England have not been afraid. Matthew Hayden has been regarded not as a brutal destroyer of bowling but as a lumbering Queenslander who cannot play inswing. Hayden has not met the challenge. Whereas in 2001, he adjusted his game to counter Darren Gough's movement, here he has kept making the same mistake. It is an indication of mental fatigue. Meanwhile, Michael Hussey continues to collect runs.
Australia's bowling has likewise been played on its merits and not its reputation. A year ago advisers noticed that Jason Gillespie had slowed down and concluded that he was a weak link. England did not allow him to settle. McGrath and Warne were viewed not as demons but as skilful bowlers who can be hit. Adam Gilchrist has been reduced to slicing strokes to gully. It has been superb. Nothing is better in sport than the sight of a tightly run, aggressive team playing a daring and disciplined game.
Michael Vaughan and his players deserve every bit of the current praise. They have played a rousing game. The selectors and coach also deserve credit for keeping faith with their players - Geraint Jones and Matthew Hoggard did them proud yesterday. More power to their elbows.
Australia have been taught a cricketing lesson and need to acknowledge the fact. England have been incomparably the better organised and more coherent team. A cricketing machine has been brought to a halt by an opponent every bit as resolute, every bit as ruthless, and a great deal fresher. In truth the astonishing thing has been not the ending of this period but that it lasted so long. Although it took them an age to beat the West Indians, the Australians have been beating everyone else for 15 years, and under four captains.
Before that the West Indian supremacy lasted 17 years. It, too, was sustained by committed captains, fierce bowling, alert fielding and dominant batting. Like most empires it expected to last a thousand years. When the collapse came, it was painful and promoted panic and argument. Pride had come before the fall. The structures and culture of Caribbean cricket were not strong enough to check the decline. No one had paid any attention to them in the years of rum and flying fish.
England beware. Australia will bounce back. England may win the Ashes this time but the culture of the game down under is so strong that they can expect a fight in the very next series. Australian cricket knows itself. It is the sound of sprigs on concrete, the sight of umpires with finger raised high, the reading of the score the wrong way around, leg-spinners ripping the ball with all their might, a slip cordon unemotionally chewing gum as a menacing fast bowler reaches his mark, and sunscreen splashed across faces. It has been a game of harsh light, fiery bowlers, forceful batsmen and lean fieldsmen, a game played across the nation, a game not of the blue bloods but the red bloods.
England have earned their position. Vaughan's men deserve to win the series. Australia will react strongly and come back hard. Enjoy it while it lasts.Reuse content