England are not only winning games Down Under, they are also influencing some unlikely people. Yesterday Steve Waugh, for so long England's cricketing nemesis, was moved to applaud Andrew Strauss's side, praising the balance and team spirit that has ushered them to the brink of a famous series win in the hosts' back yard.
Waugh was part of the last Australian side to be beaten on home soil by England, in 1986-87, before becoming captain and leading his charges to multiple, and often heavily one-sided, wins over the old enemy. His early experiences in the national side, when Allan Border was battling almost single-handed to hold a callow side together, also allow him to sympathise with the job Michael Clarke, or whoever is given the long-term task of rebuilding Australia, faces.
Waugh, who played 46 of his 168 Tests against England, said: "A sense of team is much easier to have when you are playing well and knowing each other and been together for a while. When you've just come together guys are playing for their spots, it's not so easy, but it's something the captain and the management of the team, the support staff, have got to work on. You've got to get that right balance of the team, England to me look like they have a lot of good feeling in their side."
Ahead of day three's action at the SCG, a statue of Waugh was unveiled at the ground where he enjoyed some of his best moments, such as his thrilling Ashes century in 2003 which the bronze figure, complete with lucky handkerchief, commemorates. The seemingly dire situation his successors in the Baggy Green now find themselves in is more reminiscent of his early days in Test cricket, but Waugh insists these days are not as grim as back then.
"My first Test match Allan Border had played more Test matches than the rest of the team combined, so that was really a new beginning in Australian cricket," said Waugh. "This is not the same, there's still a lot of experienced players and a lot of good young players.
"We're certainly not back to where we were in '85. This is still a pretty good team, but I guess it is a turning point. There's a turnover of players, some young guys coming through that look very promising and at some stage you've got to start with a new era. I look back to the lessons I learnt when we weren't doing so well and almost now it is a bit of the changing of the guard in the Australian cricket side. I was really fascinated to watch some of the younger fellows play in the last couple of days and we've got guys there of good character and good commitment and good temperament.
"[Usman] Khawaja made a fantastic debut, Phil Hughes is going to be a player of the future, [also] Steve Smith, [and] Peter Siddle – I like the way he charges in. That's the way Australia plays cricket, I am confident that we can get back to where we were, it is going to take a little bit of time but we have the players."
He also urged that they be given time to settle into the Test game, citing his own stuttering beginnings to his career at the highest level as an example. He said: "There were plenty of tough times when starting out, 13 Test matches without a win, 26 Test matches before I scored a 100."
* England's women endured a losing start to their one-day series against Australia at the Waca in Perth yesterday. The tourists were beaten by 33 runs via the Duckworth-Lewis method. Australia managed 194 for 7 in the reduced 44-over contest. England laboured in response to 151 for 9.