“They’d win the first four Tests and we’d try to nick one at the end when they were all drunk.” – Nasser Hussain.
It’s back to the bad old days then for England as they look to salvage the last fragments of their shattered pride in Sydney. The series has been over for a fortnight, the destination of the Ashes confirmed. One team arrives in Sydney longing for home. The other, in that same uncomfortable position just six months ago, arrives with a spring in its step and with the scent of blood filling its nostrils.
The whole affair, a heavy defeat, players leaving the tour and a constantly changing team, has more than a hint of the 1990s and early-2000s – Hussain’s days – for fans of English cricket.
Test cricket is unique in its ability to prolong the pain that England are currently suffering. If Australia fail to advance from the “Group of Death” at the soccer World Cup this winter, they go home, they don’t have to play Spain, Holland or Chile again. When a player loses at the Rod Laver Arena in a fortnight’s time, they are out and that is it, likewise a golfer who fails to make the cut. England must stay and fight to save face.
As a trip to Sydney traditionally signals the end of the summer’s long-form festivities, England have been in this position before. Here’s a look at recent Ashes clashes at the SCG.
1999: MacGill has England in a spin
The destination of the Ashes was decided but the series remained alive as Australia arrived 2-1 up. Mark Taylor completed a fifth consecutive win at the toss (Michael Clarke has the chance to inflict a coinwash on Alastair Cook tomorrow) and chose to have a bat. His team found themselves 3-52 but the Waugh brothers made merry, adding 190 for the fourth wicket before Steve fell for 96. Mark made 121 before Darren Gough ripped through the lower order and Australia was bowled out for 322. Stuart MacGill, part of a three-pronged spin attack alongside Shane Warne and Colin ‘funky’ Miller, skittled England for just 220 on day two, before the third day belonged to Michael Slater. He made 123 of Australia’s 184, the second-highest percentage (66.84%) of a completed Test innings. He was careful and considered when accompanied by Test batsmen before cutting loose when joined by the tail. It was a masterclass. When England came back out to bat, MacGill was at it again. His 7-50 saw England collapse from 2-104 to 188 all out and a 98-run loss. The series was Australia’s, 3-1, and MacGill was man of the match, his 12-107 the finest figures at the SCG since 1888.
2003: England salvage some pride
The tourists had enjoyed their best game of the series in defeat in Melbourne and drew on that to inflict Australia’s heaviest home defeat in four years in a high-scoring affair. For the first time in eons in the Ashes, England played cricket of the highest intensity for a full five days in front of a packed out SCG and with one in nine Australians tuning in at home. This wasn’t about England, though, this was about Steve Waugh – who hit a century in his final Ashes test match, a Bradman-equalling 29th for Australia. England, who had ditched the nets, favouring a kick-about and a heavy New Years instead, won the toss and piled on 362 with Mark Butcher notching a memorable ton and Hussain and Alec Stewart in the runs too. Australia went one better, managing 363, an innings memorable for Waugh’s inevitable ton and an Adam Gilchrist classic – his 133 came from 121 balls. Second time round, Michael Vaughan capped a brilliant series with his seventh hundred in eight months as he drove and pulled his team to an imposing total of 9-452 declared. Australia’s gargantuan chase got off to the worst possible start, with Langer, Hayden and Ponting all back in the hutch with just 25 on the board. On the fifth morning, Andrew Caddick scythed his way through the hosts’ order, taking 7-94 and condemning Australia to a 225-run win and handing England a consolation victory.
2007: Farwelling legends
There was no consolation for England this time as three Australian legends – Justin Langer, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne – bowed out with an emphatic win, the final nail in the coffin of the most miserable tour for England. The famous three did a lap of honour but the game itself was more of a stroll in the park. It was a game that told the story of the series – England were competitive until halfway through, before crumbling once more. With no tons, no four-fors even, this was a game for the great Australian side to show its depth on its last hurrah. Freddie Flintoff won the toss, batted and top-scored as his side made 291 as the game got off to a slow start. McGrath, Lee and Clark were relentless on a track that proved tricky to score on, sharing nine wickets equally. Warne, who managed just two wickets in his final match, more than made up for it with the bat, top-scoring with a 71 of typical dash before being stumped off Monty Panesar as Australia forged a lead of 102. From this point, as they so often did in those days, England folded. The seamers once again ripped through as they were bowled out for a sorry 147 and the game was up. Fittingly, McGrath took the final wicket on his home ground. Hayden and Langer did the rest and the whitewash was completed.
2011: England complete the job
England had won the Ashes, they’d done the sprinkler at the MCG and Australia was broken. Sydney was the moment for England to rub salt into those open, bloody wounds. Australia was nursing the sorts of scars that England had worn so many times over the previous 24 years. Now it was time for revenge. And revenge it certainly was, as Australia put up little more than whimper as the tourists took a third innings victory of the series. The new captain Michael Clarke won the toss and had a bat, but his team were bowled out for a lacklustre 280 on a track made for batting. When England’s turn came, they made it count, batting two whole days for 644. Cook made another huge ton and there were first Ashes centuries for Ian Bell and Matt Prior. Australia’s attack, containing their latest spinning sensation Michael Beer, was little more than popgun and even Michael Hussey rolled his arm over at one stage. Second time round the had no answer once more. Many made starts but Chris Tremlett and Jimmy Anderson picked up three apiece to condemn them to defeat by an innings and 83 runs. Annihilation complete.
Will Macpherson writes for Back Page Lead.