I still think it was won in Cardiff. Australia had to win that Test. Ricky Ponting’s side was never good enough to squander an opportunity like that and still take the series.
So for a moment let’s forget the man universally crowned as Freddie’s replacement as a cricketer and an icon – Stuart Broad. Give him some space. Tone down the expectations.
Let’s also leave Andrew Strauss, the captain and the best batsman, to bounce his kids on his knee for a day or two. He doesn’t crave the attention anyway. And let’s hail the heroes of Cardiff, the match-savers, who have faded rapidly from the memory and who may take a while to return to the spotlight.
All hail to the man who averaged 11 with the bat and 115 with the ball in this series. That’s Monty Panesar, whose only appearance for England was in Wales. All hail to another who played every game, who averaged 27 with bat and 76 with the ball, Paul Collingwood.
Without this pair the Ashes would not have been won. But you would never guess that from looking at the averages.
Collingwood, in the role of Leonidas at Thermopylae, blocked and blocked and blocked again on the sluggish Welsh turf to defy the Australians on the last day at Cardiff.
That was a day for the artisan not the artist and Collingwood ground away almost to the end. But not quite. That was when Monty had his El Alamein. It was remarkable that he should survive so long; it was astonishing that he could do it so easily. He barely missed a ball.
So there goes the citation for England’s men of the series: Panesar and Collingwood. I can’t foresee them emulating that feat in South Africa, however, where England next play Test cricket.
Indeed, it is quite possible that neither of them will be in South Africa when England take on the number one ranked side in the world.
Collingwood has had a brilliant England career. It is hard to think of a batsman who has squeezed out so many runs from such modest ability. In 53 Tests he averages 42 with the bat, the same as Graham Gooch, more than Alec Stewart, Mike Atherton, Nasser Hussain, Michael Vaughan, Mike Gatting, Allan Lamb and Ian Bell and oodles more than Graeme Hick or Mark Ramprakash.
Yet I doubt anyone could possibly argue that he has more natural talent than any of the above. But Collingwood is 33 now, the age when the powers start to wane for normal mortals.
He does not have the perfect technique to fall back on if the reflexes start to slow a fraction – witness his trials against the away-swinger and the bouncer in this series. He has served England doughtily, but a rock-solid character is not enough. Runs and a future matter. It may well be time to move on.
Panesar, I’m sure, will play again for England but not necessarily in South Africa. The benefit of a spinner, who can bat, has been highlighted by Graeme Swann in this series. He whacked a startling 249 runs at an average of 35 as well as picking up 14 wickets.
Why not have two? In Andrew Flintoff’s absence the more bowlers who can bat are to be welcomed and Adil Rashid has just struck a timely purple patch for Yorkshire. In August he has hit two centuries at number eight and produced a couple of five wicket hauls.
England took three spinners to the Caribbean last winter; they may only want two in South Africa, where pitches tend to be pacier: Swann will obviously be one of them a decade after his first tour there, and Rashid could be the other.