Mark Butcher: Australian body language yells 'vulnerable'
Sunday 28 August 2005
Body language can be more expressive than a Van Morrison lyric. It has certainly told us something about the state of Australia during this Test, no more so perhaps than at the start of play on Friday morning.
England were four wickets down with not much more than 200 on the board. A couple of early breakthroughs then and if Australia were not exactly through, they would have made fairly serious inroads. But they did not attack to get those wickets, they placed sweepers on the off and leg sides from the start.
It was as if they feared what England could do to them, rather than thinking what Australia could do to England. Believe me, I know that feeling well from having played Australia over the years. It colours your decision-making, you can become fearful. It can be fraught with irksome possibilities. So that, for example, you take out third slip because you feel you ought to defend and the next minute the ball goes in the air where third slip would have been. Then it is too late, the chance has gone.
Over the course of a series, a side play the game in their captain's image. Now, in the case of Australia it is said of Ricky Ponting that he has had to set the in-out fields he has because he can hardly trust his bowlers. But that is part and parcel of the quality of England's play and the pressure they have exerted.
Before the Trent Bridge Test started, England had had the best of the previous eight or nine days of Test cricket. The gap between the Third and Fourth Tests allowed England to get over the tourists' great escape at Old Trafford and to clear their minds and ensure that they were able to dwell on their superiority over so long.
One other thing we have disproved over the past few weeks, whether the Ashes come home or not, is the perception that to have any hope of beating Australia we had to prepare seaming, sporting pitches. In its way it was a good kind of theory, but I was always suspicious of it. If the opposition had Glenn McGrath in their side then wasn't he likely to take rather significant advantage of a pitch working in his favour?
As it has happened, the Edgbaston pitch was slow, the Old Trafford pitch was flatter than flat for much of the game's duration and Trent Bridge has not been dissimilar. Yet England, with admirably disciplined bowling, have kept managing to take Australian wickets.
They have done this partly because they have had the advantage of winning the odd toss, which always helps and has not always happened in the past, and then putting runs on the board. If you have a good pitch then you can be reasonably confident of getting a score for the bowlers to bowl at. It all filters through the team.
What an effect all this has had. Nor is it only on the field. Off it, from talking about an overwhelming win (say 5-0), Australia were reminding us that if they could win one more they still retain the Ashes. True, but that is some shift in six weeks.
There will never be a better opportunity to regain the Ashes for this England team. And it is important to bear in mind that they are a team. The players dovetail, it is not just one of them who constantly does well. They all do so at various times, and that itself breeds a confident ethos.
There is not the climate where a couple of failures with bat or ball mean people think you cannot bat or bowl any longer. Andrew Flintoff, who has turned in some mountainous performances, realises this only too well, and referred to it at his press conference the other night.
Both Matthew Hoggard and Geraint Jones have turned in outstanding performances in this match. Jones has been under pressure. I am a big supporter of his, and have often been forced to defend him in the bar.
He may not be the best wicketkeeper in England, but he is getting better and he is prepared to learn. As a batsman he is refreshing and innovative. He and Flintoff bat beautifully together.
But in many ways what Geraint brings to the team is unquantifiable. It cannot be recorded by statistics. He is always enthusiastic and encouraging, he never gets pissed off because of his own form, he is always cheerful, he is the archetypal team man.
I remember an Australian wicketkeeper-batsman called Ian Healy was derided at the start of his career, and look what a player he became. I think Jones is a better batsman already, and he is going to be some cricketer.
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