James Lawton: In a composite Ashes team only two Australians would make the cut...
Friday 24 December 2010
One of the glories of being in Australia is the knowledge that nowhere on earth is less susceptible to the more patronising tones of a certain kind of Englishman.
This being so it is natural to be a little bit circumspect about saying what a jolly good show it is that the Aussies are making a fight of it for the Ashes. But say it you must after those long, deflating days in Brisbane and Adelaide carried you so far from any old sense that winning the little urn indeed represented one of the great achievements in international sport.
No doubt events in Perth were a little too much of a lurch in the opposite direction while producing roughly the same result – a contest stripped of its most vital ingredient, the sharp edge of genuine competition. It may, however, be a little bit premature to assume that in Melbourne on Boxing Day and in Sydney we are guaranteed the kind of barn-burner that represents the best of Ashes cricket. There is just too much to suggest that what happened at the Waca was a one-off aberration of talent and form.
England have at least had the grace to admit that they put in a quite palsied performance in Perth, a betrayal of the levels achieved in the first two Tests, perhaps, in retrospect, much too easily for their own good. They say that they will be strong and vigilant at all the broken places and that Ricky Ponting and his men are in fantasy land if they think the same conditions, and the same result, can be recreated at the cavernous MCG over the next week.
From the English perspective it would be excessively timid, even by Perth standards, to take any other view.
Going into the Waca only extreme deference to the great tradition and enduring fighting instincts of Australian cricket could have persuaded anyone to put more than two of the home team into a composite XI.
Alastair Cook was awash with runs and if Andrew Strauss had two failures he also had an impressive century, which left him miles ahead of Simon Katich's fragile replacement, Phil Hughes. At No 3, Jonathan Trott or Ponting? However much you admire the fighting cock "Punter", it was another no-brainer. Kevin Pietersen or Michael Clarke: ditto. Mike Hussey walked in at No 5 but at six Ian Bell was so far ahead of the new boy Steve Smith he might have been playing a different game. Brad Haddin over Matt Prior, by dint of some brilliantly composed batting but what then? It was wall-to-wall Poms: Graeme Swann, Chris Tremlett, Jimmy Anderson and Steven Finn.
So what has changed in Melbourne? Australia have a new player much favoured by American gridiron coaches, a guy called Mo Mentum, but he tends to flag under the weight of superior talent. Shane Watson, of the bulging biceps, shoves aside Strauss and, of course, the resurrected Mitchell Johnson and Ryan Harris barge into the joint line-up, for one Test and mood swing at least.
Still, though, there is no sight of an authentic Australian slow bowler or a third seamer to supplant Anderson. This leaves England with a still clearly perceptible edge in talent and, hopefully, minds and hearts concentrated on the new challenge of making it count.
The bookmakers are, perhaps understandably in view of England's somewhat brittle form when trying to enforce big advantages in the past, somewhat sceptical, making Australia narrow favourites at 6-4. England are 7-4, invitingly so if you believe that in the long run you should always back superior talent. In any event, let's hope it's a jolly good show.
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