Cricket: What it all boils down to is desire and pride: Simon Hughes on the lessons to be learnt from Australia after their victory at Old Trafford

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The Independent Online
WE ARE fond of processions at the moment. Yesterday it was the Trooping of the Colour, next week there's one at Royal Ascot, last Monday at Old Trafford it was England's batting. 'Don't close the gate,' a spectator said to the steward as Phillip DeFreitas walked out to bat, 'there'll be another one through in a minute.'

There was an inevitability about the destruction of England's defences. Merv Hughes provided the penetration and Shane Warne the persistence to wear down the batsmen's concentration. Allan Border fiddled cleverly with the field settings. It was remarkable England prolonged the end as long as they did.

The outcome was inevitable, and not just because England have temporarily forgotten how to win. It goes deeper than that. There is a chasm of difference in attitude between the two sides. Australia have a traditional identity in the cricket world that they maintain: a team of hard, brawny men who hate losing. The brash patriotism is rammed home constantly on television and radio, the boxing kangaroo is everywhere. It is more than just an image. When they play together they epitomise the all for one, one for all approach. It stems from the tough atmosphere of their domestic club cricket. They play two-day games over two weekends; you might only bat twice a month so greediness becomes inbred. The bowlers grizzle and snarl and unleash colourful language. Even their mid-week practice sessions are hard and competitive.

Compare that with English club and county matches, which roll on like items on a conveyor belt. One individual innings might fail the test, but there will soon be another chance. It is so relentless that a Test match becomes not an honour and a challenge but an extension of the ordeal, another job on the road with a cheque at the end. In a way you have to feel sorry for the players. It is not their fault; the system is to blame. Moves are afoot to rectify the situation, such as the four-day Championship, but it will take time. At the moment, some of the players have an attitude bordering on indifference. The problem is perhaps compounded by the make-up of the national team. If Devon Malcolm plays instead of Phil Tufnell at Lord's there will be more players born and reared outside the country than in it.

At Old Trafford the England players were too insecure to be aggressive. 'Some of us are not just beginners any more,' said one. 'We're expected to perform now. We can't use inexperience as an excuse. That makes us a bit tentative, not wanting to take risks. None of us has any guarantees for the rest of the series, so we're constantly looking over our shoulders. There are so many people to pick from.' There wasn't even an attacking purpose. 'The bowlers were told to stick to channels, bowl the right line, instead of trying to take wickets. On the first day I felt we were waiting, hoping for a declaration. Merv Hughes doesn't wait for anything, he makes things happen.'

An England strategy was conspicuous by its absence. Planning was sketchy and field settings stereotyped, with traditional slips and gulleys instead of Border's more imaginative positions. The pressure of being hemmed in by close fielders clearly got to Mike Gatting in the second innings. It was written all over his face. Added to that, he had never seen Shane Warne bowl until that extraordinary first delivery on Friday. Surely someone could have got hold of a video to allow him a sneak preview, unless they thought it would be like a horror movie? Andy Caddick was allegedly told to 'just put it there' on the first morning and bowled innocuously as a result.

What it all boils down to in the end is desire and pride - or 'mental fibre' as Graham Gooch calls it. The Australians contemplate returning home empty- handed and are desperate to win. The English, contemplating their immediate individual futures, are nervous. 'They wear lions on their chests,' said Desmond Haynes. 'Sometimes pussycats might be more appropriate.' From now on England have to fight to survive. Whether they do it in the manner of Graham Gooch or the Marquess of Blandford is immaterial, but they must be positive.

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