History will not remember Michael Clarke’s touring party to England in 2013 with particular fondness. Already 3-0 down by the time they set foot back in London for a dour series finale ruined by the rain, the numbers do not look great in black and white.
Australia, for weeks now, has been desperately trying to avoid unwanted records. They have been spared the big kahuna – no Australian side has ever lost four Ashes Tests in a series in England – but if the final result is any indication the comparisons with mediocre teams of the past will prevail.
By failing to win a match in an Ashes series – a draw was all but certain heading into the last day at the Oval on Sunday – they have undesirable company as the first Australians to be kept to nought since 1977.
A tour that began disastrously, from David Warner’s nightclub incident to the sacking of Mickey Arthur, never really got off the ground for the Australians. The almighty thrashing dished out to them by England at Lord’s last month was the unquestionable low point, but they were also hampered repeatedly by batting failures elsewhere – at Trent Bridge, for instance, where they were 9-117 in their first innings before Ashton Agar’s magical debut hit, and at Durham, where they were on track for victory before an extraordinary collapse on the fourth afternoon.
But despite the series scoreline, there is merit in fast bowler Peter Siddle’s remark from midway through the final Test: that Australia and England are not worlds apart in ability.
Clarke’s team, in fact, has been on top for significant periods of the last three matches of the series, and it could be argued that it has been very particularly unlucky when it comes to that perennial extra element in England – the weather.
On three occasions Alastair Cook has won the toss and batted, and all three times conditions have been dry. Twice, Clarke has called correctly and batted and twice it has rained.
Staying in the glass half full category, England’s batting has also not been all it’s cracked up to be. Not once has it passed 400 in an innings, and previous run machines like Cook and Jonathan Trott have not stood out. There are still plenty of question marks about the old enemy’s middle order.
Ian Bell, with three centuries by the time he got to the Oval, has been outstanding and in many ways his contribution has been the difference between the sides.
On the bowling side Ryan Harris has been a revelation for Australia, a strange description to give a 33-year-old who by his date of birth should be on his last legs as an international pacemen.
Siddle and Nathan Lyon were more than capable support.
The major problem, of course, was at the other end of the order and while introspection will continue over the next few months, some distance has been made up from Lord’s.
Chris Rogers, at 35, and Steve Smith, at 24, have been finds, both scoring maiden Test hundreds; Rogers was a surprise choice in the squad, and Smith wasn’t even in it in the first place.
And by the Oval – where Australia finally used its best four batsmen in the top four – there seemed to be just the first hint of solidity emerging about a batting order constantly chopped and changed. The order doesn’t rely on Clarke as much as it did.
Thanks to a heavy series defeat they will go down as nowhere men. Perhaps, though, after a closer look Clarke’s team of 2013, they could also be remembered as nearly men.