Australia embody the old British virtues

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The Independent Online

Watching the Australians, whether in their pre-match huddle, in Ricky Ponting's rapid century, in Mark Waugh's lordly assistance or just with their feet up on the players' balcony, is sensing history.

On or off the field they remain the most outwardly relaxed professional team that I can remember in any sport. From the huddle there eventually emerged Simon Katich wearing his baggy green cap, but the awful thought persisted: were they giggling – "they've done it, they've taken Mullally''.

It is as if all the vigour, individualism and enterprise of the British in the 18th and 19th centuries founding, losing and winning empires, has re-emerged in modern Australia. Steve Waugh's men have the panache, the confidence, the aggression, all worn with an easy grace that must have distinguished Wellington's soldiers, Nelson's sailors and Victoria's explorers.

Presumably these Australians sweated and strained in India, but against this tediously humdrum England team they might have been undergoing a languid practice match. Andrew Caddick looks overbowled, Darren Gough underbowled, Alex Tudor wayward, Alan Mullally out of his class. And that's it; on a pitch the pundits believe will rapidly crumble England are without any front-line variation.

Ponting's brilliant 144 runs off 154 balls could not have happened without the decision of the third umpire, Neil Mallender, that a slip catch, when he was nought, did not carry. Ponting said: "It didn't look right from the onset, but I was glad to see the not out on the box. I have good memories of my first Test hundred here and I cashed in. England bowled quite a few bad balls and although I had been short of runs in the series I felt due for some runs.''

Ponting added this warning: "We've a pretty good total now and I'll be surprised if Warney doesn't get some turn. I wouldn't like to bat last.'' Andrew Caddick maintained that England were in good heart: "OK, we bowled a few bad balls but Ricky Ponting played many good shots. It's a good wicket to bat on and if we can limit their first innings and then get stuck in we're still in the game.''

Mark Ramprakash, who turned an ankle in taking a catch, is unhurt according to the England dressing-room.

The first day of the fourth Test was a sell-out with the new stand filled to its 8,000 capacity. For most of the day the spectators behaved as if they were at Lord's, but by the evening the stewards were in action, as if proving that you can take the name out of the Western Terrace but you can't take the idiots out of the West Stand.

The hosts, the Yorkshire club, are well aware of Headingley's half-finished appearance with the first of the two new scoreboards looking indistinct from the far side of the ground. Yorkshire have accepted this and are working on it but no improvement is likely before the end of this Test match.

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