Angus Fraser: It is premature for England to kindle Ashes hopes

Grade cricket, not the academy, is the source of the Australian game's strength
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The Independent Online

Australia's series defeat in India will hit the cricket-loving inhabitants of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth hard. It gives those who have not rejoiced in an almost 15-year period of Australian dominance the opportunity for bravado too. And it's true, Ricky Ponting's side is a shadow of that which walloped England 5-0 in 2006-07.

But if the cricket world believes that is that from the Aussies, it had better think again. The defeat, like that in the 2005 Ashes, will lead to soul-searching but those in charge of Australian cricket will not sit down and feel sorry for themselves. They will not panic. They will assess what they need to do and plan a way forward.

Australia's small population means that it does not have as many potential cricketers as India, Pakistan or England. But the drawback is overcome by the investment made by central government, the facilities available and the fact that the sport attracts many of Australia's best athletes.

Despite what some say, cricket in Australia is still strong. At first-class level there are dozens of talented, committed and ambitious young men. The sole goal of each is to follow in the footsteps of Don Bradman, Dennis Lillee, Steve Waugh and Warne, and wear the Baggy Green. In England, last summer's averages were dominated by players with a southern hemisphere, rather than south of England, twang.

Many see Australia's National Cricket Academy as the source of the game's strength, but it is actually grade cricket – league cricket – that underpins the game. Thousands of fit young men take part in well-organised, almost professional, practice sessions on a Tuesday and Thursday evening. On a Saturday, they play highly competitive cricket on excellent pitches. A friend of mine, playing second grade cricket in Sydney at the time, believed he was 10 innings away from a Baggy Green – and he was. Australia are still ranked the best side in the world, and they will continue to challenge for top spot. They will not rule as they have but, equally, they will not become a New Zealand or West Indies.

By concentrating on Australia's demise, we overlook one important fact – how good India have become. Those England fans who believe the Ashes are for the taking had better hold fire until Christmas. If Kevin Pietersen's side struggle in India the 2009 Ashes will decide only who the second or – if South Africa beat Australia in the coming months – third best team are.