1 Military planning
Andrew Strauss came under fire from predictable quarters when he missed the Bangladesh tour in early 2010 but his absenteeism reflected England’s desire to take on Australia feeling as fresh as a choking fixture list would allow. Stuart Broad was subsequently removed from the home Tests against the Bangladeshis for strength-and-conditioning work but, if that was not enough to prevent a freakish muscle tear at Adelaide, then the intention was plain: England were fed up with arriving in Australia creaking _and aching.
England regrouped after the aberration at Perth, laying their cards on the table in a frank team meeting in which the incoming batsmen admitted failing to warn those on their way out to the crease that Mitchell Johnson was swinging the ball into the right-handers. That breakdown in communication was typified by Kevin Pietersen’s exhortation to Paul Collingwood as the pair passed on the steps of the Perth pavilion during the mini-collapse: “Shut them up, weed.” The players pledged the same mistake would not happen again. Previously adversity had bred disunity. _No longer.
3 Kept their nerve
Strauss took a gamble by inserting Australia at Perth, a venue where only one visiting captain – New Zealand’s Jeremy Coney – had won after choosing to bowl. The move backfired – at which point other skippers might have blanched at the thought of repeating the trick. But, when Strauss called correctly again at the MCG, he had the courage of his convictions. First-day conditions at Melbourne may have been ideal for the seamers but Strauss stuck to his guns. And England retained the Ashes.
4 Proper warm-ups
In 2006-07 England warmed up for Brisbane with a 50-over thrash at Canberra, a 14-a-side three-day game against New South Wales, and one first-class match – a three-dayer against South Australia. This time they made impeccable use of their 10 days’ first-class cricket before the Gabba: 11 v 11, no holds barred, and with the second-string bowlers all granted a workout just in case. The matches not only fine-tuned the players physically and mentally but dispelled the traditional pre-Ashes image of the hapless Poms. After a sticky start the Brisbane Test was saved handsomely.
5 Refused to take the bait
If most of England’s players compared tediously with the Australians when it came to press-conference pronouncements, then it was all part of a grindingly dull plan. On no account were England to comment on the opposition, a tactic designed to deprive the local media of easy headlines and avert the kind of sensory assault that had battered previous touring teams. Strauss did let slip after Adelaide that Phil Hughes had a weakness against the short ball but, since this was akin to speculating about the shape of the Earth, no one was too fussed.
6 Team effort
Concerns over England’s four-man attack proved ill-founded: when one seamer got injured or tired, another simply took his place. Broad’s absence was compensated for by Chris Tremlett, who took eight wickets on his Ashes debut at Perth, then 4 for 26 in the first-day wrecking job at the MCG. Tim Bresnan replaced Steven Finn – penetrative but costly – for the fourth Test and produced the spell of the match in Australia’s second innings. Even the changes England did not make paid off: the runless Paul Collingwood was almost worth a place for his fielding alone.
7 Backroom staff
Four years ago England’s batting coach was Matthew Maynard and their bowling coach Kevin Shine – good men but inexperienced in Australia. Now they had Graham Gooch, who toured Australia four times as a player, and the Victorian David Saker, who prepped England’s bowlers ahead of each Test with such rigour that Bresnan reckoned the only thing he got wrong was to over-estimate the amount of turn at Melbourne. And when Andy Flower had to leave the Brisbane Test to have a cancerous mole removed, the fielding coach Richard Halsall _was unquestioningly trusted _with the reins.
For once the what-ifs were all Australian. What if Mitchell Johnson had caught Andrew Strauss at Brisbane? What if Jonathan Trott had not run out Simon Katich at Adelaide? What if Trott had been caught by Mike Hussey the following morning? Flower said he felt just as proud of Trott’s dive for the crease at Melbourne – 48 runs into his 168 – as he did of his unruffled batting. Matt Prior set the tone throughout but perhaps the moment we should have known things would be different was when Monty Panesar held a blinder against Australia A.
9 Ignored the hype
England knew they had blundered against Johnson at Perth. But instead of buying into some of the local hyperbole about a bowler reborn, they trusted their instincts, repeatedly ignoring Johnson outside off-stump when he failed to reproduce his inswing at the MCG. Ben Hilfenhaus was treated with respect but no more: economical he may have been but the leading wicket-taker in the 2009 Ashes had a strike-rate to make grown men cry. Other bowlers came and went as England – inspired by Alastair Cook’s haul of 450 at Brisbane and Adelaide – played the long game.
10 Attacked the leaders
In 2006-07 Ponting averaged 82 and Michael Clarke 77. This time England worked to a flexible plan, quickly dispensing with the bouncer tactic against Ponting, when it became clear he was determined to get inside the line of the ball, and bowling full outside off – with the occasional leg-side strangler thrown in. He averaged 16 before sitting out Sydney with a broken finger. Clarke was softened up and disoriented _by rib-ticklers – from Broad in the first two Tests and Tremlett thereafter. Both men managed one fifty apiece while the urn was still up for grabs.
11 Overcame the Kookaburra
Jimmy Anderson arrived in Australia barely able to move for columns broadcasting his 2006-07 haul of five wickets at 82. Yet he personified England’s highly skilful manipulation of Australia’s own 12th man: the Kookaburra ball. Conventional new-ball swing was used superbly to set up England’s wins at Adelaide and Melbourne but Anderson led the way in showing up the Australians’ weakness at getting reverse and Bresnan followed to spectacular effect at the MCG. England’s bowling star in advance was supposed to have been Graeme Swann. But it was his Twitter buddy and video-cam co-star who pinched the limelight.
Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Daily Mail and will edit Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack from 2012