Cricket: Hungry Aussies look to a feast: Nicholas Roberts in Melbourne explains why optimistic noises are being heard down under

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The Independent Online
MARK TAYLOR'S debut as Australian captain has had to compete with another momentous event at the start of this new season - the announcement that the Victoria state team will take the field in blue shorts with white lycra inners in their one-day matches.

Dean Jones, the Victoria captain, says the new fashion is to give the players greater comfort and mobility, but the purists are decrying it as the latest assault on cricket's traditions. Others say it's a sign that commerce has taken over cricket, and point to Shane Warne's recently signed contract with Nike which, with his other endorsements, is expected to make him Australia's highest-paid cricketer.

All this, however, is background accompaniment to the sound of Australians collectively licking their lips in anticipation of the arrival of the one, true cricketing enemy. Notwithstanding the one-wicket loss to Pakistan in the first Test in Karachi, Australia, under Taylor, are a young and hungry team, and they could make a meal of England.

It is some measure of the optimism here that the Australian Board were so embarrassed with talent, and young batsmen in particular, that they decided to field an 'A' side, to be coached by Greg Chappell, in the four-team one-day competition which will also feature Australia, England and Zimbabwe. Chappell expressed the view that it was probably too much to expect Australia to play Australia 'A' in the one-day final, but the cricketing public have high expectations of the assembly line of talent now being produced by the Cricket Academy in Adelaide.

In the first Test in Pakistan, Michael Bevan, of New South Wales, appeared to drop effortlessly into the No 4 spot held for so long by Allan Border. But if Bevan falters, Justin Langer, of Western Australia, will be there to take his chance, and behind him will be Ricky Ponting and Michael di Venuto, of Tasmania, Matthew Hayden and Martin Love, of Queensland, and Brad Hodge, of Victoria.

If there was regretand sympathy for Border in his botched departure as captain last May, after 93 matches in charge, there was also hope and excitement at the rebirth of the Australian team made possible by his retirement. Taylor's appointment as captain marked an injection of positive thinking. For years, Australian sides had gone to the subcontinent and complained about the food, the pitches and the umpires. This time the team were prepared with positive responses for every negative situation, and the approach seemed to have worked when Australia were one wicket away from becoming the first country ever to win a Test in Karachi.

It is also felt that Taylor may make more progress on halting the practice of sledging than Border, who put winning and loyalty to his fellow professionals above etiquette and decorum.

If Australia's batting looks powerful, the bowling attack is more humdrum - Warne excepted. Craig McDermott is fighting injury and the years, Merv Hughes is fighting the flab, and their back-up is provided by rookies like Damien Fleming, who took a hat-trick in the second Test against Pakistan in Rawalpindi, and Glenn McGrath. Neither McGrath nor Fleming is likely to induce terror, but, with Shane Warne coming on first change, Australia are more than quietly confident.