The legend of the Ashes began with a mock obituary following Australia’s victory at The Oval in 1882 – but now, 135 years later, the Aussie media are asking whether the rivalry has expired for good, as England brace themselves for what could yet be their third whitewash in four Test tours Down Under.
“Rivalry dead: Brilliant Aussies humiliate pathetic Poms” was the take of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, under the splash headline “God Save The Ashes”, as England surrendered the urn – and said farewell to one of their all-time bogey grounds – with a valedictory whacking at the WACA.
“England are on their knees with several senior players on the ropes and now facing the stark realisation that they could suffer a third 5-0 humiliation on Australian soil in the past 11 years,” wrote Ben Horne in the Adelaide Advertiser. “Smith can smell blood in the water.”
It had been, said The Australian, “no contest”, with Australia’s “bragging rights urned” over the course of three one-sided Tests in which England had their moments, but ultimately proved powerless to resist a superior pace and spin attack, not to mention a captain in the form of his life in Steve Smith.
“The rivals have not bowled on different pitches during this Test, but it has seemed like it,” wrote Gideon Haigh inside the same paper. Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood and Cummins, he said, had been at their “marauding best”, while Smith’s captaincy had been as indomitable as his batting.
“Smith displayed a magnate’s acquisitiveness, in runs, in tricks and in moments,” Haigh added. “His impetuosity with reviews has been faulted. But it’s almost like an expression of his own willpower, if he wants something hard enough it will come true. A lot of the time, frankly, it does.”
Chris Barrett in the Sydney Morning Herald hailed Smith’s “greatest moment of his two years at the helm”, shying away from the controversial comparison with Bradman, but stating that he had at least re-written the “post-Bradman record books”.
NewsCorp’s Robert Craddock addressed the elephant in the room (or rather, the elephant most definitely absent from the room) in pointing out that a certain allrounder’s absence from England’s ranks had been a critical point of difference between the two teams.
“England lost this series the day Ben Stokes punched a man and put a hole in his own career at Bristol in September,” Craddock wrote. “The vibe around the cricket world was ‘no Stokes, no England’. It really was that simple.”
Amid the triumph, however, there was a palpable tinge of disappointment, with Australia’s showpiece Tests at Melbourne and Sydney once again set to be irrelevant to the narrative of the series.
“Because of the reconfiguration of the Australian summer 20 years ago, Sydney has not had a live Ashes Test since 1994-95, and Melbourne has had only one, in 2010-11. It died at lunch on day one,” wrote Fairfax’s Greg Baum. “Each Ashes series begins with a frisson, but ends in anti-climax.”
“The victors will not ride into town triumphantly clutching a champagne flute as they do in the Tour de France,” wrote Peter Lalor in The Australian, “but there is a sense that what remains are demonstration matches only.”
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