Cow Corner

The View from Down Under: Ashes undermined by packed schedule

Ahead of the fifth and final Ashes Test in Sydney, and with the prospect of a whitewash over England in the offing, it's a fair assumption to make that Australian cricket fans cannot get enough of the game at the moment.

Four Tests in quick succession and four utterly dominant victories over a bedraggled touring England side have captured the public imagination Down Under in a way that no series has done for many years.

Yet at least one columnist believes that there can be too much of a good thing, and that Australian cricket's governing body is in danger of "killing the golden goose" with too many back-to-back Tests, even if that is what the ravenous public demands.

Malcolm Knox, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, believes that the match at the SCG between two teams who clearly do not like each other will be as fiercely contested as ever, despite its status as a dead rubber, but "for the second consecutive year the biggest match in Australia's biggest city is, like the fruit at the corner store, bruised and dented on arrival."

Knox continues:

This is not the fault of the deadness or otherwise of the rubber. There are all sorts of subplots to weave around the possibility of a whitewash, individual players' personal battles, and the question of whether the England players, having been asked by their captain to show signs of character (Brisbane), fight (Adelaide), credibility (Perth) and pride (Melbourne), have anything left to hear. All are secondary to the fact that the two teams on the field do not like each other, and will play, as they have all year, with brutal seriousness.

That said, the schedulers are continuing to undermine the best thing their game has going for it with incessant back-to-back Tests. Eight of the 10 encounters this year have been played to this squashed timetable. Each time the players have lifted themselves, but questions must be asked about why they should be forced to turn this great contest into an attritional fight between men and their own bodies.

Test cricket is too good for back-to-back matches. Sometimes the calendar demands it, as during the Melbourne-Sydney festive season stretch. The strain has been lightened somewhat by pushing out the start of the Sydney match to January 3. But by this stage, it's all wreckage: four Ashes matches in six weeks, players pushing themselves to their limits on hard wickets and, in Perth, ferocious heat, is too much for the spectacle's own health.

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Meanwhile, Sydney Morning Herald sports writer Chris Barrett highlights the difficulty that England have faced as a touring side this southern hemisphere summer.

England may have been dire on their travels around Australia but, as he points out, they are not the only tourists to suffer on the road.

Australia's struggles in India and England were well documented, as has been the abject summer of Alastair Cook's men here, but a closer inspection of the success rate of last year's touring teams rams home just how difficult it has become in the modern game to triumph on foreign soil.

Remarkably, only two of 41 Tests played on non-neutral grounds in 2013 were won by the visiting country - and they were both victories against international minnow Zimbabwe. They were achieved by Bangladesh in April and Pakistan in September. The previous year away teams won 12 of 39 Tests, while in 2011 they won 13 of 36.

Elsewhere, the last calendar year was a graveyard for touring nations, spelling out just how challenging Australia's next assignment - three Tests on the road against world No.1 South Africa from next month - promises to be despite how well it appears to be travelling after thrashing England.

Michael Clarke's attention is on the fifth Ashes Test, starting on Friday in Sydney, but the potential for a reality check to be administered before long will keep the resurgent Australians on their toes.

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Today's national forecast. #CloudyWithAChanceOfWhiteWash #Ashes pic.twitter.com/LHOwc2MXdg

— Not David Warner (@notdavidwarner) January 2, 2014

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Australia's dominance over England has been total this tour, yet just one batsman makes The Age's chief cricket writer Chloe Saltau's 2013 team of the year - Michael Clarke.

Mitchell Johnson, off the back of his superlative outings over the past month, is also selected, while fellow paceman Ryan Harris squeezes in as 12th man and Brad Haddin keeps wicket.

England, despite their recent woe, are represented by Stuart Broad, with the remainder of the team made up of South Africans and Indians.

In a year dominated by the Ashes, Michael Clarke is the only batsman from Australia or England to make my Test team of 2013. This reflects the ascendancy of ball over bat; the Ashes-winning captain was the only batsman from either team to average more than 42 for the year. It's a big call to leave out Ian Bell after 1000 runs and three tons, but his dwindling returns in Australia and lame shot in England's calamitous second innings at the MCG sealed his fate.

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An interesting photographic study of the current Australian team is presented in today's Sydney Daily Telegraph, with exclusive access to Australia's "inner sanctum" - their dressing room - gained by photographer Phil Hillyard.

[Take a look at the photo gallery]

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And finally, one of Australia's heroes of the moment David Warner reflects on his tough upbringing in Sydney in a (ghostwritten) column in the Daily Telegraph.

Warner reveals how his childhood, during his which he only owned one bat - an SS Jumbo - helped shape him into the champion he is today.

As a kid I always wanted to be someone, to make it. But for so long, I didn't really believe people could be inspired by a kid who grew up in Housing Commission with the one bat.

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