Peter Roebuck: Australia taught a lesson they must not forget

The Australian angle
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Australia have been given a cricketing education. England appeared to be playing a different game on a different pitch. When they batted the track was as placid as celery. Between innings the curator moved the poles and the pitch had more kick than a cranky colt. Even the outfield seemed to slow down. Not that the Aussies reached it all that often. Of the two teams out there, only one is playing Test cricket.

Over the years the Aussies have given the basics of the game their due. Certainly locals like to play an aggressive game but it's always been from a strong base. It has been an empire built on stone. Now the sands shift under the team and the house falls down.

Over the years batsmen incapable of moving their feet quickly into position have been discarded. Aussies examine the pegs. Now the visitors move their pedals with an alacrity and precision missing in the home camp.

Over the years bowlers unable to keep a tidy length have been ditched. SF Barnes said that a bowler needed three qualities, "length, length and length". No one needed to tell the Australians. Now the Poms hit the spot as well as a beer on a cold afternoon while the local flingers pitch short and are cut and pulled.

Australians have long been regarded as the fittest Test team. Now the visitors have been sharper. Traditionally Australians have been superior between the wickets. Now Shane Watson leaves more people stranded than a dodgy airline. Steve Smith, too, was almost run out. Disintegration of the mind was complete. It was chaos in cream clothes.

Australia's younger players were given a particularly harsh lesson. The contests between Phil Hughes and Tim Bresnan and then Usman Khawaja and Graeme Swann were excruciating struggles between predator and prey. In the years ahead these tyros ought to remember these tough times. Steve Waugh never forgot them.

Hughes was expertly worked over by a bluff Yorkshireman. Like his comrades, Bresnan is well aware of the team plans and carries them out with cheerful hostility. Not that the strategies are complex. As far as the lefty is concerned they involve cramping his stroke play by aiming at his body. Above all they mean permitting him no respite, getting inside his brain, convincing him that he is not good enough.

Bresnan was unrelenting. Hughes dug in. He resembles a house whose renovations are incomplete. Midway between an instinctive player with a homespun technique and a polished product, he is caught in the worst of both worlds. That does not mean he is wrong to seek improvement. More likely it was a mistake to promote him before the work was complete.

Bresnan probed away, ball after ball, asking questions, giving nothing. Hughes fidgeted and fought and fretted and survived by the skin of his teeth. For several overs neither combatant blinked. But the seamer sensed that pressure was building. He angled another ball across and the lefty poked at it, touched it and departed with head bowed. It was proper five-day cricket.

Khawaja looked poised and polished but was worked over by Swann. Determined to avoid his first-innings mistake, the newcomer concentrated on defence. His foe was patient and crafty. Swann did not toss anything up or deliver anything loose. He is a fly trap whose sweetness is not to be trusted. Now and then he turned a ball past the bat. Khawaja did not look much like breaking out.

In the end he fell to swing not spin. Jimmy Anderson's second spell was superb as he bent the ball either way at will, drawing errors from bemused batsmen. Khawaja was among his victims, hanging his bat out to dry. If he ever doubted it, he knew now that Test cricket can be a tough game. Experience is a hard master but it teaches well.