English cricket followers have spent the last 10 days doing what they do best: whingeing, moping, writing their team off, struggling to recall any event from more than six weeks ago, and wilfully misusing the word "disgrace". Many are even making out that England have gone back to square one, which is an interesting case of mistaken identity: the team haven't, but those who accuse them of it clearly have. Four years ago, after England had whitewashed the Aussies in the one-day series and then won the first Test, the cricket community contracted a rare bout of premature euphoria.
This time it's more like dyspepsia. And it is just as much of an overreaction.
A dose of medicine is needed. Here are 10 reasons to be, if not cheerful, then at least sanguine about England's prospects for the Lord's Test.
1 They will be led, in the absence of Nasser Hussain, by Mike Atherton, who has won more Tests against Australia than any other captain of his generation, from anywhere in the world. Atherton has four Test victories against Australia notched on his bedpost. Richie Richardson managed three, Brian Lara and Mohammad Azharuddin two, Hansie Cronje just the one. Graham Gooch never did it at all. The only English captain to beat Australia in the last 13 years apart from Atherton is Alec Stewart (once), who will be standing next to him at Lord's, making all the noise that doesn't come easily to Atherton.
2 One of Atherton's difficulties as captain last time round was that he was too young – 25 when he got the job. Now he is 33, and he will take the field tomorrow with 111 Test caps, more than any captain in England's history. He is not just older but wiser. His journalism has begun to reveal an interest in man-management: in the winter he went off to interview Steve McClaren, the rising star of football management, and last summer he wrote a perceptive and sympathetic piece about Dominic Cork – who is likely to be recalled tomorrow.
3 Atherton had two specialities as captain. The first was the glorious one-off victory. A man whose team won a Test match straight after being bowled out for 46 knows all about bouncing back. The other was the heroic rearguard action leading to a feel-good draw, as when he made his 185 not out at Johannesburg. Either would do fine at Lord's.
4 Of all cricket's laws, probably the most influential is one that doesn't appear in the official code: the law of averages. In this instance, it states that Mark Ramprakash will finally make more than 24 in a Lord's Test innings; that Atherton himself will make his first Lord's Test hundred; that Cork will rediscover his swing, and Darren Gough his radar. It says that Steve Waugh has had such a great run with the bat as Australian captain that he must be about to disappear into a trough. It points out that Damien Martyn's hundred at Edgbaston was his first in eight years of Test cricket, so his next one shouldn't be along till 2009. And it knows that the last time Gilchrist made a Test century, at Mumbai in February, he followed up with 0, 0, 1 and 1.
5 In Duncan Fletcher's six series as coach, England have never lost the second Test as well as the first. In fact they specialise in picking themselves up off the floor after a heavy defeat – as they did under Atherton, but with a new-found solidity. Fletcher judges players on how they respond to adversity, and had an early chance to apply the theory when England subsided to 2 for 4 at Johannesburg on his first morning of Test cricket. They drew the next game, a triumph at the time. Against the West Indies a year ago, and Sri Lanka in March, they lost the first Test by an innings before winning the second.
6 Gough and Andy Caddick love Lord's. In the last two Tests there they have taken 28 wickets. Different in almost every way – height, length, social skills – these two are almost identical when it comes to their Test career record at Lord's, Gough has 35 wickets in six Tests at an average of 18.57, with a strike rate of 35; Caddick 29 wickets in six Tests at 18.86 with a strike rate of 41. And the law of averages says they won't bowl as badly all summer as they did on the first evening at Edgbaston.
7 Last time Australia were 1-0 up in a series, they promptly fell flat on their faces. If pride comes before a fall, they have to be strong candidates for a slip-up. Their performance at Edgbaston oozed arrogance. What made it especially irksome was the arrogance was largely earned. But only largely. There was a brittleness too, which England, with a couple of novice batsmen, four bowlers in various states of unfitness and some ropey fielders, failed to exploit.
8 England are third in the world. Once, this would have been a matter of opinion, to be disputed by most Englishmen. Now, it is a matter of record, there for all to see in the International Cricket Council Test Championship table. It means they may not beat Australia, who are top by a long way, but they should give then a run for their money.
9 Australia, who lost only one Test at Lord's in the 20th century, have already lost once at Lord's this season. They went down to mighty Middlesex in a one-dayer on 5 June. Ben Hutton and Owais Shah feasted on some wayward bowling and Jason Gillespie, who has never played a Test at Lord's, maintained his indifferent record there – in three appearances that I have been able to track down, he has two wickets for 118.
10 Australia, who were so blithely injury-free at Edgbaston that they named their team on the Monday, have caught the injury bug this time. Brett Lee, the world's fastest third seamer, has some pain at the base of his left ribcage – by a happy coincidence, the very area he generally aims at with opposing batsmen. And Matthew Hayden, Australia's best batsman in India recently – in fact their only one, after Gilchrist discovered binary – has gone down with a locked left knee, clearly caused by a jerk as he discussed England's chances. The fact that their likely replacements – Damien Fleming, an impeccable English-style swing bowler, and Justin Langer, a man with a point to prove after being harshly dropped – might actually be better choices anyway, can, for the purposes of this exercise, be entirely discounted.
Tim de Lisle is editor of Wisden.comReuse content