Lutters’ Ashes Lines – part eight (the fourth Test)

ASHES retained, job done, mission accomplished – whatever you want to call it, England have been successful in Australia for the first time since 1987.

England comprehensively stuffed the Aussies out of sight in Melbourne and, although I risk getting egg on my face, they should win in Sydney and not only retain the Ashes, but beat Australia in their own back yard – a real feat and something to be proud of.

It’s been an amazing series so far, and one that England have totally bossed, apart from Perth. The home side have been embarrassingly poor at times and deserve little out of the series, which is essentially what they’ll get.

It has been a shocker for coach Tim Neilsen and his band of merry men since the start, and one can almost sense the “Big Guns” at Cricket Australia popping down to their local IT store to purchase a new print cartridge for his P45.

It’s not just Neilsen and/or Ponting’s fault though – Australia are not the side they were. In fact, compared to recent Australian sides, they are pretty poor. That’s not to belittle England’s achievements Down Under, but it has been a lot easier this time compared to previous failed attempts at victory over there.

Australia have too many weaknesses to challenge what can only be described as a very useful England side. Let’s not get carried away, England are now the third best team in the world, and unlikely to get to number one in the very near future. That’s not to say that they won’t get there eventually, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Australia have flopped in various departments.

The openers have been very sporadic in their contributions, and in Hughes’ case, impotent. Shane Watson’s average in the series looks healthy, but he needs to get “big” runs rather than “medium” runs, a fact he acknowledged in interview after day three in Melbourne.

Ponting and Clarke, both very good players, have been poor with the bat. They are both quality players and credit should go to Strauss and his bowlers for keeping them quiet, but they should have done better.

Hussey – outstanding, especially considering that he wasn’t a definite pick at the start of the series and has come in when Australia have been struggling almost every game.

Steve Smith – if this bloke’s an international number six then I’ve still got a chance of making a living out of the game. He is no more than a bits-and-pieces cricketer, much like his predecessor Marcus North. At least Smith has time on his side – he may end up being a very good player, but he certainly isn’t at the moment.

Brad Haddin has done well with bat and gloves.

Now what can one say about Mitchell Johnson? Awful in Brisbane, superb in Perth (where the conditions suited him), and awful in Melbourne. The bloke is a liability. Too busy wondering what to have permanently drawn on his arm next. How can Ponting captain such a lightweight? Could win you a game, as he did in Perth, but more likely to disappear without trace. He gets paid a lot of money to do that.

Peter Siddle has plenty of heart, but is not world class by any stretch of the imagination. He has been the pick of the Aussie bowlers this series, though, and credit to him for that.

Melbourne does not have a pitch Ryan Harris would want to see too often, but he does try hard. In his 30s now, though, and plagued with injury (another of which he’s picked up this match). Is he worth persevering with? They may have to through lack of a replacement.

Ben Hilfenhaus is a lucky boy. Had it not been for Harris’ injury he would have been hitting the January sales during the Test match at Sydney rather than pacing out his run-up. His colleague’s stress fracture may have saved him, along with a couple of cheap wickets at the end of England’s one innings.

But what have Australia got to come in? Literally nothing – Michael Beer, a spinner who doesn’t turn it, with just seven first-class games under his belt and a few batsmen that many have never heard of.

No wonder Ponting resorted to haranguing the umpires. It smacks of desperation to me.

Now I’ve said all that, they’ll probably smash us in Sydney, without the spinner that all the “experts” insist they need.

I’m marinating my hat just in case.