Tourists take dangerous gamble on erratic talent

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The Independent Online

Realising that the fielding and bowling have been sluggish, the visitors have gambled. Tait is fast, enthusiastic, slingy and erratic, and his ability to swing the ball at pace makes him dangerous. He can be expensive but that was deemed a risk worth taking.

Can Tait make a difference? Alas, he can hardly be less threatening than his fellow South Australian, Jason Gillespie. Moreover, he will bring the fresh winds of youth to the fielding and add excitement to the general mood. His fitness and ability to reverse-swing the ball will help Australia to trouble even the most established opponent. Not least psychologically, it was the right move.

Yet Tait's appearance is also a fillip for England because it confirms that the momentum is with them. Australia have abandoned their strategy of picking off opponents in favour of a gun fight at the OK Corral. The hosts have disrupted Australia's game plan, not least by scoring at four runs an over. England have learnt to be aggressive with the bat and mean with the ball. The great trick with cricket is to discover its simplicities.

Michael Vaughan and his merry men have subdued their adversaries with intelligence and daring. Important duels have been won. Marcus Trescothick has forced Glenn McGrath to play the game on his terms. Andrew Strauss has overcome his allergy to leg-spin. Ian Bell has shown that he belongs. Andrew Flintoff has been a giant among jockeys. Simon Jones and Steve Harmison have outbowled their counterparts.

In short, England have lived up to expectations. Not that everyone has contributed. Matthew Hoggard has been lucky to hold his place, and Geraint Jones' dropped catches have been costly. Replacements can be found. Paul Collingwood has made an impression. Chris Read is the best glovemen around, and a fair bat.

Nor has England's improvement been a surprise. After 10 years in the doldrums, central contracts, two divisions, an academy and more competitive club cricket were belatedly introduced. Flintoff's abilities were also grudgingly recognised. Finally, this sports-mad and increasingly nationalistic nation has a cricket team to cheer.

English cricket has also been boosted by increased contributions from Africa. As black Africans have lifted English athletics and football, so white Africans have become driving forces in local cricket. Four of the Hampshire team that has just reached a Lord's final were educated on that continent. Had Trescothick and Flintoff been raised in KwaZulu-Natal or Matabeleland, they would have broken through earlier.

Despite these improvements, England have not yet won the series. Rain, dogged lower-order batting and a great defensive innings thwarted them at Old Trafford. Have the hosts missed their chance? Australia need to win one match. Manifestly the tourists have grasped the point. Will England feel edgy? Having backed Australia to win the first three matches, I'm going to stick with them. England's giant has roared: his antipodean counterparts, Hayden and Gilchrist, have squeaked.

As the old saying goes, too, "Man who changes horse in mid-stream ought to be riding a donkey."

Keys to victory: What will decide the pivotal fourth Test

Ricky Ponting: Australian captain

'You have to grab the momentum first thing Thursday morning. It doesn't matter too much what happened in a previous game - it's a fresh game and a new start as we saw from the end of the first Test to the start of the second.There is that opportunity early on in a Test for any team. That is what our whole focus has been leading up to this Test,to make sure we are 100 per cent on the ball from the first ball of the Test.'

Steve Rixon: Former Australian Test wicketkeeper

'Firepower: England have had Steve Harmison and Andrew Flintoff, whereas Australia have been relying mainly on medium pace in the form of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Mike Kasprowicz. Now Australia have their own pace bowlers in Brett Lee and Shaun Tait andit will be England's turn to have it put up them. It will come down to which set of batsmen can deal best with the fast bowling.'

Keith Fletcher: Former England batsman and coach

'It is vital that England score enough runs. If they can put 400 on the board in the first innings then they will have a fair chance of winning, both at Trent Bridge and at The Oval. England have the bowlers who can bowl out Australia, while the Aussies have crackerjack batsmen, but none of them have looked comfortable against 90mph bowling. Shane Warne still holds the key for Australia, despite his age.'

Chris Adams: Sussex captain, former England batsman

'England have to sustain the intensity of their fast bowling. In terms of pace and firepower Harmison, Flintoff and Jones have unsettled the batsmen and they are able to reverse swing the ball. The one worry I have nagging away at the back of my mind is that at some stage in this Ashes seriesAdam Gilchrist, a quality player, will get a big score and quickly. I just hope it's not at Trent Bridge.'