Cricket: Ashes scholars hard at work behind the scenes

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One of the most impressive features of England's performance in this first Test has been the meticulous planning which has so obviously gone into all aspects of their game. Nothing has been left to chance.

In the field it was clear that the strengths and weaknesses of all the Australian batsmen had been identified. Bowlers knew where they had to bowl, the fielders were placed accordingly, and the new ball was not wasted by bowling too wide of the stumps. The careful planning was also seen in the batting. Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe gave the bowlers almost nothing. For hour after hour their concentration never wavered and they seldom made the mistake of playing at a ball they could leave alone.

The business of building an innings in terms of partnerships and not individuals had also been extensively gone into. Hussain and Thorpe played for each other and, though it may sound silly to say so, they showed an obvious closeness and friendship that says much for the spirit in the dressing-room.

Building a partnership must be easier if you can understand and communicate with the chap at the other end. Hussain and Thorpe's batting was craftsmanship of the highest order and the Australians were first surprised, then downhearted, and finally dejected and demoralised. The loss of Jason Gillespie with a hamstring injury was a blow but Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne are fine Test bowlers and might have been expected to engage in a reasonably successful damage-limitation exercise.

McGrath, who for some extraordinary reason was asked to bowl at the start of the second day in partnership with Warne - and not with Mike Kasprowicz, showed his inexperience against batsmen who refused to allow him to dominate. But he is a good bowler who will still, surely, have an impact on a series which is only two days old. It was a measure of Hussain and Thorpe's superb batting that McGrath was never allowed, apart from a couple of overs at the start, to feel that he was on top. He needs to learn that he must pitch the ball up a little further in England; an Australian good length is too short for a fast bowler here.

The most worrying part of the day for Australia was the poor showing of Warne. For four years, no matter how slow the pitch, Warne's wrist spin fizzed as he ripped his fingers round the ball. The operation on his spinning finger must be the reason for this no longer happening.

His control, too, is not what it was, although one must give credit to the batsmen for this as they never let Warne settle. Some time in August the full value of Hussain and Thorpe's stand may be better understood.

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