little in the closer at The Oval, however, and it was Smith ($11 at Bet365) who claimed the Man of the Match award after his first-innings 143 – his second ton of the series – set the Aussies on their way.
But Australia’s Man of the Series was the ultra-consistent Rogers ($12 at Bet365.com), who bid farewell to Test cricket with six scores of 40+ (including one century and three half-tons) in nine Ashes innings.
And while the door closes for the one they call ‘Buck’, it may have reopened for his Victoria teammate Peter Siddle.
The former mainstay of the Aussie attack excelled in his only Test of the series, taking six wickets at an economy rate of just 1.9 runs per over – a much-needed counterpoint to the deadly, yet erratic Mitchell Starc and Mitchell Johnson.
Many observers – including the man himself – thought Siddle’s international was all but over after he was left out for Trent Bridge, but he now has a chance to reestablish himself in a bowling unit that sorely misses the hustle and consistency of the retired Ryan Harris.
He may well be favoured for October’s tour of Bangladesh over Pat Cummins or Josh Hazlewood, who missed the fifth Test with soreness in his shins.
Clarke flops on farewell, slams English pitches
There was to be no individual grand finale for Michael Clarke, who made only 15 to close a miserable tour in which he managed just 132 runs at an average 16.50 – the worst record of any Aussie batsman (except tail-ender Nathan Lyon) who played all five Tests.
Online bookmakers Sportsbet and CrownBet.com ran a collection of Ashes specials for Clarke’s last Test, but ‘Pup’ never even threatened to score a fifty, a century, or beat incoming skipper Steve Smith in the player head-to-head markets.
Nor did he mimic the great Sir Donald Bradman by ending his career with a duck at The Oval – a scenario, which was paying $17 odds at CrownBet.
The departing skipper finished his four-year tenure with a mixed legacy in Ashes cricket, with the 5-0 whitewash of 2013-14 bookended by two rather tame defeats away from home.
And after a tour in which not one Test match made it to a fifth day, Clarke offered some form of excuse by suggesting the England hierarchy had too much control over pitch conditions from venue to venue.
“I’d like to see groundsmen around the world – not just here – have the courage to go with what they think is a good cricket wicket,” he told the press after the match.
“I think we’ve seen in the first two Test matches a lot of talk from the media and the commentators… about how flat the wickets were, yet those two Test matches were over in four days. One team won and one team lost. The next three are over in two and a half and three days.
“I think Test cricket is a five-day battle. I want to see good and fair cricket for both batters and bowlers. I think that’s the way the game should be played – and, most importantly, I want to see a winner and a loser.
“But if the groundsman feels he knows how to produce a good wicket that will be a great battle of Test match cricket then I’d like to see them back themselves and go with that and not be persuaded by what’s said in the media or what the commentators say.”
Clarke also insisted that a home captain and coach would never be allowed to coerce and cajole Australian pitch curators the way Alastair Cook and Trevor Bayliss have allegedly done with the English ground staff this series.
“I don’t know what influence the ECB had… and to be honest I don’t know what influence they [Cricket Australia] have in Australia either,” he said.
“If I go to the groundsman at the Gabba and say ‘I want it to be a turner like the SCG’ he’ll absolutely laugh at me. It might be different around the world.
“You’re given a role, a responsibility, and a job and you want to be able to do your best at that. I’ve got a feeling, from the conversations I’ve had with a lot of the groundsmen in this country, they’re a little bit disappointed they haven’t been able to do as they’ve wanted to do.”
Cook urges ‘wonderful’ Bell to stay on
Another Ashes stalwart who may well have played his final Test series is Ian Bell, who now joins Ian Botham as one of only two England players to have won the urn five times.
After an inconsistent 12 months or so with the bat in all forms of the game, the 33-year-old is said to be umming and ahhing over whether or not to call time on his career before the upcoming tours to the UAE and South Africa.
Alastair Cook, however, believes Bell still has plenty to offer an England side which is high on potential but perhaps a little short on Test experience.
“He still has a big part to play,” the England captain said in the post-match press conference at the The Oval.
“He’s an absolutely wonderful player; a class player. I haven’t actually heard exactly what Belly has said but he’s a class player and I hope he’s around for a few more years.
“I think it’s such an emotional time over the last 10 days in terms of emotional highs and what we’ve just experienced – and everyone is pretty tired – that what you say in an interview now might not be what you believe deep down.”
Cook had hoped to become the first skipper in England’s history to secure a 4-1 Ashes victory on home soil, but he admitted that he and his charges struggled to find the same kind of energy that fuelled their series-winning performance at Nottingham.
“Maybe we underestimated the emotional high from Trent Bridge and how hard it would be to get back up to that level you really need to be at to beat Australia,” said Cook.
“Of course we’d love to be sitting here at 4-1 rather than 3-2. We were off the pace in this game.
“You can kind of understand it. All the time [at the pre-series training camp] in Spain it was about winning three games. The mind has such a powerful effect on you as a player. It’s a little bit disappointing but I’m not going to worry about it, to be brutally honest.”
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