Aussie rules we should apply

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The Independent Online

When South Africa went to the World Cup last summer, Australia were hanging on to their coat tails with their fingers only just clinging on to the last thread. Well, that was then and this is now.

When South Africa went to the World Cup last summer, Australia were hanging on to their coat tails with their fingers only just clinging on to the last thread. Well, that was then and this is now.

Australia, as we have seen repeatedly over the past six weeks, have stolen the coat, tailored it to their own requirements and gone to different places in it. South Africa are now a team in transition,while Australia have simply demonstrated conclusively that they are the best side in the world.

They say winning becomes a habit; with them it has become compulsive. They have now won nine matches in a row after dismembering, at least in cricketing terms, Pakistan in the Carlton & United Series final. The opening partnerships in both batting and bowling appear to be the bedrock of the team.

Mark Waugh and Adam Gilchrist generally give them lightning starts. Gilchrist is some player - and do not forget he was kept out of the side for years by Ian Healy - while Waugh is elegance personified and a true champion. He had a lean patch a couple of months ago and in England before the dawn of the Fletcher and Hussain era he would have been dropped. But Australia, as I have noted before, stick with their champions.

The fast bowling is now being performed by Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee. McGrath is lethal. Time and again he has removed top players with top balls early in the innings. Lee, fast and mean, has thrived on that.

He is an example of where Australia are strongest above all. Their winning means they can introduce new players almost one at a time. As one fades or retires so a younger man gets his chance. The balance of the side remains undisturbed. So, Damien Martyn was brought in and when he was nicely settled down they called for Andrew Symonds. They bat down to nine and almost all of them can bowl a bit too. Five overs here, four there; it keeps the opposition guessing.

But it is, of course, to do with more talent. For years (and it seems like decades) we have looked enviously on the Aussie system but still precious little has been done about it. Of course, we should not follow them slavishly but they are so good that they must be doing some things right.

The talent, believe me, exists in England but the honing of that talent, pointing it in the right direction and harnessing it to desire, is what needs to be done. The Australian mentality is not the English mentality but in their academy they are all shaped as cricketers and men.

It is, if you like, a centre of excellence where all the elements are worked on. Fitness, fielding in tight situations, striking the ball cleanly. Every new kid on the block is given this head start and because it is all done under one roof they learn together and thoroughly. Above all they have desire instilled into them alongside a huge work ethic. Don't work and you don't get to play.

England ought to have two such centres, one for the north, one for the south, finishing schools for cricketers who when they come out are prepared for what is to come. For the moment we are in a position where, domestically, mediocrity breeds mediocrity.

Australians are passionate people and maybe we lack a little of that as a national characteristic. But if we appoint the right people to run our centres we can play a bit of catch-up here. And when they have graduated there is no point in them sitting round wondering what to do with their degree. They have to use it by being picked.

Australia have the best team and three or four of the best players. The team, however, the country, is what counts. They have been inculcated with it. It did not happen by accident.

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