Martyn's quiet reminder of a ruthless team

If this quartet was a pop band - four being the perfect number for what used to be known as a beat combo - Ricky Ponting would be the cheeky leader of the group, playing assured bass while singing jaunty vocals. Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden would be at the front bashing out booming guitar with Gilchrist usually playing the final winning note with some outrageous piece of improvisation.

At the back, neat, unfussy and tasteful on the drums, eschewing the limelight but ensuring all the rest keep time, like a latter-day Charlie Watts, would be Damien Martyn, current average 51.26. Tidiness and grace are Martyn's calling cards. Not that he would have a calling card.

In a side of thumpers and clumpers, batsmen who blaze away from morn 'til night, Martyn, by comparison, is elegantly acquisitive. They are all strokemakers but Martyn is the one who raises it to a state of beauty. Perhaps because of the front foot, stand and deliver bullying tactics of the others, he has gone rather unnoticed, almost (and very dangerously) overlooked.

Yet in his last 17 Test matches, involving 28 innings, Martyn has made seven hundreds and six fifties: 1,608 runs at an average of 61.08. He was the primary batsman in Australia's long-awaited triumph in India last autumn where he fell three runs short of recording hundreds in three successive innings. It was a tour de force back-foot exhibition from a man in the form of his life.

"It goes in waves," he said, explaining it away. "For the year before that I had been batting well without turning fifties into big scores and that's just where it hurts you as a batsman. You have days where it all goes your way. It sort of all rolled on from Sri Lanka where I got a hundred in the First Test."

Although Martyn was made Australian Broadcasting Corporation player of the year, it beggars belief that he did not win the Allan Border Medal, Cricket Australia's equivalent award (it went to Michael Clarke). They had waited 20 years to win in India and when they do, the chief architect of victory gets overlooked. So much for awards.

Martyn probably likes it this way. He is one of the quiet ones, with an amenable sense of humour. He loathes the English press, shaking his head in bewilderment at our collective scorn of Australia's misfortunes this past month. He is, however, polite and a little earnest, and it would have been unnecessarily rude to point out the workings-over that the Australian media have given English cricket (maybe with more cause, come to think of it).

As a teenager, Martyn was the latest incarnation of Bradman. It is, or at least was, an affliction in the country that they were perpetually looking for the new Bradman. When they recognised that they were jolly lucky to have spawned the first one, they started to rule the world.

Martyn was about the 20th new Don. He was a blissfully accomplished schoolboy cri-cketer. He led Australia Under-19s here 14 years ago, scoring hundreds in each of the first two junior Tests and an unbeaten 62 in the third. Two other members of that team are here, Mike Kasprowicz and Adam Gilchrist.

He defers frequently to Gilchrist in conversation about Australia's ability to take a match by the scruff. "He scores 100 off 100 balls every time he bats." But he and Gilchrist, probably because they have known each other for so long, have batted wonderfully together in Australia's cause, frequently when they have been staring down the barrels. They are the only pair in Test history twice to have shared more than 250 for the sixth wicket and there have been five other stands above 100. Not many first-wicket pairs do that, but you can guess who was the less visible partner.

There is the feeling that Martyn is making the most of this because it is his second chance. The new Bradman days ended. He made an Ashes tour in 1993, scored four hundreds and averaged nearly 70 without playing a Test, and received a shiner in a Brighton nightclub.

A year later he played a loose shot to cover against South Africa which partially led to a five-run defeat. It was his seventh Test and he did not play an eighth for six years. Hence perhaps the urge to keep going. He scoffed at the idea of this Australian side growing old together.

"What is age? Sportsmen nowadays are certainly getting older and older. I think we are the fittest and strongest side around, and we train the hardest. We've got guys who are 32 and 33 who are fitter and stronger than 21-year-olds in other countries.

"It's not about that, at this age it's about mental edge, the guys who are good enough to play and want to play. If you want it enough to be on the road and live the lifestyle we have to, age is irrelevant. Family life is the only thing that comes into it if you don't want to do those hard yards."

Martyn is not married. Like all this touring team, he speaks of the team, the group, in almost awed terms. "We have a great team, we play for each other, we're happy to see someone do well. It's the way we're brought up, where there's a healthy respect for the senior players and what has been passed on through the generations.

"What you saw in the last week or so when our backs are to the wall is that we get out there, we fight for each other. Nothing beats team spirit, and there are no individuals outside the group distracting us. Even when we lost the odd one-dayer over here we stuck together, had a drink. We enjoy the hard work and it was great to finish England off in the one-dayers." That was not to say that they had finished England off for good and all, but he can barely resist poking fun at the oldest enemy, while remembering to show due respect.

"England can give Australia a game as we have seen in some of the one-dayers," said Martyn. "They've got big-game players and they did have confidence which hopefully they're losing slowly. They've played well for 18 months.

"For two or three years Australia v India took over but the Ashes is still the pinnacle. We're always watching Australia v England and the video of Ian Botham in 1981 which is played here every day, isn't it?"

On the last Ashes tour, Martyn made his maiden Test hundred in his 12th Test, nine years after making his debut. He is the best example of the comeback kid in the team, though in the current side, Hayden, Ponting and Justin Langer have all been picked and discarded.

"I would much rather be playing Test cricket at 33 than 21 because of all your life experiences and the way you handle things. The older you get, the harder you work instead of just going along with the game. I'd like to do at least another Ashes tour." He laughed but the man at the back wasn't kidding.

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