"When Australia come, just don't watch, hide behind the sofa.", said Mark Butcher with the the most condescending of tones prior to the start of the English summer, as if he were a "Specialist in Everlasting Righteousness". Nearly six months later, the former England batsman is left lamenting what he once impetuously uttered, never mind mentioning that he badly needs a commodious sofa - to hide behind for now, and to relax on later.
Poor Mark Butcher couldn't see it coming, but so couldn't a handful of other "experts" too, except a few genius ones, the more far-sighted ones, the ones with Cricketing nous. Well you can leave Mark Butcher and his sofa for now, and celebrate what has been a truly awe-inspiring performance from a young England side, that has ridden on confidence, and played with swagger against an Australian side, the mental strength of whom has often been the undoing of the very best; not this time though.
A Different Alastair Cook
People have often flogged Alastair Cook with spuds after spuds (metaphorically of course) for no other reason than his naivety as a captain and rightly so. Cook has generally been defensive, a regular deployer of pre-meditated tactics and at times hopeless in pressure situations. However, it's worth noting that this is no longer the case with the Chef who has now found his recipe to spell disaster for his opponents.
The signs were always there to be seen during the West Indies tour where we saw the more innovative side of Captain Cook, the instinctive side of him. As the Ashes drew closer thereafter, Cook's unprecedented rise as a captain kept showing up, before the Essex Cricketer peaked as a leader, making the right move at the right time, nailing the field placements and planning wickets - the most difficult tasks of them all to undertake and rightly implement as a captain.
It was about time Alastair Cook started to prove his critics wrong, and he has done exactly that on the best of occasions - an Ashes series.
Playing with Freedom
England have always craved for an aggressive brand of Cricket, such a brand as allows them to show what they are, not what they have been taught to be. Under Peter Moores, England were always a group of schoolboys trussed alongside each other who had no freedom whatsoever to express themselves and fulfill their potentials to the full.
Since the arrival of Paul Farbrace and Trevor Bayliss - the Miami-based Cricketing Mafia - the Englishmen have looked a different unit altogether. They have started to find the answers themselves, they can think for themselves, and they no longer need a 100000000-man backroom staff to help the side out. The Ashes could never have been regained had England come out with premeditated tactics - it doesn't work that way. You have to work out plans as and when different situations arise, and England are learning just that as they near the stage where they master this art.
There wasn't a cat in a hell's chance Ben Stokes, Mark Wood and Steven Finn like supremely talented players could have risen to the top had they not been made to be themselves, and the same goes for the other set of England's Ashes heroes who were underperforming earlier on, but are doing better than they are supposed to, now that they have the freedom to enjoy themselves, and have been inculcated the right mentality into.Dominance is there for the taking
Ashes win is only the beginning for this England side that has greatness written all over it. Yes, they are still a bit inconsistent; they still have a few problem areas to solve; a lot of work is still to be done, but the direction they are moving in is perfectly right. There's a group of younger players hungry for success, the doyens of the squad still have enough fuel left, the desire is more than ever, and you add to that, there's just the kind of set-up any team in the world would slice each other's head off for.
Just as a reposado needs time to get into its shape, so did this England team which is starting to get into shape too, and it's not very long from hereon that English Cricket could be riding high, very high.