Australia struggle to deal with loss of aura
Strauss's pre-match taunt vindicated as tourists lose their way at vital moments
Monday 03 August 2009
There was a time, and not so long ago, when the alarm bells would have rung loud enough to drown out the best efforts of the Barmy Army. But not any more, it seems.
Thanks to Ian Bell's latest neither-famine -nor-feast innings of 53 ending shortly after lunch yesterday, England were in a spot of bother at 168 for five – still the thick end of 100 runs behind. Or, put it this way: despite bucketfuls of rain in Birmingham, all results remained available. But not for long.
With Andrew Flintoff joining first Matt Prior and then Stuart Broad in stands which saw a possibly nasty deficit turn into a potentially useful lead in not much more time than it takes a fully fledged Barmy to properly lubricate the vocal chords, England quickly regained control.
And that has been the story of this Ashes series so far with Andrew Strauss's team winning the biggest sessions. Just like 2005, really, and exactly opposite to what occurred throughout the whitewash humiliation of 2006-7.
At Cardiff, it took England until the last knockings of the final day to make their presence properly felt, albeit through clinging on for a draw when all had looked lost a couple of hours earlier.
Then, at Lord's, Australia went to bed on the fourth night genuinely believing they could create a world record by chasing down a victory target of 522. One admittedly supercharged spell from Flintoff later and it was the home flags flying high over St John's Wood with lunch still in the oven.
And now, at Edgbaston, England have twice seized the moment when, in countless Ashes Tests throughout the past 20 years, they would have succumbed to Aussie pressure.
On Friday morning, it was Graham Onions and then Jimmy Anderson who "put their hands up and came to the party", to coin a phrase much loved by former coach Duncan Fletcher. Yesterday, Flintoff, Prior and Broad did likewise to reinforce the view that, while there is little to choose between these two teams, England have the real shakers and movers.
Strauss had this sort of thing in mind when he spoke honestly – if perhaps a little dangerously – before the third Test about Australia not carrying the menacing presence of old.
"This Australian side do not have an aura about them," he said. "It feels like you are playing any other side, whereas when Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath were around it felt very different. Even when you were on top against that Australian side you never felt confident of winning."
Strauss pointed out the new mood of conviction in the red and white corner does not guarantees a home victory this summer. Nor did it preclude the possibility of Ricky Ponting's band of hopefuls becoming an intimidating unit in the fullness of time.
But if, right now, you had to put your last pound on one of these two teams reaching for the stars at some stage in the future the coin would be slid, surely, in England's direction – even taking into account that they will soon lose their champion all-rounder with Flintoff going into Test retirement.
In the build up to this series, Ponting talked about the "excitement" of being in charge of a developing side – especially one that had already developed sufficiently to win a Test series in South Africa just a few months earlier. There have been a few times this summer, though, when he would have given a good few Aussie dollars in exchange for a couple of overs from either Warne or McGrath.
The leg-spin member of that deadly duo is now covering events from the commentary box while McGrath – over here at the start of proceedings – is now back home, presumably watching a fair bit of what has occurred from behind the sofa.
"Can we play you every week?" and "Are you Scotland in disguise?" asked the boisterous battalions in the Rea Bank stand as the runs flowed even faster than the liquid refreshment. It was about this time, too, that Shane Watson – the Aussie's answer to Flintoff, in theory at least, was going for 23 runs off three overs, and the Baggy Greens really did look a struggling side.
What Ponting's men have not lost, however, is their fighting spirit. They showed that on the penultimate day at Lord's when Michael Clarke and Brad Haddin scrapped long and hard, and it is a safe bet there will be plenty more battles to be won and lost before the (imitation) urn either changes hands or remains Down Under.
For the moment, though, England are taking most of the tricks. And their hand looks strong enough right now for them to emerge triumphant.
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