Hosts must heed the acts of Waugh and go for jugular

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The Independent Online

Four years ago Steve Waugh arrived in England with a plan. Determined to give his hosts the sort of thrashing they had not experienced since the days of William the Conqueror, he devised a strategy calculated to establish his team's superiority long before the Test series began. He studied the fixture list, observed that several one-day matches were to be played before the start of the series and decided to put them to use.

Four years ago Steve Waugh arrived in England with a plan. Determined to give his hosts the sort of thrashing they had not experienced since the days of William the Conqueror, he devised a strategy calculated to establish his team's superiority long before the Test series began. He studied the fixture list, observed that several one-day matches were to be played before the start of the series and decided to put them to use.

No sooner had the Australian captain landed on English soil than he began talking in his cryptically candid way about the tactics he intended to introduce in the 50-over series. Of course, he did not reveal his intended innovations, responding to enquiries by growling: "You'll see 'em when you see 'em."

And, as usual, old stoneface was ahead of the game. His strategy was indeed immediately clear. From the first ball of the first one-day match he let loose his lethal pace attack in the manner of an admiral unleashing his guns. He told them to go for wickets and set aggressive fields, with three slips and hardly anyone patrolling the green yonder. In short he set out to destroy English batting before it had time to settle. It was a withering statement of intent, a display of ruthlessness that shook his opponents. One-day cricket was supposed to be a batsman's game.

Obviously it helped that the pitches remained as damp as a romantic's handkerchief and that the sun made only fleeting appearances. The ball moved around obligingly and the batsmen were left groping as if playing Blind Man's Bluff. Not the sort of conditions in which to encounter Glenn McGrath and his band of brothers.

Waugh's bowlers executed the plan to perfection, tormenting the home batsmen with a pinpoint attack. Ordinarily, bowlers sniff one-day matches with all the enthusiasm of a Rottweiler at a stick of lettuce. Released from their responsibility to contain, Waugh's strike force went about its work with relish.

Far from taking the opportunity presented by the one-day matches to gain confidence, the English batsmen were pushed back. Every doubt was redoubled. Marcus Trescothick lost his bearings and failed miserably in the Test series.

Nor was he alone in his travails. Once the Australians have an opponent in their grasp they start to squeeze. Waugh's side romped to victory.

Now the boot is on the other foot. England's decisive victory in the 20-over engagement in Southampton ought not to be taken lightly merely because the match was Hobbesian (named after the philosopher Thomas, not Jack, the genial former opening batsman) in its brevity and brutishness. By the end the Australians knew they were in for a long hard fight this summer.

By all accounts the atmosphere in the ground bordered on the ecstatic. England have been waiting a long time to have a proper tilt at the Aussies. No less significantly, the chosen side did not hover on the brink of the action. Instead, Paul Collingwood and the South Africa-born pairing of Kevin Pietersen and Andrew Strauss attacked with bravado and continued to do so despite a mid-innings collapse. None of these players has been scarred by past defeats against these opponents. They played with an optimism that hinted at a revival on a broader front.

Accordingly, England tasted first blood. Does it matter? Well, yes it does. England's batsmen will have enjoyed the sight of the vaunted Australian pacemen being carted around the south coast. The visitors' bowling looked pedestrian. Jason Gillespie struggled in New Zealand recently and seems to have lost his zing. Michael Kasprowicz has likewise cut his run and reduced his pace. Australia has a professional as opposed to incisive attack. Much may depend on McGrath and a certain wily leg-spinner, neither of whom are in the first flush of youth.

Australia will not have enjoyed the early defeats. Surprising as it may sound, but they are almost human and can suffer from losses of form and confidence almost as much as the next man. Usually they are adept at sending worries to the backs of their minds but a succession of defeats is bound to have an effect.

Now England must pile on the pressure. Further victories are needed in the one-day matches which remain. A relentlessly aggressive game must be played. England must focus on the weaknesses in the opposing side, especially in a middle-order that has lost its Waughs.

They can learn a lot from the last Australian captain. Steve Waugh understood the importance of these early meetings and, as usual, it would be wise to follow his example.

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