James Lawton on the Ashes: England must put away the hangdog look and rediscover their old bite

The vibrant cricketers at Old Trafford were those in green caps

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The Independent Online

If anyone ever did a sense of injustice better than Kevin Pietersen we would probably have to go back to the Maid of Orleans when they lit the flame or Anne Boleyn just before the blade came down. But then to be fair to the old dear he has responded to cheating charges with some considerable coherence.

He is right to be indignant about the loose claim that he taped his bat to sabotage Hot Spot, pointing out convincingly that the much-maligned device detected the inside edge that wiped out an lbw decision and preserved his progress to an excellent century in the first innings of the Old Trafford Test.

It is also true that if Tim Bresnan, Graeme Swann and young Joe Root chose to take a cigarette break during a celebratory meal in a Manchester restaurant after retaining the Ashes they might, having reached the age of majority and generally displayed impressive levels of both fitness and career dedication, reasonably have hoped to do so without a splash of pictures and the accusation that they had undermined the health of the entire nation.

The Monty Panesar affair is, sadly, a much different matter and one that in any circumstances would have come with serious repercussions.

Yet there is another point to make at the end of cricket's turbulent week and the dawn of the fourth Test in Durham. It is that England need to come out today without the merest hint that they are being weighed down by a touch of persecution mania.

Pietersen, for all his brilliance down the years, has largely created his own reputation for extreme subjectivity, a near genius for seeing every contentious situation in which he has found himself entirely through the prism of his own injured feelings.

Swann, an interviewee of startling surliness during the last Test, appears to have swiftly forgotten the extent of the all-round celebration of his bowling prowess down the last few years.

What we have here is an overwhelming impression that England have become inordinately prickly in the face of anything less than universal acclaim.

That feeling was surely re-enforced the other day when the coach, Andy Flower, whose work with Andrew Strauss to build a new and resourceful England could scarcely have received higher levels of general approval, stared down the author of an essentially mild question about whether he regretted his decision not to pick either Panesar or Chris Tremlett at Old Trafford.

The question received the Sir Alex Ferguson glare and a dismissive answer. England are a cricket team of formidable accomplishment, fine talent and have many reasons to take pride in their achievement of guaranteeing possession of the Ashes at the end of a third straight series.

The rest is simply somebody else's opinion, something they can best shape, if they care to, by producing superior performances and the clear understanding that the most important judges of their work, its commitment and its integrity, are themselves. Put another way, they need to step out of the bunker and play the kind of cricket of which they have long proved capable.

They didn't do this at Old Trafford. They were outplayed at almost every phase by the widely ridiculed Aussies. Their reaction was at times hangdog and negative. They dragged their feet and waited for the rain. It was not the profile of champions, a team recently ranked No 1 in Test cricket, and if they do not face up to this in Durham the Australian recovery of self-belief could well accelerate over the next few days.

At Old Trafford the Aussies came out to fight. It was almost as if they had absorbed the advice of their great old hero Keith Miller, the wartime fighter pilot who advised: "Cricket isn't pressure. Pressure is having a Messer- schmitt up your arse." You might also say they had nothing to lose but their chains and that it was better to die on their feet than live on their knees.

It is interesting, certainly, that the great Australia captain Allan Border, a man of formidable pragmatism who in the eighties led his nation out of an earlier malaise, believes that a corner has been turned. Border also has a suspicion that something may have gone wrong with England, that a siege mentality has replaced what before was an extrovert belief in their ability to beat anyone they faced. Certainly if you had to choose the most vibrant cricketers at Old Trafford you couldn't avoid going to the men in the green caps.

Michael Clarke, a captain of sharp instincts and considerable passion, was head and shoulders the most impressive batsman. Chris Rogers laid an unanswerable claim to Test cricket at a time in his career when less resolute and able men would have given up hope. Ryan Harris bowled with unswerving intelligence and bite. Peter Siddle reminded us that few men in the game are more prepared to die hard in pursing their ambitions.

Steve Smith made a rite of passage. Even David Warner came out of his exile and a mountain of scorn with considerable wit and aggression. He also looked like a cricketer of considerable talent and will.

That makes a spine of impressive resistance for the fourth Test, one that might suggest that come the Austr-alian leg of the 10-Test engagement we could indeed see an unanticipated fine level of competition. Certainly England's incentive for a sweeping series win here remains huge.

Captain Alastair Cook's refreshingly open performance in his press conference was for some observers the clearest evidence that England may well have also concluded that it is time to stop nursing wounds real or imagined and go back to the offensive certainties they produced at Lord's.

The truth is that if there was heartening signs of an Australian revival at Old Trafford it is one that must inevitably remain brittle for some time. The requirement for England is to explore each one of the lingering doubts in a battered psyche.

This is, of course, something best done when you have re-asserted the right to be your own worst critics.

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the vibrant cricketers were those in green caps