James Lawton: Where have all the heroes gone? Australia need a new Warne... fast

Worryingly, something may have snapped in one of the world's greatest sports traditions

there is something wrong about this Ashes series, something nagging, unfamiliar. It is a bit like turning a corner and finding that somehow the landscape has shifted without any kind of warning.

Four years ago, going down to Adelaide was to run an Aussie gauntlet, one thrown down here in the big concrete stadium when the slaughter of England began with the clearest indication it would carry on all the way to the end of the road in Sydney.

It was intimidating, but it gave a wonderful edge and if the batting of Kevin Pietersen and Paul Collingwood had been built on more intelligently, if maybe Monty Panesar had been picked in the first rush of his optimism and talent, who knows? England might have found the means at least to make a fight of it.

Today going down to Adelaide is, almost weirdly, just another journey.

Something has changed apart from the fact that England plainly are bringing more nerve, more sheer competence to the challenge of hanging on to the Ashes. What it is, it becomes clearer the more you reflect on these last few days, is the Australians.

No one needs telling they are not nearly as good as when they had Matthew Hayden, Justin Langer, Adam Gilchrist, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath – and you saw Warne sitting on his own on the Adelaide plane twirling a shiny Kookaburra as though he was casting another batch of new spells.

No, of course, you cannot replace such quality in a few seamless years, but maybe you can keep a certain way of thinking, the kind of intensity which may not grow on trees but has so long been the legacy of great Australian cricketers. You can keep a fire stoked. You can remember who you are supposed to be.

After England's Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott built another record mountain of runs on the last day, Australia's captain, Ricky Ponting, rejected the claim that his team had for several days been using a body language featuring almost exclusively the word resignation. Where was the old gut-wrenching refusal to grant their opponents an inch, or a run, that wasn't hard-won? Where was the doomsday sledging?

Ponting said that, in his opinion, the body language had been pretty good most of the time but by mid-afternoon on Monday they were all looking up at the scoreboard and seeing the extent of the futility that faced them. "One wicket for more than 500 runs," he said, "is a pretty demanding score." He said it with a smile, but it was an extremely small one and tight at the corners.

Ponting did, after announcing that Doug Bollinger, who was controversially excluded from the first Test, and Ryan Harris would join the squad in Adelaide, concede that much of the Australian bowling was a cause for concern and would be reviewed thoroughly before the resumption of action on Friday morning.

Peter Siddle, the wood-chopping champion from Victoria, is presumably immune after his sensational hat-trick on the opening day, but long before Cook and Trott were called back to the dressing room Siddle's feat might have belonged to another age and another planet.

Certainly, the track had slowed beyond the imagination of most Australians, and offered little more encouragement to Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Steve Finn when they went through the formality of a late charge. However, it was as though Siddle, Ben Hilfenhaus and Mitchell Johnson had entered some unbreachable void.

It is Johnson who maybe suggests most strongly that something has indeed changed in the Australian cricket psyche.

Dramatically effective in the explosive bursts that have swelled his total of wickets beyond the mark set by the great Jeff Thomson at the same stage in their careers, Johnson lived through a nightmare here in Brisbane. He didn't get a wicket, he made a duck – barely a week after scoring a century and a five-for on behalf of Western Australia – and dropped Andrew Strauss when he was in full flow towards the century that would free him from the hard pressure that came with his third-ball dismissal in the first innings.

Australia's key man was near anonymous. He was also, at least on the outside, more passive than you imagine the likes of Thomson and McGrath while at their sleep.

Those who know Johnson best say he is a young man of great charm who just happens to earn around one and a half million dollars a year and long ago became an A-list celebrity – and that in his story we might just have seen an inkling why Australia may indeed be different now.

Also, why the fans who once identified so strongly, and so closely, with their heroes, are perhaps now at a greater distance than ever before, and certainly they left the stadium to the English yesterday – and had fallen away considerably on a fourth day that had started with such strong promise of another Australian win.

The worry, not just for the natives, is that something indeed may have snapped in one of the greatest sports traditions the world has ever seen. The old furies of Australian cricket were, after all, built on the assumption that there would always be another Warne or Ponting or McGrath impatient to make their way into the hearts of the nation.

There was not much evidence of such burgeoning authority and confidence these last few days. Maybe it is just a pause in the production line – and perhaps something will happen in Adelaide these next few days. Maybe the Australians will look a bit more like Australians. Maybe in some little town out in the bush the new Warne is working on a few spells.

If it is so, he needs to be doing it with some urgency. The danger is that when a certain magic disappears it is not so easy to retrieve. Australian cricket has lost one superb generation and, for the moment at least, it is not so easy to banish the fear it might just have been the last.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Could you tell the difference between this and an organic alternative?
food + drink

Culinary experts in The Netherlands thought it was 'fresh' and 'tasty'

Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to US
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
One of the 'princesses' in the video
videoYouTube reinstates sweary video after takedown for 'violating terms'
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Arts and Entertainment
film

Marvel has released first teaser trailer week early after it leaked online

Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?