Ponting's men victims of their own arrogance

John Benaud View from Oz
Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Lord's victory lap was to the Australians what the nightclub stripper's last garment is to bulging eyes in the front row - a mind blower. We know that because the headlines had been full of Stuart MacGill and Glenn McGrath, even the conservative coach John Buchanan, telling everyone that England heads were spinning, a theory lent more weight when England's spin bowling whiz briefly challenged J K Rowling's popularity and penned Ashley Giles and The Evil Old Warriors.

The Australians were cocky going into Edgbaston, not unreasonable given the tour results trend. The mindset was, "we're bulletproof and you're fragile". At the team meeting the tactic was agreed: win the toss and field. Enter carelessness, in the form of a forgotten cricket ball on the training pitch, the world's most professional cricket team being amateurs.

Suddenly half the dynamic duo that had bowled Australia to victory after victory in the last dozen summers - McGrath, the one expected to swing it Australia's way on the first day - was just a memory. Enter arrogance. The Australians retained the tactic even though it threatened to negate the match-winning potential of the other champion left standing, Shane Warne. And even though there was a likelihood the McGrath incident had substantially scrambled pre-Test mindsets.

Take Brett Lee. If any bowler in world cricket is entitled to be arrogant it's one who can hurl them down consistently at around 90 miles an hour, bruise ribs and bang helmets. What did we witness? Carelessness. Lee, suddenly with the weight of McGrath's role on his shoulders, tries to "put the ball there", loses his swing, loses his pace and loses his way.

Such carelessness sponsored England's extraordinary batting assault, likened to a limited-overs slog. Any batting as swashbuckling as that, particularly upon being sent in, challenges the more sedate traditions of the Test game, and by its very nature requires a slice or two of good luck for survival.

Revisit some of this Australian team's most notable Test run-scoring feats as evidence of that. As ball after ball disappeared over the rope off the bat's middle or its edges, thick or thin, inside or out, some of Ponting's men resorted to head-shaking and eye-rolling. Enter arrogance. The message was, "what lucky sods, we deserve better than this".

The big-bopper Matthew Hayden might think he was unlucky getting out first ball to a perfectly "middled" drive. More likely it was carelessness, not taking longer to gauge the pace of the pitch, not being respectful enough of the unorthodox field set by Michael Vaughan to combat Hayden's heavy front-foot play and hard hands. Or, was there a whiff of arrogance?

Carelessness of another type accounted for the brave Justin Langer and umpire Rudi Koertzen's slow left forefinger was just as careless with Jason Gillespie's leg before. Whatever happened to the benefit of the doubt? The discipline of Langer, in the face of some heavy artillery, of Gillespie treading deep water, and of the thoughtful Adam Gilchrist constrained by choking field placements, was a stern reminder to team-mates that losing respect for an opponent can be a risky business.

At Edgbaston England have shown vital signs of developing the mindset of a dangerous, more disciplined opponent. Vaughan is tactically aware. The four fast bowlers are dishing out a mix of aggression and effective ball movement backed by sharper fielding. Yet Damien Martyn, run out on lunch, showed scant respect for Vaughan's fielding, sometimes ropey, suddenly brilliant.

But worse, he ignored the state of play. And, what of Warne's contemptuous slog at Giles? Down Under, Hayden's sunny home state has a travel slogan that says, "Queensland, beautiful one day, perfect the next". As the second day closed, sorely tried but forgiving Australian fans were again being tantalised by Warne, "a chump one ball, a champ the next".

We can add the Strauss dismissal to Warne's home video collection, Classic Batting No-Brainers. Another to rate highly was versus Pakistan, 1995 at the SCG: "Warne, after a long consultation with Ian Healy, bowled the hapless Basat Ali through his legs with the last ball of the day." Or versus England, 1993 at the MCG: "Phil DeFreitas ran down the pitch a split second before Warne let the ball go. Deceived by Warne's deadly drift to leg he lurched sideways with a contorted top of the body twist, simultaneously trying to thrust his left leg sideways into the line of the ball. The bat never got a look in, stumped without playing a shot."