Cricket: False dawn clouds a fine sunset

Henry Blofeld laments England's inconsistency in the Ashes series
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Even allowing for England's magnificent victory at the Oval and the high drama of what turned out to be the last day of the Test series yesterday, cricket-lovers will feel they have been let down by the England side this summer. A stirring victory at Edgbaston at the start sparked thoughts of regaining the Ashes, but in the next four Tests England were comprehensively outplayed.

If that first Test had been drawn, expectations would not have been nearly so high. England had not had a good winter tour - victory against New Zealand probably seemed more important than it actually was after the disappointing drawn series in Zimbabwe.

The England side is drawn from players capable of producing excellent, if not great, individual performances. The one thing they have lacked, to a man, is the most crucial characteristic of all - consistency.

The false dawn at Edgbaston suggested England's seam bowlers had learned to bowl length and line and the batsmen were in the mood to try to dictate. It was a heartening victory, even if it told a false story.

The Australians had taken a slightly blase approach to the tour, feeling that, after a hard domestic season, followed by a tour of South Africa, two weeks' rest was more important than an extra few days' acclimatisation in England. The visitors, who thought that they would have little or no problem in beating England, were highly embarrassed by that initial defeat and it stung them into action. By the time the two sides met 10 days later at Lord's, a good deal of talking and plenty of hard work had gone on in the Australian camp. In the second Test, which was eventually ruined by the weather, they remembered their lines , playing cricket which was two classes better than England.

Mark Taylor had come to England under great pressure as Australia's captain because he had not been making runs in Test cricket for a long time. But Taylor is the most determined of men and, after failing in the first innings at Edgbaston, made 129, albeit in a lost cause, in the second. This silenced his critics and removed one unsettling influence in the Australian dressing-room. In an age of brassy and brittle sporting personalities, Taylor must be given high praise for the magnificent way he handled himself when he must have thought the whole world was against him.

England's victory will surely persuade Mike Atherton to think again before giving up the captaincy. At the Oval, when the situation was tight, he did the job well - it is when England are floundering he runs out of ideas and becomes a remote figure.

With a series in the West Indies to come in the new year much remains to be done, but this last result has not left England without hope. The West Indies are unlikely to prove to be as tough a side. But it would be dangerous to read too much into this victory against a depleted Australian side, after the Ashes had been won and with the Australians longing for home.