England enjoy swinging time in Ashes
One of the great traditional challenges of playing cricket in England is batting against the swinging and seaming ball.
It was a challenge that Australia`s top-order batsmen have for the most part failed to master so far in the 2015 Ashes and, as much as anything, explains why England took an unbeatable 3-1 lead in the five-match Ashes series with a crushing innings and 78-run win in the fourth Test at Trent Bridge on Saturday.
Australia can`t say they were not warned -- this was, after all, Australia`s fourth successive Ashes series loss in England, a run stretching back 14 years.
Darren Lehmann, the Australia coach, spent several seasons with English county side Yorkshire while on-tour selector Rodney Marsh was behind the stumps when Bob Massie produced one of the all-time great displays of swing bowling in taking 16 wickets on Test debut at Lord`s in 1972.
Significantly, the Australia batsman who fared best was Chris Rogers, the veteran opener putting his years of experience with several counties to good use.
Rogers is something of a `throw back` as a batsman in that he accepts there will be times when he has to absorb pressure and battle hard to keep his wicket intact.
Before the series both sides made much of their intention to play "aggressive" cricket, with some Australians giving the impression that anything else was a lesser form of the game.
"Australia are just poor at batting when the ball moves. Some of the shots have been pathetic," said former England opener Geoffrey Boycott.
Harsh words, perhaps, but you would be hard-pressed to say Boycott was wrong, with Australia`s batsmen doing little to shake off the tag of `flat-track bullies`.
Indeed their one win in the first four matches of the series, a 405-run success in the second Test at Lord`s, came on a docile pitch where Steven Smith (215) and Rogers (173) compiled their Test-best scores.
However, there was an irony in that it needed an Australian in new England coach Trevor Bayliss to point out after Lord`s that the series ought to be played on traditional English pitches.
Lord`s apart, England were able to minimise the impact of their collapses although that was largely the work of the 24-year-old Joe Root who gave two superb demonstrations of how to combat a moving ball with his hundreds at Cardiff (134) and Trent Bridge (130).
By contrast every time Australia lost wickets in clusters it cost them dearly.
England, however, still had to bowl well.
This was reflected in how at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge the quartet of James Anderson (six for 47), Steven Finn (six for 79), Stuart Broad (eight for 15) and Ben Stokes (six for 36) starred as England became the first side to have different bowlers each take six or more wickets in four successive Test innings.
The pinnacle was Broad`s stunning spell on the first morning at Trent Bridge, his Nottinghamshire home ground, which saw Australia dismissed for a scarcely credible 60 in just 111 balls -- the shortest completed first innings in the 138-year history of Test cricket.
"The pitch just offered the perfect amount. It wasn`t really swinging massively, wasn`t seaming loads," said Broad.
England captain Alastair Cook, often accused of being too defensive, generally attacked at the right times and this was summed up when fifth slip Stokes held a stunning one-handed catch to dismiss Adam Voges in the middle of Broad`s sensational burst.
But Australia skipper Michael Clarke, who eventually conceded defeat in his struggle for runs by announcing after the fourth Test that he would retire from international duty at the end of this series, missed a couple of tricks despite a reputation for "funky" captaincy.
His bowlers, including the sometimes fearsome Mitchell Johnson, were unable, for the most part, to match England`s although they rarely had enough runs to play with.
As ever, the winning side`s selections were vindicated by victory.
England could have dropped Ian Bell for their eight-wicket win in the third Test at Edgbaston but instead promoted him to number three and saw him score two important fifties on his home ground in a match where Finn marked his first Test in two years in style.
Australia, who lost Ryan Harris to a career-ending knee injury before the series started, looked to have a nicely balanced side at Lord`s.
But the decision to drop all-rounder Mitchell Marsh and replace him with older brother Shaun, a batsman out for nought and two, at Trent Bridge backfired spectacularly.