Mark Butcher: Stick with players and look what happens
Sunday 21 August 2005
Events so far have been extraordinary, and to think before it started it was predicted that Australia might win 5-0, that Ashley Giles would not take a wicket and that England would be in a stranglehold. All these predictions looked as though they were going to be there or thereabouts after the tourists' emphatic victory in the First Test at Lord's.
Well, that was three weeks ago, and since then England have effectively dominated two Tests in a row. True, they won one by a mere two runs and had to settle for a draw in the other, but the home side had by far the better of both matches. In sporting terms that is an absolutely staggering turnaround and to do it England have shown bottle and character - call it what you will - of the very highest order.
Of course, they have played well, very well, but much of it is to do with the fact that they held their nerve after the initial defeat. Batsmen have played their shots and exposed the fact that Australia have only four bowlers. That means that if one of them is out of form you are effectively down to three bowlers.
In addition, England's bowlers have also been bristling with aggression, putting pressure on the opposition top order, working them over to an extent, and then using reverse swing with wonderful effect. Giles, far from having no wickets in the series, now has eight, and is playing a significant part.
It is Australia who have the selection difficulties, who are struggling with players out of form. England are likely to go to Nottingham unchanged.
Some of this has to do with making sure that they did not panic after the Lord's reversal. In the past in series against Australia, because the Ashes mean so much, the temptation has always been to find Plan B. That did not happen this time. England stuck with the players and, just as importantly, stuck with the policy. We are now in a position where we can regain the Ashes.
There has naturally been talk of where the momentum lies. I think it is significant that there is a break between the matches, because otherwise I think the fact that they got out of Manchester with a draw after losing the first three days would favour the Aussies.
I remember in Durban last winter we staged a fantastic comeback after being all out cheaply in the first innings, and put ourselves in a position where we were going to win and go 2-0 up. But bad light curtailed play on the last day and South Africa got away with a draw. The next Test started two days later, and far from being one of jubilation the mood in our dressing room was subdued. We were well beaten.
However, these Tests are not back to back. The timing is an important factor, because England will have had a chance to rest, to go away, to forget about cricket for a couple of days, to clear their minds. By the time the Fourth Test begins the Third Test will be a memory, and they will be able to remember just how well they have played against the world champions.
Another word should go in the direction of Simon Jones, who is bowling superbly and is now not only a master of reverse-swing technique but has the conventional away-swinger going. He is becoming a seamer whom Michael Vaughan trusts as he trusts Freddie Flintoff and Stephen Harmison.
Of course I would like to be part of it. But I can have no regrets. I have had a time of terrible misfortune, but in 2001 I got into the team through the most fortuitous circumstances, so it has evened out. That does not mean I have given up on playing for England, though. Not yet; I am not 33 until Tuesday. Other- wise I might as well retire, and there have been enough retirements lately.
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