Australia woke up to the knowledge the Ashes will stay in England’s hands for a third series in a row for the first time in 57 years yesterday but the prevailing mood in the nation’s media was still more of hope than despair.
The fact that Australia were bowling for victory when the Manchester rain brought a premature end to the third test was encouragement enough after the nadir of the second test defeat at Lord’s which gave England a 2-0 lead.
With the Old Trafford match ending in a draw, that lead was enough for England to retain the coveted urn and most newspapers led with variations on Australia’s Ashes hopes being “washed away”.
Having pondered at length on the desperate state of Australian cricket after the Lord’s humiliation, most of the cricket writers were prepared to concede a light at the end of the tunnel.
“After a quest to return the urn bedevilled in the early stages by off-field strife and on-field incompetence, Australia’s campaign ended – apart from the two now dead rubbers – with surprising respectability,” Richard Hinds wrote in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail.
Daily Telegraph correspondent Malcolm Conn, with others, pointed out that the draw had at least helped Australia avoid matching the lowest point of their country’s test cricketing history.
“Australia played well enough to wipe away the prospect of a record-equalling seventh successive defeat, which would have left the side linked with the darkness of 1885-88,” he wrote.
Conn also saw a “brighter future” but only if the other Australian batsmen were able to stand up alongside captain Michael Clarke, who was named Man of the Match at Old Trafford for his knocks of 187 and 30 not out.
Wayne Smith in The Australian thought the other batsmen were indeed “finally starting to show signs of getting their act together” while England’s “star act” of Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Jonny Bairstow were “starting to fall apart”.
“It’s all happened too late to be of any help in the current Ashes series but, providing (Ryan) Harris, (Peter) Siddle and co keep them guessing for the remainder of the series, the core of England’s batting will be riddled with doubt ahead of the Australian summer,” he wrote.
As Smith noted, the Australians will have an earlier than usual opportunity to take the Ashes back with their home series starting at the Gabba on Nov. 21.
“It’s too early to conclude anything about which side has momentum heading into the Brisbane test in late November,” Malcolm Knox wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Australia have made progress, but it counts for little until they win test matches, under pressure, when it matters.
“That was why the Blue Monday washout was a pity,” he added. “We could not find out if Australia had the steel to finish off a live Ashes test match.
“There was every indication, from how the bowlers were working a deteriorating wicket, that they would.”
Gideon Haigh, who doubles up for the London Times and The Australian, was less confident of a coherent batting line-up emerging but thought that England were also no longer the ruthless side that won the 2010-11 series in Australia.
“Australia are a battling, mid-table team with a good captain, a fine seam attack and a jumble of young batsmen being permutated furiously, in the hope that with enough turning they will somehow come together like a Rubik’s Cube,” he wrote.
“It is more the case this summer that Australia have lost,” he added. “And the pursued cannot always rely on the pursuer falling short.”