Sydney swansong beckons for vanquished English team
A cull is likely to end the Test career of several top names following the crushing Ashes series defeat
England practice their catching during the nets session at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Australia. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA
With its grand central harbour and flocks of strolling pleasure-seekers Sydney tends to have the air of a city of departures and farewells.
Not least for England’s cricketers in Australia, where this most breezily European of state capitals has always been a kind of journey’s end, venue for the final Test on all but two Ashes tours in the last 50 years.
Even Alastair Cook seemed a little more cheerful in the buildup to the final match of a wretched series for England’s captain.
As Cook pointed out in his pre-match press conference at the SCG there is a distinct, even rather celebratory feel to an Ashes Test at this lovely old open ground, its appeal undiluted by the work-in-progress new stand, with its floating pancake roof looming above the familiar bleached green members’ pavilion.
For all its surrounding parkland, this is a distinctly urban ground, located a short hop south west from the city centre, with the hum of the nearby roads creeping in with the breeze through the vents in the stands.
For England’s players there might even be a sense of wider flux mixed in with the urban Sydney bonhomie. The team director Andy Flower has committed himself to staying on to help refashion this England team, while Cook will remain as captain whatever happens here.
Historically, though, Sydney has been a catalyst for a changing of the guard, a natural end point for some England Test careers, whether through grand-stage retirement or simply falling by the wayside at the end of another home-and-away Ashes cycle.
Of recent Sydney Tests the 2003 edition was perhaps the most cleansing.
England won an excellent Test match by 225 runs on the fifth day, thereby avoiding a 5-0 whitewash, with Andy Caddick taking seven for 94 in the fourth innings.
Four years later the Sydney Test signalled the end of a pair of outsized sporting greats, as Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath retired, and for England the less illustrious pair Sajid Mahmood and Chris Read at least chose a fitting stage on which to flicker for one last time.
Last time out the Sydney effect was less in evidence. Of the class of 2011 only Paul Collingwood was making his final appearance, while nine of England’s team in a crushing innings victory ended up being part of the current whitewash-bound tour party.
This time though there will be goodbyes. Ask not for whom the bell tolls: it tolls, in truth, for quite a few of them.
Michael Carberry has let nobody down in Australia but it would be a surprise if he played another Test.
Matt Prior will surely be back, while Gary Ballance, Scott Borthwick, Jonny Bairstow and – if he can be effectively rebooted – Steven Finn will all expect to be given a genuine chance to flower in the next two to three years.
In many ways Sydney 2014 is already a fresh charter for English cricket’s mob-handed corporate supertanker, with a new managing director and new chief selector in place to go with a sense of freshly bruised expectations on the field.
As Cook has been keen to point out, there are no dead-rubber Tests in Ashes cricket.
Each has its own vital sphere of influence, not least this time around at the new-build SCG, where for England there is more than simply a whitewash on the line in the city of cricketing farewells.