Australia regained the Ashes after a gap of four years © Getty Images
Jan 7, 2014
Former captain Allan Border has heaped praise on Michael Clarke-led Australian side for sealing a 5-0 win in the Ashes 2013-14, with a 281-run win over England at Sydney. Border said this win rates highly among Australian triumphs.
Border, writing in his column in Australian Cricket Family letter, had special mention of Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin who were the key performers for the home side in their winning campaign.
Border wrote, “We were hopeful but nobody could have foreseen a five-nil scoreline. It’s been an incredible performance from our [Australian] boys. Ahead of the series I did think we could win. I had a sneaking suspicion about Mitchell Johnson and I applauded his selection. I thought it would be maybe a 2-1 scoreline but five-nil, that’s just beyond everyone’s wildest dreams! I’m very proud of them. They’ve held it all together, they’ve hunted as a pack, they’ve grown as a group and they’re covering for each other.”
Border said while there were many good performances in the recently-concluded Ashes series, Haddin and Johnson stood out with their contribution to the Australian side.
He wrote, “There were good, individual pieces of performance from everyone across the series but two standouts in Brad Haddin and Mitchell Johnson. Haddin was just phenomenal. I don’t think I’ve seen better first-innings performances from someone under pressure, just to turn fortunes around and keep us [Australia] in the contest. Extraordinary to do it in all five games too. And Mitchell’s bowling was just causing all sorts of havoc. He was well supported and I think he was getting wickets for blokes at the other end. They [England] were just not keen on facing Mitchell!”
“I think Johnson just shaded Haddin as player of the series, for mine. But if it went the other way, I would have been just as happy. I thought they should have given it to them both. One bloke kept us in the contest with the bat, the other bloke made sure we got our 20 wickets sorted. It’s hard to separate which is more important. I suppose a few little cameos with the bat from Mitchell, and that spectacular run-out of Joe Root in Melbourne … those things may have just tipped the balance in his favour,” he added.
Border compared Johnson with the West Indies fast bowlers in the 1980s. He wrote, “I rate Mitch up there with some of the great West Indies quicks of the 1980s. He’s a bit like Malcolm Marshall. A high 140kph bowler but he’s actually five Ks quicker because of his very difficult to pick up fast arm action.”
“It’s hard to pick up length facing a bowler like that because it’s very difficult to distinguish what is a short ball and what is a full ball. So you’re on to it later than some other fast bowlers. It makes a huge difference. England didn’t bat very well against him and they got their feathers ruffled.”
Border continued, “Australia’s plan to bounce out eight-nine-ten-jack is a very astute one, particularly on pitches like Brisbane and Perth. If you throw that doubt in it permeates through to your batting on a flatter surface like Adelaide or Melbourne. Footwork starts to go out the window, and they’re looking for the short ball. They got barraged and then even on good surfaces they were shot, mentally.”
“Mitch’s overall Test record is pretty compelling. The West Indies used to have three crackerjacks and one who was maybe a bit of a loose cannon. Mitchell would definitely get into a fourth fast-bowler’s spot in those teams. Plus being left-handed, and he’s no mug with the bat either,” he added.
“There’s been a lot of interesting comments about Mitchell over the years, but when you pare it back to straight stats, it’s a very impressive career he’s having. He’s got 242 wickets from 56 Tests at an average of 28. I wouldn’t have enjoyed facing him, I can guarantee you that! I would have gone a bit better than Piers Morgan at least. Anyone who says they enjoy facing fast bowling is a big fat liar. It’s a challenge, and there is that fear factor, but, well, he’d have got me and every now and again I would have gotten through. I wouldn’t have enjoyed one second of it though!” Border expressed.
Talking about the fifth and final Test at Sydney, Border said, “If you’re a cricket purist, there was plenty there to be very critical of from the England performance. When England were at their lowest ebb you thought they might have started a bit of a fightback but there was nothing. From a pure cricket critique point of view, you can give them plenty of swish for that performance. But on the other side of the coin, we [Australia] just have not let them play. They have their moments and get little sniffs here and there but they just get snuffed out so quickly and we’re all over them. Psychologically, we’ve just butchered them.”
The former captain said he celebrated the series win at a party organised by former England cricketer Ian Botham, who had predicted Australia’s 10-0 whitewash in the two Ashes series.
Border wrote, “I celebrated the whitewash at Ian Botham’s party, so it was a double dose of good fortune for me. He was very magnanimous but I didn’t let him forget that he predicted the five-nil scoreline. He just got the team wrong! He’s been copping heaps, but he’s good about it. He said, ‘We were just terrible and you guys made us look even worse.’”
Border said the Ashes 2013-14 win will be rated very highly among the greatest Australian victories.
“This series victory rates very highly amongst the greatest Australian triumphs because of the situation we found ourselves in earlier in the year. We [Australia] went to India, they made wickets to suit of course, but they beat us fair and square – don’t forget we won four tosses – and we lost four-nil. Then we went to England where they made tracks to suit their cricket better. We had our moments but again, three-nil. Then to come back, have a rethink about how we were playing our cricket, Clarke’s leadership and captaincy, Lehmann’s input as new coach …whatever they’ve done in preparation you just think ‘Wow’. That’s quite an incredible turnaround. Three months ago you crossed your fingers and hoped for a good performance,” he wrote.
“We were being written off all over the place before this series. I was talking to English guys that I’ve got a bit of time for, like Botham, and mentioned Johnson was bowling well. And they’re rolling their eyes and saying ‘Yeah, yeah, whatever’ and telling me to get off the drink. They didn’t have any concept he would be a threat. Across the park they thought they had us covered. Before the series the English supporters would have had one of our blokes in their team, Michael Clarke. Now, would there be an Englishman who would get a game in our team? Who would you pick? Botham asked me and I told him maybe Broad could carry our drinks! Isn’t it amazing how it has turned around so quickly,” he added.
However, Border said Australia have some issues to address before they head to South Africa.
“But the same problem has struck again — first-innings batting. Some good individual performances have papered over the cracks. I’m sure the coaching staff is all over it, though. They just need guys at the top of the order to put their hand up and do some hard work in the first innings. If they do that, we’re going to be a pretty good cricket team. We [Australia] are not going to keep getting out of jail like we have done. Haddin can’t keep rescuing us from being in positions like 5-120. Particularly against a side like South Africa, who have a very good bowling attack. They’ll make us pay more than England have,” he said.