Ashes 2013/14: 'Hard part is staying at the summit,' says former Australia coach John Buchanan

Buchanan believes England failed to build on their recent success

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The Independent Online

John Buchanan was the man who oversaw Australia’s remarkable period of domination that saw them rule the cricketing world for the best part of two decades. He was also the man who led Australia to a series whitewash against England – a 5-0 mauling in 2006-07 that has eerie echoes in the disaster that the current Ashes tour is becoming.

His contribution to the all-conquering Australian side has been questioned in the past, most notably by Shane Warne, but when he left his post, shortly after the 2007 World Cup, Australia’s fortunes endured an unimaginable slump. Staying at the top is a trick England have failed to master, falling from the Test summit almost as soon as they got there.

“It’s always harder once you’re at the top because everybody – be it the business world, the corporate world or the sporting world – tries to copy what you’re doing, grabs the IP [intellectual property] and then improves on it,” Buchanan told The Independent.

Buchanan points to England employing Australian bowling coaches Troy Cooley and David Saker as evidence of the latter. But while England saw reaching No 1 as their primary target, the 60-year-old Queenslander believes that should only have been the start. 

“When you’re at the top you have to understand that that’s just the starting point – the base camp to doing bigger and better things,” he says. “Provided you can keep the message fresh and keep the environment stimulating and challenging and really appreciate winning then you can keep your group really at a point where they’re determined to stay where they are and set new benchmarks.

“There’s no question that we couldn’t have achieved what we did over the period that we did without great players. But it’s about more than great players. Brad Hogg, an unheralded spin bowler, really carried our one-day fortunes in 2003 all the way to 2007. We had a number of players coming in and out but at the same stage we were able to retain a core of batters, bowlers and a keeper that were really the rocks on which we built long-term performance.”

Although England relinquished the world No 1 spot to South Africa, they had been playing consistently good cricket in recent times. That has well and truly deserted them Down Under. The pace of Mitchell Johnson and the unrelenting aggression of Michael Clarke’s side have unsettled England to an extent that few could have envisaged at the end of the summer.

“It seems to have intimidated some of them,” says Buchanan. “I think that [Stuart] Broad was the only one who was really prepared for the onslaught in the first Test match and that’s because he knew what was coming his way. This is a throwback to real hostile bowling and nobody really wants to face that.

 “Irrespective of these two Test matches and the series, though, this is just a snapshot in time so until we get to see a bit more of the movie you can’t make an individual assessment on players within the group.”

Buchanan also gives praise to coach Darren Lehmann’s impact on the Australia team. He took over in difficult circumstances following the sacking of his predecessor Mickey Arthur on the eve of this summer’s Ashes. However, he has not just steadied the ship but also set it on course to regain the urn. That represents a remarkable turnaround for a team who appeared in inexorable decline just six months ago.

“It was a pretty toxic environment so any change that he brought in, especially in terms of team culture, was going to be welcomed,” the man who once guided Australia to a world record 16 consecutive Test said.

“It takes some time to have an effect and I’m sure it was by the end of the Ashes tour in England. It had certainly taken shape by the start of the series here and it’s amazing how little things can help, like winning the toss in Brisbane and a couple of dropped catches. Suddenly Australia are in the driving seat and haven’t looked back.”